Saving the Day ... Each and Every Day
The art of laying brick hasn't changed a lot in the last 100 years. In many areas, it has gotten more technical, such as new mortar formulations and different materials, but the basic work of skillfully placing one brick or block on another is about the same. What has changed tremendously over the years is how to put those skilled craftsmen right where they need to be through the use of scaffolding.
In the Beginning
Conventional frame scaffolding, invented in the early '30s, became commonplace after World War II. Trades of all types, including mason contractors, embraced this type as a solution to many of their problems.
In the '60s and '70s, several new elevating scaffolds ? also called adjustable or climbing scaffolds ? appeared on the market for mason contractors looking for an alternative to fixed frames. The main advantage of this type is you are able to winch the platform up the towers every couple of courses to keep the bricklayers working continuously at a comfortable waist-high level, without having to stop to raise the planks. This new concept was not only sound, but it was also proven in a government study to increase productivity by over 20% compared to the fixed frame variety.
A Versatile Option
Many contractors across the country have turned to elevating scaffolding because of the unique working advantages it offers them over other scaffolding systems available today. Many contractors become aware of just how versatile elevating scaffolding truly is during tough situations where their scaffolding needs just aren't being met.
One contractor, Lucia Incorporated of Houston, Texas, was faced with such a difficult job in Jackson, Miss., where fixed frames and mast-climbing scaffolds just weren't doing the trick.
"We were setting the stone on the new Justice Court Building downtown and saw right off our frames were not going to work," says Joe Campbell, Lucia's Safety Director. "We had to place the pieces of stone onto the scaffold with a crane, and the cross-braces would have been in the way. Since our elevating scaffolding has no obstructions above the five-board material landing area, we were able to land the stone with no problems. We just cranked the platform to keep it at the right height with the work all the time. This is really important when you're setting heavy stone."
Placing materials wasn't their only problem.
"The configuration of the job was a major problem, too" adds Lucia's Project Manager, Harry McGraw. "We had a lot of inside and outside corners and radius walls. We were using a mast-climbing system on the job at first, and it could have been made to work on these walls, but only with a lot of costly extra hardware and the labor to modify it. We also had some engine breakdowns that shut us down for days at a time.
"We switched over to our elevating scaffolding because our men could set-up these odd configurations almost as fast as straight walls," says McGraw. "It's also about one-third the money."
Lucia was also considering the use of the mast-climbing platforms along one side where the basement extended out past the face of the building.
"The engineers wouldn't let us do that because the point loads were so high," states Campbell. "Our adjustable scaffolding did a great job here because the point loads are only slightly higher than frames."
A Step in the Right Direction
Tim Everett, a mason contractor in Braxton, Miss., regularly employed five to ten bricklayers. He saw an opportunity to make his business grow, but it was going to be a difficult growth phase and he saw hindrances in his daily operations.
"I was at a point where I knew we could do bigger jobs, but that would mean a big jump in the size of my crew and my payroll because I would be going after jobs with taller walls," explains Everett. "I was using frames and, if a couple of laborers didn't show up, my bricklayers would have to stop and raise their own walk boards, plus no scaffold got built ahead that day. That just cripples you unless you have a big crew you can shift around."
After studying the possible advantages he could gain by changing to elevating scaffolding, he decided to go ahead.
"I've never looked back!" says Everett. "When we roll up on a job now, we set up the scaffold one time and we're done. No more building and tearing down frames. I've got a man who can grab those towers with the forklift and move them around in no time. My bricklayers don't do anything but lay brick. My production has gone through the roof."
At the time he was interviewed, Everett had been using his new scaffolding for about 16 months, and has stepped up his daily operations, now working 20-25 bricklayers efficiently. When asked if it had helped him out of any especially tough spots, he didn't take long to ponder his response.
"That's an easy one to answer," Everett immediately says. "We had a bunch of 25-foot-high gable walls to build on top of a three-story church. That would have been a nightmare on frames ? hauling every piece up there and then the erection and dismantle on every wall. It would have taken absolutely forever.
"I made a deal to use the General Contractor's crane and fly the towers in place, boards and all," continues Everett. "In six picks, we were done. It only took us an hour to scaffold that first gable, and about two hours to fly them from wall to wall after that. We mopped up."
The use of adjustable scaffolding has not only helped this mason contractor with how his crew is working, but also where they're working.
"This new way has really streamlined my day-to-day operation," says Everett. "It helped me step-up to doing big commercial work and still maintain tight control. We are very productive, with fewer men, which is good because it's really hard to find bricklayers around here."
The experience of these two companies is pretty typical of elevating scaffolding users. While some contractors have continued to use conventional frame scaffolding due to tradition, the ones that have changed say they are never going back. They all agree that adjustable scaffolding has assisted in their bottom-line.
John Clements, co-owner of Masonomics, Inc., of Louisville, Ky. has been using elevating scaffolding for over ten years and can adequately sum up the main overall advantage for mason contractors.
"When the block stops the money stops," states Clements. "It would be a giant step backward to do our jobs with anything other than our climbing scaffold."
About the Author
Justin Breithaupt, Jr. is the owner of Non-Stop Scaffolding, Inc. He has been involved with elevating scaffolding and the masonry business since 1975, when his father invented a tower scaffolding system for their own masonry business. Visit www.nonstopscaffolding.com for more information on Non-Stop Scaffolding, Inc.