Brick & Block - The Devil's in the Detail

Detail is everything to brick and block laying apprentice Chris Axon who recently completed his stage II block course in Wellington.

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Masterton-based from Atkinson Bricklaying Ltd, Chris recently spent two weeks in Upper Hutt at the Stage II block course. Chris is two and half years through his apprenticeship and as he doesn’t build too many arches and fireplaces, found the course to be relevant and beneficial to his apprenticeship.

‘The block course is one of the last things that I needed to do before completing my apprenticeship so I’m keen to finish off on a high. The course was great, I had a few nerves at first as you didn’t know what you were up for, but Tim our Trainer made everyone feel at ease, pretty quickly’ says Chris.

Chris believes apprentices need to have block courses to maintain the artisan skills within the trade that are not used by many of us on a day-to-day basis. Reflecting that,

‘Building fireplaces, firebacks, arches, and curved brick/block walls are specialist skills that are not used often. Fireplaces in residential homes are also rare but we are building outdoor barbeques, pizza ovens, and fire pits that help us to use these artisan skills.’

Many local authorities around the country ban the use of wood-burning fireplaces which means fewer are being designed into properties. Most solid fuel open fires do not meet the emission standards so property owners may need to consider installing an alternative type of fireplace with lower emissions, such as an enclosed wood burner or gas fire.

Chris explains more below.


“Drawing an arch for a fireback, an arch to go over the fireplace and a curved fireback wall were new to me. I had to plan out all the cuts for the arch which are called Voussoirs (a supporting brick in an arch, usually shaped to ensure that the joints appear even) and had to cut every single one of them.

It was good having to do these as it’s not everyday work for me, so I enjoyed it. I have plenty of photos of my work so the next step is to load all the best ones into my myBCITO portal so my Training Advisor can go through them and sign off on some of the outstanding skills that I needed to learn about and know how to erect.

I have a friend building a house and he wants an arch going over two columns at the front of the house so I feel heaps more confident about doing that work for him now otherwise I would have had to get someone to help me. It needs to be perfect as it’s the first thing visitors will see. It’s a bonus knowing how to measure up the job – if nothing else at least I can plan out the job and if I need help with building the structure, I know I can ask the guys from work. Working out the arch measurements will be the same as working out a curved wall.

Because I’ve done a lot of brickwork it was good to be able to lend a hand to the others on the course. Some have done more blockwork, so it felt good being able to help. People on the course come from different brick-and-block backgrounds – we had a woman apprentice and a couple of older guys.

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With bricklaying you work in a close-knit team – you’re sometimes dodging around each other, so you build up a good rapport pretty quickly and the crew becomes your mates.

Some of our crew have just come back from four days in the Marlborough Sounds. Brett the boss, his son has a mate whose dad we did a job for. That took us a couple of days and as a thank you to us he lent us his place for a couple of days. We were out on the boat and there was lots of fishing off the wharf catching blue cod, terakihi, snapper, and maceral, all the time taking in the amazing views and just chilling with the guys. That’s the sort of culture we have with Brett. It’s an upbeat team and we all try to make work fun, we give each other a tough time sometimes – the work is hard, especially in winter being outdoors, so we make the best of it.

I wouldn’t change anything – I work on residential and commercial projects, retirement villages, buildings in the city, and out here in the countryside. Great jobs with variety and great people and I get to put the finer touches on my work as for me, the devil is in the detail!”