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For stonemason, it's all about 'the reveal'

Staff writer

In 12 years working as a stonemason — seven for The Chimney Specialists of McPherson and five on his own in Hillsboro — Jason Plett said the biggest thrill of the work is stepping back from a job and seeing in the completed project what he envisioned at the project’s inception.

Customers’ reactions are a welcome validation of his success.

Rural Lincolnville farmer Henry Kyle’s response to Plett’s work last week was close to the stonemason’s ideal reaction.

Plett prefers customers to forgo watching the project’s progression so the finished product can be unveiled at its completion. Plett hopes the transformation provided by the new stone structure — a chimney, the cover to a foundation, retaining wall, fence, pillar, or even an entire house — will be delightfully shocking.

When Kyle arrived to find a fresh stone fence in his backyard, he said he was amazed and immediately reached for his checkbook. His wife added that they needed a new screen door to compliment the new backyard surroundings.

“That’s what I’m happy to hear,” Plett said.

Just as gratifying was the reaction Plett received from Twilla Baker, who also lives near Lincolnville. Plett put in a stone fireplace in Baker’s living room June 11. He put in stone where there previously was nothing similar.

After he finished the job, Baker told the part-time stonemason that she would recommend Plett to anyone.

It was Plett’s attention to detail that made an impression on Baker. He made suggestions about the curvature of the corners to make the fireplace look like the stone structure was built with the house. He also picked out a stone that matched the sandy rocks that dot the landscape outside the Baker home.

“It was exactly what I wanted,” Baker said. “I was sure it couldn’t be done.”

Plett works as part of the city of Hillsboro electrical crew full time, but much of his off time is taken up with his stonemason work. Part of Plett’s motivation is earning extra money for his family.

Plett works with his father, Tom, on stonemason projects. Stonemasonry for the Pletts is a reversal in the normal dynamic of the father-son team.

“I’ve taught him everything,” Plett said. “He helps with everything. We’ve spent a lot more time together.”

Stonemasonry appeals to Plett because of the unpredictable shape of stone. While the edges of a stone structure need to be cut and shaped to meet linear specifications, the middle can take erratic formations, unlike brick.

Even with the imperfect nature of stone, Plett is dedicated to ensure the product comes out to his expectations. As he works on a job, he periodically steps back from his work to make sure it is following the plan to fit his vision.

Plett affords his customers some leeway with his work. After every one of his 12 to 15 jobs in Marion County, Plett called customers two weeks later to make sure they still liked their product.

“Sometimes you stare at something long enough and you might see something, a stone, you don’t like,” Plett said.

Although he has yet to field a complaint from a Marion County client, Plett said he would chip out a particular stone at a customer’s request, free of charge.

At The Chimney Specialists, Plett would sometimes need to replace entire jobs. In one instance, he helped build a chimney for a couple. The wife watched the chimney’s construction and approved the job. When the husband arrived home from work, he called the company to seek new stone for the chimney; he hated it.

Plett has also had more laid-back customers. One customer did not come with Plett to pick out the stone for a project; he simply requested that the stone have a red hue to match the brick of his residence. It was up to Plett to order the right stone for the 70-square-foot project. With his order from The Lumberyard, Plett’s exclusive stone provider, Plett’s choice went over well when he installed the project.

“He’s just going to have to pay for it, if he doesn’t like it,” Plett told Lumberyard owner John Hefley.

At least that particular job was straightforward. Plett said the charges for his work vary greatly with the size of the project. Factors in the bidding process include the obstacles Plett must work around — bushes and trees for foundation coverup — how much stone cutting is required, and whether Plett must spend the entire job stooped over or suspended on a ladder.

“I look for jobs where I don’t have to bend over or get on a ladder,” Plett said.

Even if the jobs might require a ladder, Plett is looking to expand his business by showcasing his work. While the stone may not add to a house’s strength, the effect of the visual transformation can add value to a residence.

“It’s really an appearance thing; it makes it stand out,” Plett said. “The more jobs I do, the better off I am.”

Last modified July 7, 2011

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