Saturday, April 30, 2011

A working mason heartily shook my hand and...

it hurt.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Conjugate shear planes

Conjugate shearing

is so endearing

if you happen to be me.

But since you’re not

me it’s your lot

to suffer this completely:

explanation of how

a rock breaks. Wow

conjugate shear planes

the very same things

as mold release planes,

triangular displacings

relieve stress as strains.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I claim

I claim:

1. An arcuate building structure comprised of a first five-sided building block adjacent to and abutting a first six-sided building block, a second five-sided building block, a third five-sided building block, a second six-sided building block and a third six-sided building block wherein:

(a) said first six-sided building block, is comprised of a first top side, a first front side, a first back side, a first left side, a first right side, and a first bottom side, wherein:

1. said first top side has a substantially triangular shape with at least two sides, wherein at least two of said sides of such triangular shape are equal, and said first top side is substantially parallel to said first bottom side,

2. said first front side has a substantially trapezoidal shape comprising a top edge, a bottom edge, a right edge, and a left edge, wherein said right edge and said left edge have equal lengths and form equal angles with said bottom edge,

3. said first back side has a substantially triangular shape with at least two sides equal in length to each other,

4. said first left side and said first right side have shapes which are congruent, and each of said first left side and said first right side are in the shape of a parallelogram with walls and comprise two substantially triangular-shaped recesses and two substantially triangular-shaped projections disposed between said walls of said parallelogram, and

5. said first bottom side has a substantially trapezoidal shape and is comprised of two substantially triangular recesses and two substantially triangular-shaped projections disposed between the walls of such trapezoidal shape, and

6. first left side and first right side comprise two substantially triangular-shaped plugs disposed between the walls of said parallelogram, and

7. one of each of two said triangular projections which is adjacent to said back side has a linear crest which is at a substantially right angle to said front side and said back side,

8. said projections contain one substantially obtuse angle of about 120 degrees,

9. said recesses contain one substantially obtuse angle of about 120 degrees,

(b) each of said first five-sided building block, said second five-sided building block, and said third five-sided building block is comprised of a second top side, a second front side, a second back side, a second right side, and second left side, wherein:

1. said second top side has a substantially rectangular shape and comprises two substantially triangularly shaped recesses and two triangular-shaped projections disposed within said substantially rectangular shape,

2. said second left side and said second right side are congruent with each other and are also congruent with said first left side and said first right side,

3. said second front side is congruent with both said second back side and said first back side; and

(c) one of each of two said triangular projections which is adjacent to said back side has a linear crest which is at a substantially right angle to said front side and said back side,

(d) said projections contain one substantially obtuse angle of about 120 degrees,

(e) said recesses contain one substantially obtuse angle of about 120 degrees.

and I said that said claim is the first claim (of fourteen) in U.S. patent No. 5,873,206 which I wrote and what the hell, said claim is poetry to me.

How gravity works

He cut the binder and grabbed the brick

stacked ‘em high on his hod.

Up on his shoulders, steady now.

On up the ladder, one step at a time.

Carefully places them on the ledge

“bring up more mortar” mason yells

So he does, with hardly a look.

Mason grabs the brick, takes a trowel

scooping into the mortar board,

butters the brick, eyes the placement

reaching to set it -just so- carefully

drops the brick!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011


There are those that think me daft

for wanting such a block

that keys itself together without any draft.

An undercut creates a draft

a mold won’t release its lock

on a piece and let it free like an iceberg being calved.

A two piece mold comes apart in two pieces halved

molds must slide along the block

without negative angle, or a sticking draft.

It’s a contradiction, a very tricky craft

ripe for many to try and mock:

interlock, no undercut, now they really laughed.

But symmetry both fore and aft

arranged around an interlock

allows a skilled geometer to cast it, with no troubling draft!

Many are those who think me daft

In spite of this tricky block,

they don’t understand this subtle craft

of interlocking, mass-produced, all without a draft.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Chernobyl Accident: 25 years ago today

It was on April 26, 1986 that the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred.

What does this have to do with masonry?  I talk about it here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

A very few famous masons

Saint Patrick surely was one

Jude the Obscure struck joints

Winston Churchill laid some brick

Ivan Denisovich too

third little pig was no fool.

Furnace, kiln

Sometimes a mason will endeavor

to make a refractory thing

a kiln or maybe a furnace

for very high temp firing.

Kilns are tricky, they must be

figured to heat up even

and inhaling just right

is a matter of proper breathing.

The area of air intake

and area of exhausting

must be equal and the same

because the fuel is costing

far too much these days

for a kiln to not be heating

in a most efficient way

or the mason takes a beating.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Mason, king

Brother Rudyard Kipling offers

a clue or two on masonry

in his wonderful tale spinning

the most audacious thing in fiction

“The Man Who Would Be King.”

“Supposing I was to ask you

As a stranger going to the West

to seek for that which was lost

What would you say then?”

I should answer “Where do

you come from?” From the East,

and I am hoping that you will

give my message on the square

for the sake of the widow’s son.

Which lodge do you hail from?

Once a mason always a mason.

It’s an ancient order dedicated

to the brotherhood of man

under the all-seeing eye of God.

Some audacious scholars can even

trace it back to the builders of

Solomon’s Temple. Fellows in the Craft,

said Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Dravot

on going to Kafiristan: “They’ve two and thirty

Idols there, so we’ll be 33rd and 34th.”

We met upon the level and

we’re parting on the square,

Alexander the Great was one

and he was even there.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pox and blocks

The plague ravaged London

in 1665 and the next year

a fire started by Thomas Farynor

on Pudding Lane grew to be a

conflagration: The Great Fire

of 1666 meant more for bricks.

Destroyed were 430 acres of city,

13,000 houses, 89 churches and

52 Guild Halls, burned and gone.

King Charles II said no more would

wood be used to build: all must

be masonry, a stone and brick fiat.

Wren ruled and masons tooled

when London was rebuilt.

A booming new and prosperous industry

made lots and lots and lots of brick.

So much brick they stacked them thick

in holds of ships as ballast sailing for

New England from the new London

of olde England, so American masonry

owes its infancy to the Great Fire of 1666,

which ended the Black Death finally.

Block machine

A concrete block making machine
is something that really must be seen.

Six empty molds, filled with the mix
soon to produce six concrete bricks.

Shaking and rumbling and tamping
down and done with the hard stamping

It pops out six big concrete block
all in six seconds, quite a shock!

By simple math you can reckon
it makes a block ev’ry second.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Catenary Arches

Catena is Latin for chain

and a chain hung slack

from each end hangs

in a curve, which if

welded and flipped

upside down forms

a catenary arch.

The most stable arch

for masonry is this.

Thrust force lines

are kept within

the width of the wall

and it won’t fall.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Chi rho, x's and o's

Chi and rho are two greek letters

whose meaning is deep and

really quite mysterious.

A haunch is a part of an arch,

a haunch is part of your leg.

A femur’s the bone that makes

the haunch, and something more.

Femurs get crossed in a Jolly

Roger, the “chi” in a skull and

crossbones: our friend the haunch.

Skull is a "rho", and many know

rho’s by any other name

is just a seat of your mind.

Chi and rho also mean Christ

in symbolism of antiquity

and also in freemasonry,

and skull and crossbones are

Yale’s foremost secret society.

Phi, chi, rho, fum

I smell the blood of

another weird coincidence.

Hunch on a haunch

A haunch in masonry

is that part of an arch

where thrusting forces splay

and try to push out most.

If we start at the top and work

our way down, the haunch

is measured at a precise angle

in a round, Roman or barrel vault.

It is fifty one degrees

and fifty one minutes

universally, without exception.

The slope of great pyramids is based on

a wonder, the slippery number

of the golden mean, or phi

a greek letter that sounds like ‘fee.’

The slope of these pyramids is precise and

astounding because it is measured

at fifty one degrees

and fifty one minutes

but no one can reckon


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


The keystone gets placed

top center gap in the arch.

Firm and firmer, total strength.

I stand on it solidly, amazed

at such an obvious thing.


Monday, April 18, 2011

The mysterious structure of cement

Cement hides its secrets in plain sight.

Dusty, dirty and dry as dishwater

to anyone who pays no mind.

But for those who are piqued

by cement’s subtle slyness

the secrets are a wonder of science.

Is it a crystal? Or amorphous glass?

Why so unwilling to share its true nature?

It’s something of both yet neither,

an improbable conundrum like

yesteryear’s ideas of ether.

The code of cement was recently cracked

slyly by wily minds at MIT.

Regular stacks like crystalline lattice

all on the atomic scale of seeing

but tiny flaws and irregular gaps

form places for water to bond,

making cement one tough weird glue.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A waller's wall

Dry stacked walls made without mortar.

A calculation of abandoned beauty,

skill and experience too deep to gauge.

The craftsmen: artists for generations

the good ones are, but they would never

say so, no they don’t say much at all.

The best “wallers” are English, Welsh.

A good wall will last four hundred years.

They are assembled from an artist’s

pallet of stone rock and rubble, pieced

carefully together like a jigsaw puzzle,

locking together in a unique approach.

Long through stones, top flagstones

No running joints just staggered strength

and beauty, oh what sublime beauty.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A mason's lunch

Sandwich is OK
but sand which is in
my own lunch today
keeps me really thin .

My dry mouth I lick
don’t mean to be fickle
tastes like a red brick,
this here dill pickle.

Dusting of cement
dry as a desert
but I really meant
it is just dessert.

Desserts I stressed
O, my palindrome
"A man a plan a..."
shut up and go home!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Block Party (a true story)

I had a block party,

all the masons came

with their girlfriends.

We fired up the grill

and tapped the keg.

Music played and

we started in to

mixing mud by hand.

The girls were tenders

and taught how to chop

with a hoe and mix it right.

The walls went up, and

started out perfect

but toward the top

they were a little off

as the masons got drunk

in the warm night.

I sit inside this building

now and write this verse,

memories of the best

concrete block party ever.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tuck pointing

Chip out bad mortar

dusty and frail

crumbling detritus.

Sweep it clean.

Fresh good mud,

stuffed into cracks

tuck pointing is

taking care of someone

else’s shoddy work

do it right the first time.

Strike the joint,

Seal it smooth and burnish

but what’s this sloppy unstruck bed?

Alright who didn’t wipe their ass?

A note on this month's blog:  April is poetry month, and I have been double-dog-dared to write a poem every day this month.  Apologies for my bad poems, only two weeks of this left. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Terms of the trade

Just a few, alphabetically for you:

aggrilaceous, arris, ashlar, bedjoint, bullnose

buttjoint, calcareous, calcite, coping

draft, efflorescence, fleuri cut, flagstone float

hod, hornblende, mortarboard, pointing, quicklime

reglet, rusticated, screed, thick bed, thin bed

travertine, trowel, vein cut, veneer

weephole, wythe.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Shouldn’t think it

wouldn’t blink yet

there it is.

A rock set wrong.


Tear it out,


On the level

Block set in mortar

slightly askew.

That contractor's crooked,

how about you?

Tap with the trowel,

bump with the handle.

Is it straight?

Nuther tiny tap

plumb and level.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cement Poisoning

Cement on your skin

cracked bloody swollen

thick pickle fingers.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


As a child I became enthralled with masonry

and entered reverently great halls of stone

and marveled at structures made of block.

How was it made, this wonderful building?

Who were these people so skilled with mortar?

What had become of this lost art?

The cathedrals of Europe showed me this art.

I was lucky to see this bold masonry

and contemplate the skilled slingers of mortar.

How did they figure and know that a stone

could be cut such a way to construct this building?

All this amazement at stacks of block.

As I grew older the wonder of block

seemed to vanish with the lost art.

Daily surrounded by boring new building,

concrete blocks stacked in straight-walled masonry.

Gone from my sight were wonders of stone,

just boring-ass buildings, institutional mortar.

Gone from my mind were wonders of mortar,

gone too was thought of carved block;

when I looked on the ground an occasional stone.

Painting and drawing replaced my lost art.

Carpentry, plumbing, drywall and masonry

all seemed the same dreary task used in building.

As an adult I threw pots, and was soon building

giant architectural vases: assembly without mortar.

A house out of clay was my goal, without masonry,

still far removed from thought of block.

Twisted, turning and long was this art

for I would return to the skill of built stone.

How could it be done, to build wonders with stone?

Using modern methods and materials for building

to reclaim this lost and once lofty art?

To assemble a vaulted roof with mortar?

When all that was left was rectangular block:

a mass-produced world didn’t want good masonry.

I thought of art, casting concrete as stone,

realized masonry was still a key to good building.

Alas I found mortar, and secrets of triangular block.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

iambrick pentapeter

I say unto thee that I am Peter

and using iambic pentameter:

and also I say unto thee that you

are Petros and upon this rock a few

quoins and blocks later my church is willed

by Me your Father for Peter to build-

the gates of Hell shall not overpower;

but how much is a mason per hour?


Haiku 2

The hand locks tight up

The block goes of its own mind

a Popeye forearm.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Haiku 1

With trowel angled

I feather the joint rippling

smooth small waves of mud.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Conspiracy for a mason

I was asked to write a poem each day for a month.

I like a lark, prefer not to snark at the sharks

in the river so I start. Masonry as a topic?

You gotta be kidding! Nobody takes that

even kind of seriously: so deliriously and

with abandon I write some short poems on

blocks and rocks and bricks. Then I get

invited to be facebook friends with

“Edward Von Mullens II” who thinks I’m

a mason of the fraternal type, and asks

me to join the Illuminati of Guilderberg.

Bilderberg, Zionist, Rothschilds and few

are the billionaires I’ll cavort with as a mason!

Henry Makow and Brother Nathanael have

views on Jews that make me shudder, so I write

this poem unlike any other and realize the comfort

of an honest brick in my hand and messy mud.

Is the Illuminati Jewish or hated by them?

Who made this up, how why and when?

Poems can be such tricky things, I never knew.

The worst limerick in the universe

There once was a mason named Pete

whose domes were built as a feat

of triangular block

but others did mock

his work as an igloo concrete.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Stone masons feel superior to brick masons,

brick masons lord it over block masons

block masons rank over tenders

and tenders are above hod carriers.

Some masons do it all and feel

like a published slam poet.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How long will it last?

The carpenter is confident his work will last until the owner notices rot.
The painter knows a fresh coat shines.
The plumber figures those pipes won’t leak before she retires and the electrician reckons code won’t change before the decade’s out and the mason hides his smile thinking almost nothing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Thick as a brick

Bricks are arranged in a number of ways
which hearken one back to earlier days.

The patterns have names which masons are fond
of referring to as a certain “Bond.”

Herringbone, Rat-trap, English and Header
Stretcher and Basket, but Flemish is better.

A layer of brick is known as a “wythe”
How thick is a wall? Maybe three or five?

How thick is a brick? The wythes man was asked:
It depends on the brick, you stupid ass.

Life and death and life of a rock

Rocks and stones and sand and dust

rot and decay like wood into clay.

Sediment-forming dead sea heaps:

limestone shale slate and such.

Life makes rock like layer cakes

cooked and squished, twisted pretty

marble with balls of mica sprinkled

feldspar begets kaolin begins again.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Solution for containment of a failed nuclear plant

The nuclear disaster in Japan will outlast our short attention span. Headlines boldly state that the disaster could last for months. This disaster will last for thousands of years.

I wrote two brief entries on the possibility of using a modular masonry system to assemble a radial structure such as a cylinder or sphere or dome as a containment structure on this blog, here and here. I remain confident that this approach makes more sense than anything else TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) has tried, or is planning to try. I’m posting this blog entry subject again, in the hope that someone at TEPCO might notice.

Cracks in the inadequate “containment” structure at Fukushima dai-ichi are observed to be spewing radioactive water directly into the sea. Currently the effort to stop these leaks involves stuffing the cracks with sawdust and newspaper. Sawdust and newspaper? Incredibly, this approach is not working.

Engineers have tried pouring concrete directly onto the crack in an attempt to seal it. Incredibly, this approach is not working either.

Good concrete is poured under controlled conditions. A concrete mix is dependent on a low water-to-cement ratio to give it the qualities which are desirable in a high strength, consolidated, uniform mix. Poured concrete must cure under controlled conditions of high humidity, cool temperatures, and be allowed to cure unmolested. These conditions are unlikely to be satisfied if concrete is poured directly onto a hot radioactive site.

If concrete is poured under controlled conditions and allowed to properly cure, it has a much better chance of withstanding the demanding environment found at a failed nuclear reactor. Pouring a huge containment structure and then moving it to cover a nuclear reactor is entirely impractical. However, a modular system could be used to assemble a containment structure from properly made concrete unit shapes.

The modular system which has been developed and has been discussed throughout this blog appears to be an optimal solution to fixing this problem. These modular units can be made at a safe distance from the stricken nuclear reactor. Once cured, they can be transported to the site and assembled robotically, to minimize danger to humans. The interlocking aspect of these modular units greatly facilitates assembly of a containment structure by providing multiple contact and guiding surfaces. A tensile web of steel cable can also be woven into the structure as the containment dome is built.  Mortar or gaskets or seals can be readily incorporated into this design to form an integral structure without 'cracks' between modular blocks; there are a number of simple methods to achieve this.  Finally, multiple concentric layers can be placed (like layers of an onion) to increase wall thickness and safety factor.

Or we can try more sawdust and newspaper.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

When a mason works solo

The seventh bag of mortar seemed

easier than the first few until I stabbed

the tip of my crusty trowel into

the conspiring enemy of my lower back

with apparent rage that surprised me.

80 pounds and sounds of ripping dust

spilled into the barrow and water slaked

chopping the mud with a contempt filled

hoe but I know the worst part will be

cleaning up alone tired and bruised.

Tender, I wish I had a tender now.

A poem on arches

The curve of an arch tempts gravity

whose weight hangs in the air like

an extra dose of hubris hanging, sprung

by an intrados, saved by an extrados.

Unlikely still familiar: unstable stability

for thousands of years an obvious secret

clever enough to fool Galileo and others

smarter still, sublimely simple heavy waits

patiently for a fool like me to look twice.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Poetry and masonry

April is Poetry Month!  I have a friend who is an accomplished poet, Jennifer L. Knox.  Jen asked me (no: she double-dog-dared me) to write a poem about masonry every day this month.

Sorry folks, I'm no poet, but I won't back down from a double-dog-dare either.  I'll do my best to write a poem about masonry every day this month, and here's my first attempt.

The ivory towers of the academy

are somebody’s busted knuckles.

Brick and mortar and mud and rocks

nice and smooth except for the

rough spots and the empty cans of beer

dumped inside the walls and the blood

that turns brick-red after a week,

but sweat doesn’t stain at all.