My daughter recently brought home her math exam to show us how well she was doing. Math is not one of her strengths, so I was surprised that she had earned an A- on the mid-term exam.

I should have let things go, and just congratulated her on the achievement. But I opted to look over the test. To my surprise, I discovered some of the answers marked wrong were actually correct, and some marked correct were wrong.

The following day, my daughter returned home very sad. It seems that in the course of 24 hours, her A- had been reduced to a C-. The teacher had used the wrong key to correct the exam.

Mason contractors know very well the problem caused by poor testing procedures. Each year our industry faces hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary costs and job delays resulting from inaccurate testing.

Recently, I had a friend with whom I serve on an ASTM masonry committee phone me to report problems experienced by one of his Arizona customers. A large hotel project was stopped due to a dispute on mortar strength testing procedures. And as I understood the story, the relationship between the mason contractor and the testing lab quickly soured, resulting in even more legal issues.

A testing lab well versed in concrete can often add little understanding of the proper procedures involved in testing mortar. And often this inexperience leads to some improper advice extended to the owner or general contractor.

Mason contractors often are caught in the middle when poor testing happens. Even if they followed proper mixing procedures, deliver a consistent product conforming to the job specs, and create an assemblage that is strong and durable, many still fear the dreaded test report that always seem to hold up payment.

I would like to help you be more proactive in the demand for improved quality of field testing of mortar and masonry assemblages. One of my goals this construction season is to research the actual effect caused by poor testing. I'm in the process of coordinating some technical help from the faculty of the Concrete Industry Management programs at Arizona State University and Middle Tennessee.

These programs receive support from both the Portland Cement Association and the National Concrete Masonry Association to develop non-engineering graduates who will be engaged in our industry. Many of these graduates take initial positions in producer quality labs or as sales reps for material suppliers. I'd like to use these efforts to improve field quality to educate these future decision makers on the unique aspects of the masonry industry.

But I also need your help. I'm interested in learning about your experiences in field quality testing problems. But just as important, I'd also like to hear about the good testing efforts occurring on your jobsites. We all have experienced some great lab techs who understand our business and helped us accurately document the quality work we perform.

Please let me know if you'd like to participate by faxing (773-824-2401) or sending a brief e-mail (, including your contact information. I'm also planning on sending some short surveys over the next few months to our contractor readers.

I'd like to congratulate the folks at Spec Mix in their efforts to improve field sampling. They just sent me a copy of their new booklet. “Field Sampling & Testing Mortar.” It provides clear, easy to understand directions in both English and Spanish. I'm sure you can get a copy by contacting them at 888-773-3649.