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March 1, 2001 9:56 AM CST

From the Ground...Up, Up, Up

A look at scaffolding and its many forms

By Masonry

Scaffolding is one of the more useful and versatile pieces of equipment on a masonry project. It comes in many forms and through the years has developed into an efficient productive tool for mason contractors. Scaffold was created when man needed height to build from the ground up. Rough timber provided the means for workers to extend their work level up, and it took decades for the development of a more refined scaffold. With buildings taking on new configurations and greater heights, scaffolding kept pace with the changing building technology.

In the 17 and 18 hundreds and into the early 19 hundreds, wood remained the main material used for building scaffolds. Some of the more commonly used scaffolding for that time period were:

Single-pole Scaffolding
Single-pole scaffolding, which consisted of a single row of posts set upright, were less than 5 feet from the building and spaced not more than 7 feet apart. Posts were braced diagonally and connected horizontally with a stringer and ledger members. Putlogs to carry the plank platform were supported on a ledger at the outer end and in a wall recess on the inside. At the completion of the wall the recesses were filled in as the scaffold is removed.

Horse Scaffolding
Horse scaffolds consisted of trestles or horses 4 to 5 feet high. Scaffold planks were supported on the bearer. This type was limited to 3 tiers of horses or 12 feet in height. Horse scaffolds were used extensively on residential units or light commerical structures.

Built-up Scaffolding
Built-up scaffolding consisted of a double row of posts. The inner row was set as near to the wall as practical. Scaffold planks were placed on bearers with diagonal bracing placed in both directions on the outer row of posts. This, like the single-pole and wooden horses, was limited in height and capacity.

Square Scaffolding
Square scaffolding consisted of framed wood squares or jacks used to support a plank platform in a manner similar to wooden horses. The squares were generally made from 2 by 4's and were not larger that 5 feet on each side. When the squares were placed in position, they were laterally braced by 1 by 6 diagonal bracing, both on the front and back sides of the scaffold.

We must remember that in this early time period, masonry walls were extremely thick since they were the loadbearing structure that made the building possible. Walls up to 36 inches in thickness required different methods of both laying the units and in supplying the vast amount of materials needed for the project.

Gilbreth Scaffolding
Frank B. Gilbreth, an innovative mason contractor in the New England area in the late 18 hundreds, was responsible for building major masonry buildings. In 1902 he completed the Lowell Laboratory of Electrical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in two months and seventeen days. This building covering 44,000 square feet of land, was completed 54 days ahead of contract time.

Before starting the building, he spent several days studying and planning various schemes for his method of attack. He used horses and carts to transfer the brick from a railroad spur to the site. Inclined runways made it possible for the horse drawn carts to deliver the brick to the various levels. Then laborers unloaded the carts and placed the brick close to the bricklayers. A tower was built in the center of the site and from this vantage point, the superintendent could see all areas of the project. The tower was equipped with telephone, megaphone and field glasses so that he could direct the delivery of material to the areas that required it. We must remember we are not discussing 8-, 10- or 12-inch masonry walls, but 36-inch solid masonry walls that required a tremendous amount of materials, in addition to a unique process for laying the brick into the wall.

For this he developed the Gilbreth Scaffold/Packet type. In retrospect, this scaffold embodied many of the basic principles found in our modern day adjustable type scaffold. Wood was the dominant scaffold material, so he used wood to construct the towers and moving platform. Gilbreth said that his scaffold made for better workmanship because "it kept the bricklayer at a constant height; the brick could be best bedded because the work was always at the right height; the bricklayers' platform is clear at all times and the tender is out of the way of the bricklayer and does not interrupt the bricklayer as he passes back and forth".

Metal/Fabricated Frame Scaffolding
In the early 1930's mason contractor, Reinhold A. Uecker, was working on a church steeple from a wooden scaffold when it collapsed due to faulty wood. While recovering from his injury, he decided there must be a better way to build a scaffold. It had to be safer, stronger, and the fire hazard and breakage problem had to be solved. In his spare time he worked on this idea, assisted by one of his employees, Ingar Rambo. Neither of them had any experience in metal fabrication, but they used some discarded metal pipe and experimented with it. From this they developed scaffolding for use by his company. The new scaffold was easy to erect and dismantle, rigid enough so that it could be built to any height and could be transported and stored without much effort. After many of his friends came to his jobsites and saw the merits of this new scaffold, they urged him the build more.

He applied to the U.S. Patent Office, and on June 16, 1934 his concept of metal tubular scaffolding received Patent No. 2,043,498. The scaffold was revolutionary in concept and he formed Uecker Equipment Company. Today metal tubular frame scaffolding is one of the more common types used. OSHA standards refer to this as "fabricated frame scaffold". Uecker Equipment Co. went through many business changes, and today it is known as Safeway Steel Products, Inc.

Tube and Clamp Scaffolding
Tube and clamp scaffolding is not popular throughout the United States, for it is more time consuming to erect and dismantle. It is, however, used extensively in Europe and in many East coast cities. It is a very flexible system and is used in tight areas where other systems could not be used. Steel tubing is fastened together with steel couples. Special tools are required to gain any degree of efficiency. It is called "tube and coupler" in the OSHA standards, and may also be referred to as: "pole and clamp", "pole and knuckle" or "tubular pole" scaffolding.

Systems/Modular Scaffolding
Systems scaffolding is a modular scaffold that is restricted by the position of the ring on each leg. It is a very flexible system one that can be built in many configurations and shapes. It erects fast and is a very stable scaffold with a high load rating. It could be considered an intermediate system between tube and clamp scaffolding and frame scaffolding.

Suspended Scaffolding
With the advent of structural steel and reinforced concrete for the framework of buildings, suspended scaffolding became the most economical method of scaffolding for masonry. The work platform is suspended from the roof or floor framing by cable with a cable drum mechanism to adjust the platform level. The cables are suspended from outrigger beams anchored to the roof or floor. The hoisting mechanism allows the mason to work waist high, the most efficient level for a bricklayer to work. The mason swinging stage has a larger platform that is at least 30 inches wide.

Tower-Type Adjustable Scaffolding
In Yankton, South Dakota, mason contractor Gus Morgen, recognized the benefits of keeping bricklayers at their most productive level with material stocked conveniently. Gus, a journeyman bricklayer who had worked on swinging stages, began to experiment with various designs to get a product that would embody the benefits of a swinging stage for loadbearing masonry buildings. To get an acceptable support for his adjustable scaffolding idea, he used 4 by 4 posts and a block and tackle to raise the platform. What made it all happen was the introduction of new welding equipment, and techniques that made it possible to build a strong, welded steel truss tower. A tower that was strong enough to support the heavy loads of masonry materials, but light enough to be erected and moved on the job by laborers.

With this new concept he designed and built a triangular, cross-section, welded truss tower. The whole design of tower-type scaffolding is simple. It involves a carriage that provides a support platform for the masons, a raised platform for their material, and a third platform for mason tenders. The carriage is suspended from the tower and was raised and lowered by the mason tender with a cable winch.

Morgen received a patent for his design in 1950 which was for light commerical, schools and warehouses that were one-story and built with brick and block loadbearing walls. Most were about 12 feet in height, so the first towers were 12 feet tall and had three levels. Material handling was all manual - by wheelbarrow with the material stocked by hand. A rope and pulley suspended from an outrigger arm at the top of the tower was used to raise tons of brick and block to the raised platform.

The demand for scaffolding that could go to greater heights led to the development of sectional towers with bases and inserts which could be assembled for much higher walls. American Road Equipment Co. saw the potential in this system and modified one of their farm tractors to raise brick, block and mortar to the working platform. They were one of the first to develop a forward reach forklift, the Econmobile. The scaffolding was redesigned with the platform for the tender and material to be combined in a single deck level. The MCAA Material Handling Committee, in 1954, was working with the brick and block industry to develop packaged or unitized delivery of materials. This being accomplished made the delivery of materials to masons working on the scaffold much more efficient.

Recently Morgen introduced a new concept: a cableless adjustable scaffolding, using dogs engaging the tower structure, thus eliminating the need for wire rope. An electric drill activates the mechanism which moves the platform at a rate of 12 fpm. The entire unit has been beefed up, which now enables the use of 16 feet wide bays between towers.

Frame Tower Adjustable Scaffolding
In 1970 in Shreveport, LA, mason contractor Justin Breithaupt landed a 40-unit, one-story, brick veneer retirement village and decided to try corner poles to boost his productivity. It was successful. He then began to do larger commerical jobs, so he rented some of the new adjustable scaffolding which advertised a large production increase-and indeed it did. The original adjustable scaffold utilized several braces which were difficult to crank when loaded, and after two jobs Breithaupt's men wanted the frame scaffolding back. He knew the concept was a good one, but decided a different approach had to made to the towers to give the scaffold more stability.

He made a fresh start. Using the knowledge that he had gained, he designed a frame assembly for the towers to give them more stability. He then put rollers in the carriages so that they wouldn't rust, and used galvanized cables to prevent rust. He made other adjustments to the platform which made it easier to service the bricklayer. Today the tower-type scaffold utilizing the frame or truss tower has become one of the most used scaffolding on masonry projects.

Recently Non-Stop Scaffolding introduced a smaller prototype of his system for use on small commercial and residential work. It is light and can be easily moved around by hand. "We prefer the adjustable tower type scaffolding because we can set it up to fit almost any configuration, in any circumstance which allows us to be productive." Said Gary Kappeler of Kappeler Masonry in Waterloo Ontario Canada.

Mast-climbing Scaffolding
Contractors in Europe were also creating new concepts for scaffolding, but their objectives were different. A MCAA industry tour in the middle 70's was studying projects in the Netherlands and in Paris, France on a huge project, where they viewed their first mast-climbing platforms. At that time, due to smaller load capacities, this form of scaffolding was used by glaziers, caulkers, pointers - those crafts that did not require heavy material loads. However, it was unique and very efficient for the task at hand.

A climbing mast work platform is similar to the adjustable scaffold, but has some very important differences. Most adjustable scaffolds have a cable that needs to be cranked to raise the platform. A mast climber, with a touch of a button or the opening of a hydraulic valve, adjusts the platform level. It can be moved in minutes and set for the next working area. In addition, mast climbers can be erected in a short period of time and have great flexibility. A mast climber is moved around the building in steps, and work is completed from top to bottom before the next step is taken. Material is brought to the bricklayer by a hydraulic hoist that travels up at 70 feet per minute. The worker has a number of ways to access the platform, one is by a ladder system that is built as the platform climbs, or by a man basket that can hold two workers and their tools. The work platforms offer a wide deck, making the work environment a safe and productive area. Hydro Mobil (formerly Avant Garde Engineering) has indicated that the highest project to date was the demolition of a chimney at 550 feet.

It is interesting to note that in 1987, an inventor by the name of Jean St. Germain, got 40 mason contractors in the Quebec area to invest $350,000 dollars in his version of the scaffold. Jean's son was a mason contractor so they worked together on this new design. They secured patents and in the same year formed a company. The original firm, has gone through several restructurings, but has continued, to grow after forming Avant-Garde Engineering in 1944. Recently renamed Hydro Mobil, it is the 6th growing company in all of Canada.

All mast climbers have increased their load capacities and modified the means by which the platforms are raised. Gas, diesel or electricity are now available along with new helical technology. The mast climbers are fast becoming a major factor in the mason contracting industry.

Although much of the scaffold that is manufactured today is designed to increase the productivity of the mason, much of the innovation that has been made to increase the speed of the mason has also created benefits in reducing repetitive motion injuries of the mason. As OSHA's attempts to implement their ergonomic standards that could gravely impact the masonry industry continue, it is the adjusting type scaffolding which requires far less bending and lifting aiding in the masonry industry's long term compliance to any future government regulation in the area of ergonomics.

Regardless of the benefits to reducing future repetitive motion injuries, most mason contractors seek the most cost-effective scaffold that is most beneficial on each job that affords the greatest production levels. Clearly, there is no one scaffold that is perfect for each project. Most mason contractors employ various types of scaffolding which allows them flexibility when bidding new work. "We own numerous types of scaffolding and depending on the type of building that we are working on or the conditions that we must work under, we choose the scaffolding that best suits the project" said Dan Macario of Genco Masonry in Bethesda, Maryland. They tend to use the adjustable scaffolding because of the comfort level of the masons and its ease to moving the scaffolding. "Productivity goes up because the mason doesn't have to bend over much to get material", Macario said.

Scaffolding has made major changes in design, adding to the safety of workers and to their productivity. Each of the changes has added efficiency and a new approach. From the single-pole scaffold on through the frame, adjustable and now the mast-climbing scaffold, a mason contractor has played a pivotal role in its development.

Scaffolding Manufacturers
Frame Tower Adjustable Scaffolding
One of the fastest growing forms of scaffolding is the adjustable scaffolding, which offers masons many advantages. This type of scaffold offers an adjustable work surface that keeps masons working at a waist level for ease of production. This type of scaffold does not have to be totally dismantled to move from location to location. Most mason contractors believe that adjustable scaffolding improves overall production. However, the overall weight of the scaffold requires the use of a forklift to be used as well as working height limitations of the scaffold.
  • Non-Stop Scaffolding

  • Bil-jax, Inc.

  • Dura-Bil, Inc. (Ryd-Up)

  • Crankup Scaffolding

  • Mighty Equipment Co.

  • Lynn Ladder & Scaffolding (Mason King)

  • Morgen Manufacturing Co.

  • EZ Scaffolding Corp.
Suspended Scaffolding
Suspended scaffolding offers many of the advantages of mast climbing and adjustable scaffolding, however, it clearly cannot be used on many construction projects. Suspended scaffolding requires the existence of an established structure to hang the scaffolding from. They are easily adjustable and offer limited obstructions to workers. Suspended scaffolding offers contractors options in very tight work environments.
  • Easy Scale Scaffolding Ltd.

  • Safeway Steel Products
Frame Scaffolding
Still one of the most widely used scaffold, tubular frame scaffold offers many advantages. Interchangeable parts, easy to scaffold non-uniform walls, ease of adaptability for winter protection, very stable work platform. Tubular scaffold has several drawbacks such as non-adjustable work levels forcing masons to work at adjusting heights, difficult to stock materials and difficult to erect, dismantle and move easily.
  • Bil-jax, Inc.

  • Safeway Steel Products, Inc.

  • Patent Scaffolding

  • Mighty Equipment Co.

  • Universal Manufacturing Corp.

  • WACO Scaffolding Co.

  • KHK Scaffolding - Houston
Mast-climbing Scaffolding
Although requiring a larger investment than other scaffolding, powered mast climbing scaffolding offers very strong advantages for mason contractors. Wide work platforms and working heights in excess of 500 feet are two very strong features of this type of scaffold. Load capacity and the ease to adjust working heights for the masons are also two other advantages. Price and the fact that not all terrain conditions are well suited to this type of scaffolding.
  • Hydro Mobil (formerly Avant-Garde Engineering)

  • Fraco

  • EZ Scaffolding Corp.
Bibliography of References
  1. Bricklaying System, Frank B. Gilbreth, Hive Publishing Co., 1911

  2. Brick & Tile Engineering, Harry C. Plummer, Structural Clay Products, Inst., 1950

  3. Working Safely on Scaffolds, LIUNA/AGC Education & Traininq Fund, 1997

  4. Safeway Scaffolding Co, Milwaukee, WS

  5. Morgen Manufacturing Co, Yankton, SD

  6. Non-Stop Scaffolding, Schreveport, LA

  7. Hydro Mobil (formerly Avant-Garde Engineering), Quebec Canada


About the Author

Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, covers every aspect of the mason contractor profession - equipment and techniques, building codes and standards, business planning, promoting your business, legal issues and more. Read or subscribe to Masonry magazine at www.masonrymagazine.com.

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