Question: I have bought an old house and am putting in a fireplace. A contractor recommended an ashlar masonry fireplace to match the rustic look of the house. What is ashlar masonry?

Answer: Masonry terms can sometimes be confusing and meanings may differ in different parts of the country. One of the best dictionaries for masonry terms is The Masonry Glossary, published by the International Masonry Institute. Their definition for ashlar masonry includes two subgroups described below. ashlar masonry--Masonry composed of variable size rectangular units having sawed, dressed, or squared bed surfaces, properly bonded, and laid in mortar. coursed ashlar--Ashlar masonry laid in courses of stone of equal height for each course, although different courses may be of varying height. random ashlar--Stone masonry patterns of rectangular stones set without continuous joints and laid up without drawn patterns. If composed of material cut to modular heights, discontinuous but aligned horizontal joints are discernible. The Masonry Glossary can be purchased from the International Masonry Institute, 823 Fifteenth Street, NW, Washington DC 20005.