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Most people who want to become a cement mason enroll in an apprenticeship program. These programs are normally offered through local contracting firms, community colleges, vocational schools, job training centers and unions. The program lengths, requirements and costs vary by location, so it's best to check before beginning the application process.
A high school degree is not normally required to enroll in an apprenticeship program. Courses in blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, math, science and drafting are very helpful in learning the trade and applying the various construction laws and concepts utilized in building projects. If such an apprentice program is not readily available, you can get a job as a mason’s helper to gain on-the-job experience to eventually become a cement mason.
Before choosing the path to become a cement mason, understand that it requires extremely taxing manual labor. Especially when starting out, job tasks require such tasks as lifting and moving heavy bags of dry cement mix from trucks to pallets or around job sites. Hand mixing thick batches of concrete in wheelbarrows and buckets is also a common job requirement, as is moving the mixed product to various locations around the construction site. Once the concrete is poured, masons manually shape and finish it, using hand tools that require strength and stamina. Before embarking on this career path, it is a good idea to have a physical examination to identify any physical limitations that might make it difficult to become a cement mason.
Cement masons mainly deal with cement and concrete. They also build wooden and plastic forms to shape concrete into panels, columns, beams and platforms. These different shapes are used for foundations, porches, patios and driveways for residential and commercial construction projects. Cement masonry also entails coating floors with epoxy and latex and applying different tints to cement for cosmetic reasons.
Residential and commercial building construction requires extensive finishing work by cement masons. After the concrete is poured and spread, it has to be leveled. Specialized tools, such as screeds and floats, are used to ensure a perfectly smooth surface, free of depressions or bumps. Big vibrating machines are sometimes used to shake the poured concrete to eliminate air bubbles.
The final touches to the surface are applied with a trowel that creates the permanent texture on the concrete finish. This can be a fancy pattern or a smooth, glassy façade. Electric trowels can be used for the large, open areas of the surface but a hand trowel is required to finish the edges and corners.
Some masonry contractors deal exclusively with highway and public works projects. When working for these types of companies, huge molds are used to create roads, overpasses, bridges, ramps and causeways. Cement masons on these types of projects must learn to operate specialized machinery that creates these massive structures.