Precision, Patience, and Power Tools

David Cacace Cacace using a handheld battery-powered saw.
Cacace uses a handheld battery-powered saw to get the job done. Photos by Robert DeSanto.

Under a clear blue sky on a recent workday at Yale, David Cacace, a mason in physical plant structural services for the Office of Facilities, has laid out the essential power and hand tools to reset bluestone pavers outside the Adams Center for Musical Arts. He and fellow mason Rashad Cruthird have removed a wooden bench that sits atop the stone base they need to repair, which has several loose sections.

David Cacace’s from left to right; brush, hammer, chisel, and trowel.Just a few of Cacace’s tools of the trade: from left to right brush, hammer, chisel, and trowel.

To properly reset the large, heavy squares, Cacace must grind the cracked mortar down to the setting bed. He tackles this task with a hammer and chisel for more delicate work and a handheld battery-powered dustless saw for a heavier intervention. In all instances he is careful not to damage the bordering bluestone.

Handheld battery-powered saw. This handheld battery-powered saw is used for heavier mortar removal.

With patience and precision, he grinds out the mortar, and then brushes and vacuums the dust. As Cacace resets the stones, he matches the heights using a level. Once the stones are set, he fills the joints with fresh mortar using a jointer (a flat, thin, curved piece of steel) and smooths the seams with a brush and sponge. While it cures, Cacace packs up his tools and heads to Payne Whitney Gymnasium to repair an outdoor stairway.

Cacace uses a rotary hammer to chisel out the old mortar.Cacace uses a rotary hammer to chisel out the old mortar.

A mason for over 20 years, Cacace came to Yale in 2017. His wife, Stacy, is a guest experience manager for Yale Hospitality at the Yale Schwarzman Center. Cacace enjoys working outside, the camaraderie of his teammates, and the many stone buildings across campus. “Sterling Memorial Library is a wonderful structure. I enjoy walking its perimeter and spotting its intricate stone carvings. Truly amazing skill went into the creation of those many faces, scenes, and creatures,” he said.

Cacace uses a rotary hammer to chisel out the old mortar.Detail of the rotary hammer chiselling out the old mortar.

Similar to their predecessors, Yale’s masons work with concrete, blacktop, stone, marble, tile, and plaster. Any given day can include replastering walls, replacing broken ceramic tiles, fixing stone walls or walkways, installing bicycle racks, regrouting showers, repointing brick buildings and chimneys, and replacing and repairing accessibility ramps. Most of their projects or repairs are done outdoors, and all are coordinated with operational and programmatic partners to minimize disruption. “The safety of the Yale community and passersby is always, besides excellent craftsmanship, our main priority,” said Cacace.

See and hear the handheld battery-powered saw and the rotary hammer in action as Yale masons David Cacace and Rashad Cruthird repair bluestone outside the Adams Center for Musical Arts.