3 Questions to Ask before Engaging a Block Layer

It’s been a interesting couple of months for us, with COVID knocking us – and others in the construction industry – back a couple of steps. The good news is restrictions are ending and we’re getting plenty of calls for work.

More often than not, we’re contracted by an architect or builder to work on a project. Once we’ve sorted dates and details, we get stuck into it. But for those who don’t know our work, there are often a few questions that pop up. So, we thought we’d cover a few of them, and talk about the difference a good laying team makes.

Can you work off dimensioned plans?

This really is our bread and butter, and dimensioned plans are by far the easiest way to start a project. As we talked about in a previous blog, dimensioned plans allow us to understand really clearly the type of work our clients are after. Everything from block dimensions to decorative features and the footprint of the laying itself gets spelled out here, so it makes our work easy.

If you don’t have a dimensioned plan, that’s okay too. We can organise a surveyor on larger projects, or for smaller projects like garden features we can take care of things in-house. 

What’s your timing like?

This is a two-prong question – it’s about how long a job will take, and how quickly we can get started. Both are a bit like asking How long’s a piece of string?

Sometimes we can start big projects this week, sometimes they’re a couple of weeks away. It can vary a lot, especially given that some block laying work is staggered as, say, an apartment building goes up or a development takes shape. So although we may have big projects on the go, sometimes there are gaps that we can fill with smaller projects, which means it’s always worth asking. 

As I mentioned, we’re doing well at the moment, which means our calendar is keeping us out of trouble. We like to think that if you’re keeping busy, then that’s a good sign you’re doing good work.

Ultimately, though, we like to make sure that we deliver whatever we promise. Regardless of the project, we turn up when we say we will, work to our budget, and do the best work we can.

Why is there a difference in price between you and the competition?

If I had a dollar for every time I’d been asked this, I could have retired by now!

Shopping around’s a pretty normal part of the construction game, as anyone who’s engaged a contractor for a home reno or big project will know. It’s also become a bigger part of the conversation after the recent slowdown. You want to make sure you’re getting a fair deal, and that you’re going to get a quality finished product, too.

Materials cost the same across the board, so no one’s getting the same blocks or bricks for that much cheaper, unless they’re using seconds when they should be using firsts. Generally, where someone cuts costs is in worker pay, or safety. So when I hear that some crowds out there are offering the “same” work as us but for half the price, I’m a bit suss.

If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is.

It’s possible that some crews out there are using underpaid workers, rushing work, and cashing cheques before anyone notices. It’s easy to see dodgy work out there – just look for the wonky lines, walls that don’t sit square or straight, or block work slowly sinking into the soil due to weak foundations. It’s leagues apart from quality work, which is built to stand the test of time.

As we talked about in another earlier blog, we dedicate a lot of time and effort into getting the right materials and qualified skills on site, and making sure the logistics are watertight so that we can get the job done quickly, safely, and well.

So if you’re keen for a quality job done right, get in touch.

Contact us for a free quote

    Off tools for the moment – and looking back at a great year

    Like a lot of businesses at the moment, we’ve had to put things on hold while we’ve been in lockdown. Not ideal, we know – especially when we’ve been keeping busy with some great projects across the greater Auckland region. While we have some down time, we thought it would be good to look back and celebrate some of what’s made the last twelve months a real success.

    Securing new work

    In the last few months, we’ve gained contracts for three new school jobs including work for Waterview and Glendowie schools, which will be a great boost once we get back on site.

    Looking back, last August we secured four apartments for CJM Construction in Karaka. Laying 12,000-odd blocks certainly kept us busy, on and off site over a couple of months as the entire project took shape. The builders and landscapers were about to finish off the gardens before winter set in, so we’re looking forward to seeing how this comes together and opens up.

    A masonry home right on Takapuna beach certainly made it easy going to work when some impressive beach views were quite literally on the client’s doorstep! Since building is a long game, it’ll be a few months yet before this client moves in, but I reckon the view is worth the wait.

    Something slightly different was completing work for the America’s Cup races. We provided a block base and retaining wall for one of the international racers via Stride Projects, who we’re working with for the Waterview Primary project.

    We’re grateful for all our colleagues and associates in the industry, not least of all Manson’s TCLM Limited who have kept us very busy. Their latest work includes the seven-level, six-green star rated building on Fanshawe St which we at Quality Masonry had our own small hand in.

    A strong and diverse team

    We’ve shored up our team with five layers and a labourer, but our team of six is still one of the most efficient teams out there.

    Part of that comes down to having good sorts on the tools, working hard on site every day. Being an efficient, tight-knit team also means we’re more than capable of handling everything from a block of apartments to a garden wall. And of course, because I’m on site managing and overseeing every project and the foremen are running their jobs, we’re keeping up that Quality Masonry high standard.

    A busy industry

    One thing’s for sure: we’ve been busy. Until a couple of weeks ago, we were still going out every day. In early March, we were gearing up to provide the walls around a pool and landscaping project for a client on Waiheke Island – in fact, we were about to pour when we got the word that we’d have to hold fire for a while. Just as well our client is an understanding sort; we’ve done one project for them already, and have another two lined up, so when this all blows over they – and we – will be keen to see their projects completed and looking great.

    Things have been on hold, but it’s just a pause; we’ve set ourselves up well and will be ready to get back on site as soon as lockdown ends. We might be apart, but I’m proud of what the team has achieved over the last year – and am excited for what’s yet to come.

    Health and safety at Quality Masonry: What we do to get home safe

    Let’s be honest – health and safety regulations are a pain. I’ll be the first to admit it. For businesses like ours, when we’re on a building or construction site working with heavy loads and around serious equipment, there are a lot of rules. We have to use such-and-such tools or wear certain items of clothing. Sometimes it feels like these are getting in the way of doing our job.

    But we need work-safe rules because I want every one of my team to get home to their families safe at the end of every day. 

    It’s too easy to complain about specific rules and regulations when they feel like they slow down a job or add another cost, but I would rather buy a thousand pairs of safety goggles than have to take one of my block layers to A&E with an eye injury. I’d rather wear high-viz than get hit by a forklift. 

    We do pretty much all our stone cutting wet rather than dry. Does a wet stone cut better than dry? No. What it means, though, is that we’re not kicking up and breathing in kinds of dust that stays in our eyes and lungs. Plus special cleaners help us minimise dust on site to stop it getting kicked up in the wind and affecting others.

    Health and safety is all about sensible prevention. We do what we can and should to keep site safe and do the least harm possible. That comes down to little things like dust masks and hard hats and big things like new equipment and site safe inductions. All our leads get tagged and tested every three months. Every second year our block layers take a site safe course and get assessed at a cost of around $170 per head. We wear these so that the chance of an accident is as close to zero as we can get it.

    To keep a project running, we’re thinking ahead to what kinds of unique risks we can expect and how to best work around them. Every site is different to a degree, with varying access points, slopes, and working around everyone and everything else on the site – especially on commercial jobs. We’re keeping our spaces clean and clear and using the correct scaffolding. We do our best to keep ourselves safe, and make sure others know where we are by tying off our work so they can see and work around us. Fewer accidents also means less stress or hold-ups on our clients’ projects, so whatever keeps us in check is good for everyone.

    We’re proud of a clean track record for incidents on site (touch wood), so we know we’re doing something right. 

    Things have been getting safer in recent years, too, so we’re looking forward to fewer reports on the news of serious accidents and harm and making sure more tradies get home safe every night. I reckon that’s worth the extra paperwork.

    Your ultimate guide to getting an accurate block laying quote

    We take pride in doing a bang-on job every time. Not only does it take a team of stand-up guys working together to deliver quality work every time, but getting a job right also depends on experience, and knowing what to expect before we get there. When we’re heading to site, we want to know we’ve prepared for every possibility and have all the right equipment and blocks to get your job done on time and with no nasty surprises. That’s why we plan ahead and create accurate quotes based on the best information. But what do we need from you to give you the most accurate quote possible?


    Long before we get to site with blocks and layers, we need to understand what kind of work our clients are looking for. That could include anything from the size or type of block they’d like to the footprint or path of their wall, and any extra features they might like including decorative finishes that require extra time and skill.

    We’re often quoting from plans provided by Quantity Surveyors (QS). These plans will show us any and all walls that we’re being asked to lay, but the more detail, the better. You can’t have too much information on a dimensioned plan!


    We use a qualified QS to do our take offs so we have the most accurate figures for all the elements we’re going to need. We scale from the plans and make calculations for the number of blocks we’ll need to organise. But we also need to consider how much steel is needed in the block work. Steel bars – sometimes call rebar – give concrete blocks great support and help them withstand flexural stresses, which is important in earthquake-prone New Zealand. Getting that right is a big deal, so we’re careful to make sure we’ve got these in the mix when needed.

    There are a few other materials to consider, like mortar, but usually the next consideration for a job is whether we’ll need scaffolding. Not all jobs need scaffolding, but when we’re working at height it’s definitely needed for safety and support.


    With every Quality Masonry project, we ask ourselves what level of skill is needed to complete the block laying. If special skills are required – such as for special detailing or complex patterns – then we’ll make sure our most experienced layers are there to lead the work and maintain our high standard. Complex jobs are a great opportunity for our less experienced layers to learn, but we’ll always have a more experienced layer overseeing the project.


    We also need to think about how our layers are getting to site, which includes everything from the travel time to parking availability. We need to ensure that our layers have a clear path to the planned wall or blockwork site, especially if they’re working around other contractors, as is often the case. We’re also keeping an eye on how much carrying the team will need to do, and we’re keen to ensure they have the right equipment to minimise stress, time, and the risk of injury.

    No one likes half a quote, so we look at the whole picture and give the most accurate figures we can before we get started. Once all of the above has been taken into account, we can prepare an accurate quote for the work ahead so no one gets any nasty surprises.

    So there you go – some of the things that go on when we’re preparing a block laying quote. For us, the goal is to be as accurate and as all-inclusive as possible. Having the right team on the job, with the right tools, materials, and skills is the best way to ensure the job’s done right. Keen for an accurate quote for your next block laying project? Get in touch today.

    Contact us for a free quote

      From Oxford to Auckland City: Meet Adam

      One great thing about having a diverse team of block layers is the different skills they bring to each site. That’s why we like having Adam on board, whose experience laying blocks and bricks in the UK brings a fresh perspective to our projects. 

      Originally hailing from Oxford, about an hour and a half out of London, Adam picked up brick and block laying as a young lad and couldn’t put it down.

      “At school, I tried a bit of brick laying. I was about 15, 16 at the time and there was a one-day-a-week sort of course at my secondary school.” 

      He immediately knew he’d found the right fit. “I just liked it,” he says. “I was never one for sitting at a desk. I’m a block layer, and I’m really happy to do that.”

      Adam went straight into an apprenticeship and has been honing his skills since then, working across England. After meeting his partner in Melbourne, they returned back to her home country of Ireland where Adam continued to practice block laying. They were both clearly bitten by the travel bug, and went travelling across Asia before arriving in New Zealand in early 2017. Seeing New Zealand as a great place to call home, he started looking for a job and reached out to Phil McKay at Quality Masonry. According to Adam, “That was that!”

      Adam fit right in. With half a lifetime of block laying experience, Adam’s expertise in the UK was a great foundation for block laying here, but there was still a lot to learn. 

      “There are some big differences between the UK and NZ. There, it’s more traditional and more cosmetic, and a lot more hollow work. Here it’s more structural; there’s more concrete and reinforcement here. There’s also little things like how every country trowels differently. I’ve liked learning the different processes.”

      Adam enjoys being part of our team, and values the support he receives from the rest of the team and especially from Phil.

      “I like working with Phil and him being around. A lot of bosses don’t like getting stuck in, but Phil’s hardworking. There’s not many bosses out there like him that like being a team player.”

      With Phil and the rest of the Quality Masonry team backing him, Adam’s been able to showcase his skills and share his knowledge, laying blocks across Auckland to our usual high standard.

      “I like being outdoors, and getting to see different parts of Auckland every day. Last week we were on two jobs in Ponsonby, and working a huge project in South Auckland that’s over 10,000 blocks.”

      We’re chuffed Adam’s part of our team. He’s really found himself at home here, taking his campervan around on weekends and seeing what New Zealand has to offer. He’s often out on hikes, at music gigs or enjoying some local craft beers.

      “We’re spoiled for choice here,” he laughs.

      That variety – both on and off-site – make a big difference. Since no two days are quite the same, or in the same part of the city, Adam’s getting to know Auckland one job (and one beer) at a time.

      Contact us for a free quote

        Stronger together: building with overseas labour

        Here at Quality Masonry, we reckon if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly. That’s why we bring together a great bunch of block layers and foremen who are awesome at what they do. They’re a diverse bunch too, with many of our best having come from overseas and found a place with us, working hard and delivering great results.

        Overseas labour can be a real boon. Especially when cities like Auckland are expanding up and out at a faster and faster rate, overseas workers can fill the gap left by a shortage of skilled local workers. While that means it’s a great time for Kiwis to upskill, there’s also an opportunity to invest in overseas professionals who are committed to working well in New Zealand.

        It’s never been easier for skilled workers to move here for employment. There’s a huge pool of labourers who applied for work visas – over 12,500 labourers’ work visas were approved in 2018 alone! That means a great chance of finding enthusiastic and talented people to invest in from anywhere in the world.

        Take Raff, one of our valued foremen and all-around good bloke who learned block laying in his hometown in central Afghanistan, and who’s an out-and-out asset to our team. (We chatted about him in a previous blog.) We’ve also recently brought in three staffers from the Philippines – Ervin, Jimmy, and Rico. Not only are they awesome to have on board, they are helping us maintain our high standard for work in block laying around Auckland.

        Working on site wouldn’t be the same without these good sorts at part of our team – not only are they great at what they do, but they also offer fresh perspectives on the world. We get a fantastic opportunity to share our Kiwi culture and learn about how others in the world live. 

        It’s not just perspective. Our overseas workers give us a real edge – since every project is different, having fresh ideas on site can make a real difference. Our overseas workers often bring in solutions to everyday problems that we might not have thought of, and when that new perspective meets the Building Code, we can work some real magic.

        Since our local senior guys know the regulations and Building Code best, we tend to have them in charge of projects – they can keep an eye on everything and maintain our high Quality Masonry standards while our newer team members learn the best practices. It’s a great learning opportunity, and a chance for our newest labourers to develop the skills and advance regardless of where they’re from, under the supervision of our senior guys. 

        We’re pretty proud of our guys – they’re hard working and knowledgeable, and they care about what they do. Ultimately that means we’ve got teams on site who work well together, and can continue to deliver projects on time and on budget every time.

        Getting it right the first time: Meet our foreman, Raff

        When it comes to a strong block-laying team, having great foremen on board makes all the difference.  That’s why we’re proud to have Raff as part of our team, working hard to help us deliver quality results.

        Raff brings with him a lifetime of experience. “My older brother was a brick layer,” he says. “When I was young, I jumped in with him, for fun. I was interested in what he was doing and how he was doing it.”

        It was the start of something great. Raff was bitten by the block laying bug, and has been in the construction industry ever since.

        In 2017, Raff was looking to start his block laying apprenticeship and found his home with Phil McKay at Quality Masonry.

        “I wanted to find the right company and the right people to work with,” says Raff. “Phil’s performance, his quality is the best. He’s a good leader. Everything he does, it’s the right thing. As soon as I joined Phil at Quality Masonry, I knew I was in the right place.”

        We reckon Raff is in the right place too. He’s a real asset to our team, since quality is at the foundation of his work. He’s always looking at the project as a whole, and looking forward to make sure his work lasts a lifetime. “Whenever I’m on site, I’m thinking – if this wall is going up, it’s going to be here for ages. The water can’t get through; the steel can’t rust. We have to do it the right way, to a high standard.”

        “It’s about building something that lasts a hundred years – or more,” he says.

        Getting it right the first time is what drives Raff, and his growing skills as an apprentice and as a foreman. And if he’s ever in doubt, he turns to Phil’s expertise. “All the time, I’m thinking about the work – is it right, or is it wrong? I’ll turn to Phil, and he’ll take the time to explain the reasons why things are done the way they are. Phil’s good like that. He’ll take your hand and lift you up.”

        It’s this kind of leadership that inspires Raff, who steps up to the plate if Phil’s ever off site and makes sure the team are working hard to ensure Quality Masonry keeps its reputation as the best block layers in the industry.

         Raff’s keen to lead by example and show the younger apprentices the proper way and the safest way to work, to make sure that each job is hassle-free. “That way, when the end of the day comes, we go home safe and happy,” he says. “We laugh, we all enjoy ourselves. It’s hard work, but we enjoy it.”

        And when’s he’s not enjoying working outdoors and the team, Raff’s out exploring Auckland with his young family.

        “We have a son, so our weekends are out at the mall or the park. He loves playing soccer. He’s three and a half years old, so when he’s not in daycare he’s practically a full-time job!”

        Getting the foundations right: A Kalmar project

        For businesses like Kalmar, a good reputation in the construction industry is built one block at a time. One of their newest projects, SKHY Precinct – an apartment block on Khyber Pass Rd in Auckland – needed reliable subbies to deliver quality workmanship and results. That’s how they knew the team at Quality Masonry would be the right choice for their block laying needs.

        Getting it right

        Aaron Goddard, Site Manager for Kalmar, says the right tradies make all the difference in a construction project. With directors personally committed to the success of each project, Aaron needed subbies on site with a plan of action and good heads on their shoulders to ensure a high standard would be maintained.

        “In today’s market of too much work and not enough labour, we are finding there are a lot of quality issues,” says Aaron. “The biggest challenges are people showing up to work and not having done any work prior, or having me show up every five minutes to make sure their work is right.”

        Just as well the quantity surveyor for this project has a good relationship with Phil McKay and knew that our team had the block laying skills and experience to work with Aaron to deliver the right results.

        Real strength

        Aaron’s task for Quality Masonry included a couple of retaining walls, a block lift from ground to level five, and a couple of blocks through the stairwell of the new apartment building. 

        “Design- and build-wise, thankfully it was a straightforward project,” says Aaron.

        With a solid opportunity like this, we worked hard to prove our worth over and over.

        “They’d come and do a floor in a day – come for one day, get a floor poured, come back 10 days later… Everything was done in time that we wanted.”

        But it’s not just about reliable workmanship. One of the biggest benefits of choosing Quality Masonry is the right attitude towards getting a project done. With a focus on the bigger picture, our team pride ourselves on knowing how to work with site managers like Aaron and his team to ensure we’re always on track.

        “I need people who show up pre-planned, know what they’re doing, and highlight and solve issues,” he said. “Sometimes Quality Masonry would show up and things weren’t yet ready. They’d work in with us to get it done. They’d help for the final cause, not just have a moan and bugger off.”

        Results, as promised

        “We need people who can show up with a good plan, know what they’re doing, and come to me with any major issues,” shares Aaron about why initiative and responsibility are so important on a job site.

        The outcome of choosing to work with Quality Masonry? Results, as promised. “The end results were good: what we expected and what we paid for. Everything we wanted was done in time.”

        Choosing Quality Masonry for Kalmar’s latest project meant a hassle-free block laying component from a switched-on team.

        “The guys on site were good – they worked well together. Phil was very accommodating and we worked together to mitigate any issues of programming and delay and get things done on time.”

        With Quality Masonry’s work done, Kalmar’s apartment block is on track for completion in July 2019. We can’t wait to see the final product.

        How Quality Masonry combats common block laying issues

        As the foundation for all construction jobs, it’s really important that your block laying is done right from the get go. After 19 years in the business, we know what the most common block laying issues are – and how to overcome them to get the job done. Discover how below.

        Bad footings

        The footings of a building distribute the weight of the foundation walls and the building itself. We can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure the footings are solid and completely flat from the start before any block laying commences. If it’s not flat before we begin, that imperfection will creep up through the whole wall. Some people think you can just build up or jam down to make the wall level, but if there’s a hump or something uneven in the footings then the whole wall won’t be level.

        If the footings aren’t right, our skilled team are equipped to start correcting them before the block laying starts. At every site we have experienced foreman assessing the job to pick up on any block laying issues and make sure they are corrected to prevent further errors (although obviously the more accurate the footings are from the beginning, the better!).

        Project delays

        I can’t even count the number of times a new project supervisor has underestimated how long a job will take. They’ll often think that earlier parts of the project will be completed quicker than they end up taking and ultimately the block laying stage will be delayed. Delays are often hard to predict – whether contractors are unable to deliver on time or there are a few days of bad weather in a row, delays can come down to a whole lot of different factors.

        Obviously the more notice we get about any potential delays, the better. But Quality Masonry has two foremen, plus Phil and a sizeable team, which means we can be pretty flexible if we need to be. If there is a delay, we can always move those team members assigned to the job onto other active projects, and then move them back when the job is ready to start.

        Changing briefs

        The brief is where all details and specifics are put to paper to outline what the job requires. Knowing what’s needed up front is essential so that the quote remains the same, and we know we can deliver in time. Discussing changes to the brief or any adjustments with Phil is really important to keep everyone on the same page and avoid any block laying issues. We aim to keep the doors of communication wide open so we can stay on top of things.

        Lack of apprentices and workers in NZ

        Despite the fact that there’s plenty of work available, it’s surprisingly challenging finding Kiwis that want to do the job, experienced or not. Block laying in a city like Auckland can be a lucrative work opportunity and we hope more Kiwis will consider the profession to keep up with all the work that’s out there.

        For us, our focus is on reliability and the ability to learn and get better. We’ve done our best to hire a diverse team from across the world who show up each day and know how to work hard. To safeguard each project, we’ve got experienced, qualified foremen on site to make sure everything if up to scratch.

        There you have it – some of the common block laying issues and obstacles that you might face in the industry, and the ways Quality Masonry gets around them. For us, the trick is to be flexible and work with what you’ve got. Having the right team working on a job is the best way you can ensure your project runs smoothly and with all the experience behind Quality Masonry, we’re equipped to handle anything you throw our way.

        Contact us today for a quote.

          Meet Shane: Our Master Foreman

          At Quality Masonry, we pride ourselves on having some pretty great guys on the team. One of those is Shane, one of our main foreman. Working tirelessly on the front lines of Quality Masonry, he’s one of the core reasons we always deliver our projects to the highest quality, on time.

          He’s been with us for 10 years, starting off as an apprentice and earning all his qualifications in block laying along the way.

          Since then, he’s gone on to help build our reputation as the best block layers out there. “It’s great to be with the same company that saw me through getting qualified,” shares Shane about why he’s stuck around so long.

          Shane appreciates feeling productive at work. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of finishing a construction job, seeing that it’s complete and thinking, “Ah yes I did that!”

          He considers every job an achievement when he’s finished and is proud to work for Quality Masonry.

          In his spare time, you can catch him chilling out in the garden, working around the house, and doing a bit of landscaping when he can.

          Keen for a new challenge? Join the Quality Masonry team

          Do you know any young or strong, able people looking for a great opportunity? We’re on the hunt for new labourers to join the Quality Masonry team – a worthwhile career opportunity for anyone who isn’t afraid of hard work. There aren’t all that many block-laying apprentices in Auckland but there is plenty of work out there.

          It’s a physical job but it’s also really rewarding – and the work keeps coming! If anyone you know could suit the block laying profession, please let us know.