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A slater is a mason who specializes in working with slate. This natural stone material has been used for centuries as a roofing or flooring material, and may also be used as a form of wall cladding or siding. Due to the high cost of slate and the difficulty of working with this material, slate work is generally left to experienced and skilled professionals. People who are unfamiliar with slate will likely have difficulty shaping this natural stone into attractive, usable pieces. A slater can be hired to plan and install a new slate surface, or to troubleshoot and maintain an existing roof, floor, or patio.
The majority of tradesmen who are interested in working with slate will start off in some sort of masonry position. This may be because it's simply easier to find a masonry job than one dealing exclusively with slate. It can also be attributed to the difficulty of working with slate, and the need to practice on easier materials first. Some trade schools and guilds or apprentice programs may also offer training programs for the prospective slater. Despite training or experience in other trades, slaters most often complete training on the job to gain the bulk of their experience with this material.
In many areas, a slater may have a difficult time finding enough work to stay busy. Those interested in the slate industry will have the best luck in regions where building with slate is popular, or was popular in the past. This includes much of Europe, particularly England, as well as the New England states in the United States (US), where historic preservation projects require the work of experience slaters. Slaters can help market their services by emphasizing the long life of slate, as well as the cost and difficulty of trying to do this work without the help of a professional. It can also be useful to appeal to the green market through the use of recycled and repurposed slate tiles.
Before starting a new project, the slater will typically meet with the homeowner and provide an estimate of the costs of the work. He may take samples or photos, which can allow him to match existing slate. He may have to visit many different quarries to track down a particular color or style of this stone. He then shapes each tile or shingle to the desired shape and size before installing it in its new location.
The slater relies on four basic tools, as well as a number of specialty tools. Every slater uses a punch to create nail holes in the stone, or trim the edges of a piece of slate. They use a forged steel hammer to drive nails or split tiles, and a ripper, or pry bar to remove unwanted tiles. Finally, the slater uses a metal stake as a straight edge when cutting or laying tiles to create smooth, even lines and edges.
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