Thursday, 11 July 2013

A Dying Skill

In recent weeks I've been searching for a builder or stone mason who had knowledge of pointing the red stone, 1840s, part of my home.

Eventually a name was recommended to me and I contacted him without delay.  Let's call him Jim. A few days after our telephone conversation Jim appeared to assess the job.  He'd been a builder for 60 years he said (he was in his late 70s) and certainly appeared to know about lime mortar and what that involved.

Jim started to remove the concrete which a previous owner had daubed all over in an attempt to hide crumbling stone (see picture) and I thought he did a reasonable job, although he didn't appear too keen to work above his waist level.(Clue number one which I ignored).  Nevertheless, I thought he must know what he was doing as the person who recommended him had spoken of him highly and I know them well.

A few days later I came home from a morning out to find Jim had started with the lime mortar. Unfortunately I didn't take a photograph, but if I describe the stonework as being thickly daubed by a child using white paint, that may give you an idea of what met me. The stonework was more or less invisible but Jim was proud of his work.  Worse still, in the couple of hours I'd been out, he had also slapped mortar on the gable wall - thankfully only to shoulder height there too.

When I remarked about the whiteness, I was told all lime mortar is white but it would deepen over a period of years.

Now, I did do a little research about lime mortar and the colour depends on the sand used.  When I mentioned that a red sand may have been more suitable the response was the local builder didn't sell red sand only silver!

By this time I was visualising the value of my home dropping like a stone but didn't know how to tell the elderly man his work wasn't good enough. I was quite speechless and when rain started suddenly he said he'd be back after the weekend (the one before last).  On the Monday he didn't appear so I telephoned him only to be told he looked after his grandchildren on Mondays so he'd be here the following day. I told him not to do anything until we'd had a chat.

The chat resulted in him agreeing the job was too much for him at his age so we departed on reasonable terms.

Last weekend a friend who was visiting noticed the 'work in progress' and I explained my predicament. She told me of a house near her golf course which had recently been restored so without delay we trotted off to visit it and the work was exactly what I want.  After more than enough hesitancy from the home owners - they weren't keen to divulge the name of their workman - I was eventually put in touch with the stonemason involved. Because I'd seen his recent work I have no doubt he will doing the building proud and I look forward to posting a photo of a newly pointed wall in the next few weeks.

It seems lime mortaring is a dying skill and many owners of old stone houses are now resorting to having their homes harled because they can't find tradesmen with the expertise involving lime mortar and colour blending.  Sadly it seems another traditional skill may fade away in a generation or two.


Joe Public said...

Sometimes, "age and experience" simply means a more-credible piece of bullsh1t is spun to a potential punter.

I hope Builder-number-2 has the skills and expertise needed. If you've seen an actual example of his work, you should be 95% the way there.

JRB said...

Hoping all goes well.

But remember - take out that second mortgage / sell-off the family silver / sell a kidney, or whatever, in plenty of time. For no doubt such bespoke, hand crafted, time consuming, almost forgotten, traditional skill - comes at a price.

subrosa said...

Aye I think I've cracked it with this one Joe. Lots of luck involved finding him but we all need luck at times.

subrosa said...

Actually JRB his quote was less than I thought although it's substantial enough. Only half the house is old so there are only 3 sides to point as the extended piece is attached to the back wall.

Unknown said...

I've just finished re pointing my walls SR. My cottage walls looks a similar age / mortar colour to your house.

I asked for advice at the builders yard and he sold me a tin of red powder that you add to the cement/ sand / water mix to get the match for the old red mortar.
All builders must know this. Especially if he's as experienced as your builder claims to be.

Joe Public said...


Raid your Make-Up cabinet.

Simples ;-)

Oldrightie said...

We've just completed 9 years of restoration here, Subrosa. Including a new thatch ridge. Much over the last 12 months. Good luck and get plenty of rest in between the work!

subrosa said...

Thanks for the tip Monty. I thought about that too. The chap I have now is an expert on lime mortar and he's going to use red sand to get the colour correct. He's coming to do a patch test on a bit at the back of the house this weekend, just to check I'm happy.

subrosa said...

Wow Joe, and I've stacks of the stuff in a drawer!

subrosa said...

I know you've been busy for some time with yours OR. This is the last big job for here - thank goodness, but I'm sure it'll look ok. Had the old external wall which runs round quite a bit of the garden done a couple of years ago but I needed a specialist for this task. Yours look lovely from the photos. The two of you should be very proud.

CrazyDaisy said...

Best wishes Madame, hope you get the result you clearly deserve x


CrazyDaisy said...

Best wishes Madame, hope you get the result you clearly deserve x


subrosa said...

Thanks CD. I've found an expert so am a happy wifey. xx

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