If you’ve been a bricklayer for a while, you probably have a brand of trowel you prefer over others. But what makes one trowel better than another? The short answer is: it depends. At its core, a masonry trowel is just a handheld tool with a flat blade used for spreading, leveling and scraping mortar. Yet for a mason to prefer one trowel’s shape, size and design, they’ll have to look at their specific needs for the job at hand.
The Right Shape for The Job
The shape of trowel you select is generally due to the demands of the job. Most brands use the same terminology when describing trowel styles, to standardize products for consumers. The main types of trowels produced are the Narrow London, the Wide London and the Philadelphia.
• A Philadelphia trowel is ideal for blockwork, rather than brick, because it can hold more mortar on the blade due to its square heel
• A Narrow London is considered the standard brick trowel. It has more of a diamond shape, which is more suited to standard brickwork
• A Wide London trowel is advertised as a trowel able to handle brick and blockwork, however it’s more popularly used for blockwork. Its rounded heel holds mortar further down the blade than a Philadelphia trowel
What Size Works for You?
Bricklaying trowels can come in sizes ranging from 9 to 13 inches, but 10 and 11-inch models are the most commonly used. The general rule for choosing a size is how the trowel fits in your hand. Is it comfortable or unwieldy? Does it weigh heavily on your arm while using it? If your arm or shoulder starts to hurt after a day of bricklaying, get a smaller trowel. Your joints are important, so don’t damage them by using the wrong equipment.
Don’t Forget Your Trowel Handle!
Handle size and material can greatly impact comfort. Size doesn’t vary much, with brands offering handles from 5 to 6 inches, but some masons claim that a longer or shorter handle may help with overall balance and fit. Handle material can impact a mason’s work and safety, as well as the price of a trowel. Many masons swear by wood or leather handles, claiming that they provide better grip than the less expensive plastic and rubber handles. Yet many brands are working hard to create strong, custom, rubberized handles to help maintain grip, even when wet.
The Top Trowel Brands
Many trowel brands provide a variety of sizes, shapes, and details to meet any mason’s preferences, however it’s the minute details that set some brands above others. One element that sets the top brands apart is that their trowels are forged in a single piece of steel, rather than separate pieces, to increase the longevity of their products. If you’re shopping for a new trowel, or just curious to see where your current trowel stands, then check below at the rankings for the top four brands of masonry trowels.
1. W. Rose ($40-60)
This brand offers the most diverse options for brick trowels, with any size, shape, and handle you could need. It is also considered the most expensive, but not by much when compared against other brands. If you’re on a tight budget, there are plenty of secondhand options online that can provide you with similar styles for less. W. Rose is known best for long-lasting products with strong, durable blades, and they won’t require replacement as often as some other brands.
2. Marshalltown ($35-55)
Marshalltown is the most popular brand of trowel used today due to its variety of styles, mid-range price point, flexible blade design and variety of styles offered. The company works hard to offer the same amount of choices as their primary competitor, W. Rose, but at a slightly lower price point. They are most recognized, however, for making even their standard trowel blades more limber than normal. A limber trowel will feel better in hand, especially when working with blocks. However, some masons have reported problems with these trowels breaking on the job, and while these are anecdotal incidents, they could be a symptom of a recurring issue.
3. Ragni ($15-35)
This brand is less expensive than others, but it still delivers on quality. Each trowel has good balance and flexibility, whether for block or brickwork, as well as hard edges for brick cutting. Unfortunately, because Ragni is from Italy, they’re not as readily available in the United States as other brands. They also seem to offer fewer options in size, style or handle type online. But if you’re able to find a Ragni masonry trowel in a size and style that fits your needs, you’ll be pleased with the work you can do with it.
4. Ox Tools ($30-40)
The Australian company, Ox, is comparable to Ragni as another moderately priced, international company. However, Ox’s trademark for their brick trowels is their DURAGRIP handle. This is the only material currently available for their trowel handles, because the company trusts in the value and protection of their design. The grip is intended to be easy to hold even when wet and it includes finger protection for comfort. They do limit the customer’s choice of trowel, however, by only carrying select sizes of Narrow London and Philadelphia styles, and omitting the Wide London design altogether.
There are plenty of other brands that create quality brick trowels, but these four provide the best quality and variety on the market. If you’re still unsure of which brand to choose, then think about your needs for a trowel. Certain elements, such as size and style, can point you in a direction, but you won’t truly know which is best suited for you until you hold one in your hand and use it for a while.