Passion for Restoring City’s Stone Buildings is the Foundation of Edinburgh’s RS Masonry
RS Masonry founder and owner Ross Sutherland writes about learning his trade and why he set up a specialist stone restoration company after serving his apprenticeship.
It was quite a shock, going to work at 16. A building site is nothing like school. But I was lucky in that I went straight into an apprenticeship that I enjoyed. Before I knew it, I’d found my vocation.
I had a great apprenticeship: there’s no better way of learning a practical job like masonry. You can teach the skills, but a good mason needs to have a feel for the stone and the buildings. In Edinburgh, this meant I was learning as much from the Georgian and Victorian masons who created the city the world knows today, as I was from my senior colleagues and co-workers.
As time passed and I learned more about working with stone, it became clear to me that despite good intentions, not everything was being done right. This was the 1990s and there was at times a lack of sensitivity and understanding when restoring stonework on historic buildings. I loved the old tenements and the great townhouses alike, and I wanted to ensure that we did right by the men who built them. At times this meant painstakingly figuring out what went where, how a wall once stood, and where the original stone came from.
Edinburgh sourced its building stone
Edinburgh sourced its building stone from many different places and this gives the various areas and architectural periods added character. Determined that no part of these unique characteristics should be lost, in 2001 I set up RS Masonry. I had just finished my apprenticeship and I wanted to work for myself, the way I wanted. I was fortunate that this coincided with a renewed interest in historic authenticity: most people today value the period character of their Edinburgh property and want to preserve it just as it was.
Ever since, I have followed my passion for restoring Edinburgh’s stone properties using the right materials and techniques. A lot of materials can be re-used, so that a re-built stone wall not only looks the same as it did when it was new, but apart from new mortar it actually is the same. You can’t get more authentic than that.
One new material we do use is Lithomex, a specialist stone-repair mortar that wasn’t available when I first started learning the trade. Although it’s not strictly speaking traditional, Lithomex has been a real step forward because it allows us to restore the detail that time has eroded away from stone mouldings. It is lime-based mortar that’s been approved by Edinburgh Council, and unlike cement-based renders it allows the buildings to breathe. Where ashlar masonry or very finely jointed masonry has suffered damage to the arises, flush finishing in Lithomex – now re-branded as St.One – with a tucked joint, is the ideal solution.
My other passion is for good customer service. RS Masonry has always been about delivering quality and value, and we continue to pride ourselves in doing so. The company has not grown large, although we are busy. Instead, I continue to work with a small team of like-minded experts, to deliver a specialist and bespoke service to those who, like me, want to see Scotland’s historic buildings preserved as faithfully as possible.