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Technically Speaking
Part I: A Conversation with Jeff Tew, Director of Technical & Training
What first attracted you to the manufactured stone industry?

I didn’t pick this trade, to be honest, and I wouldn’t say it picked me either. At the start of my career, I had other plans entirely. When those plans didn’t work out, the manufactured stone industry was there for me. Installing MSV paid the bills, taught me a valuable trade, and even gave me an excuse to buy a pickup truck. 

Fast forward 20 years and I wouldn’t change a thing! I love being a part of the building and construction industry. More specifically, I love being part of the growth of manufactured stone veneer as an industry subcategory that keeps adapting to stay relevant to new construction styles and buyers.

Who were some of your early influences in the industry?

I was fortunate to have been trained and mentored by a few talented, detailed and experienced masons. They were true craftsmen of brick, block and stone. Like many other young pros, I moved material and mixed batches of mortar by hand long before I was allowed “on the wall.” I mixed what felt like millions of wheelbarrows of mortar and grew to understand the importance of following direction and proper mix consistency. When I got it wrong, I dumped batches of soup and mixed another. To learn the importance of taking care of equipment, I scrubbed mortar out of buckets and wheelbarrows.

....Like many other young pros, I moved material and mixed batches of mortar by hand long before I was allowed “on the wall.”

When I eventually got on the wall, there was more to learn. I pulled more than one stone off the wall because the head joint lined up with the stone below it, or some other thing you wouldn’t do with natural stone. Like almost anyone who has taken the time to understand the craft and improve their skills, you must remove some stones and “reapply them right” as my supervisors said.

How have you seen the MSV industry change over time?

It’s hard to believe, but manufactured stone has been around for over 60 years. (I know some of you reading can remember the look and feel of 1970s Driftstone!) Fortunately, for those of us who make a living by enhancing buildings with this beautiful and versatile product, the industry has continued to grow and change to keep up with construction trends, styles and methods. Although these changes have allowed MSV to remain in high demand, it also demands that we installers not only stay familiar with new textures and colors, but also adapt to the changes in construction due to new codes and new installation methods.

What do you do to keep your skills sharp today?

The masons that trained me taught me to be open to criticism and correction, to keep learning and to adapt. Those lessons have also served me well as I transitioned into sales, and eventually to the technical and training side of the MSV industry. Reflecting on how I got here, the many changes I’ve seen in the industry along the way, and the questions that come up time and time again in my trainings has led me to realize that career development in the building industry is just like what you see in any highly skilled profession. 

Doctors and Architects value continuing education to stay up-to-date and relevant in their craft, and Contractors need to do the same! That’s why I’ve taken an interest in the world of blogging and digital training.

What do you envision for the Technically Speaking digital series?

At the end of the day, Technically Speaking is about giving you meaningful knowledge and insights that matter on the job site and help you level up in your own practices. I look forward to sharing some important lessons that have served me well, including many that I call on often as I educate and mentor new and seasoned masons and installers.

As the quality of methods and building science drive improvement, our knowledge and installation process for MSV also need to improve and grow. In the coming months, we’ll cover a lot of content that hits on details and developments from all over the industry. I also want to discuss why certain methods and products have changed for the better over time

Since the world of construction is constantly evolving, we’ll even keep an eye out for changes in MSV that haven’t been predicted yet. It’s important to stay ahead of the curve, find new opportunities to grow your business and reputation, and that’s what I want to help you achieve.