This kind of work is mainly done by people of Picardy and Flanders. They go in gangs during the summer to the place of manufacture, and return home in the autumn. There are also some moulders of settled habitation. The number of workmen forming a "brick-table" is variable. For regular and constant work four are required: a moulder, a separator, a barrow-man, and a mould-carrier.. But it happens sometimes, if the moulder is an active worker, that the barrow-man cannot keep up the supply of clay and at the same time stack the bricks. In this case a fifth man is required; as his work, however, is irregular, many gangs prefer to manage with four, and when the stacking of the bricks is in arrears, the moulding is stopped, and all assist in carrying the bricks to the stack.
The moulding is done in this way: the moulder takes with both hands a sufficient quantity from the heap of clay which the barrow-man has placed at his feet, rolls it into a ball, and raising it over his head throws it with force into the mould; he then completes the forming of the mass by a vigorous kneading, which he begins at the side farthest from him. Afterwards he takes his strike, which is lying in a bucket of water on the table, and holding it in both hands passes one of its angles along the edges of the mould, afterwards taking off the excess of clay, which he throws with one hand back on to the heap while with the other he replaces the strike in the bucket.
The mould-carrier then seizes the mould by its two ends, and, resting lightly upon it, he swings over the movable board so as to turn the bricks up on edge, and carries them away, resting them slightly against his body. When he arrives at the ground where they are to be laid, he proceeds to demould them by placing the mould on the ground, still up on edge, quickly inclining it, and then laying it flat; then, by a slight jerk, he removes the mould cleanly.
In this way the brick is laid on the ground without loss of shape; some practice is required for doing this well, but the boys soon learn the knack. The workman then goes to the sand-box which stands near the table, plunges the mould into the sand, and returns for another, which the moulder has filled during his absence. When the mould is taken from the table, the moulder throws a little sand on the iron plate, takes the mould from the sand-box, and places it upon the plate (a stop prevents it from going too far), and proceeds as before. From time to time the moulds are cleaned with a wooden knife and washed; the whole installation is moved if the rows of bricks come too near the table.
The moulder need not move during his work; everything is within reach of his hand. A good mould-carrier can nearly always keep up with the moulder, but he must be active and perform all his work promptly.
The bricks are left lying until they have become sufficiently firm to be handled without loss of shape; this is tested by pressing upon them with the finger, which should leave no mark. Naturally this period is variable according to the weather, and may be from twelve to forty-eight hours. When once the proper firmness is acquired, the bricks are edged off by removing the seams with a wooden knife, and they are placed on edge without being moved from the ground by turning them on one corner. They are then put on barrows and wheeled to the place where they are to be stacked.
If rain threatens, care must be taken not to leave the bricks up on edge, for in that position rain deforms them more easily than when they are laid flat.
The production depends upon the skill and strength of the moulder. When he can make 500 to 600 bricks per hour without trouble he may be considered to be a good workman.
Hand moulding is paid by the piece, and the price varies with the country. In the North of France and in Belgium the pay is from .2 fr. to 2 fr. 50; in the neighbourhood of Rouen and Paris, it averages 4 to 5 fr. per 1000. It rose to 6 fr. during the great boom which preceded the crisis in the building trade in 1882.
This pay includes the preparation of the clay (but not its extraction), the moulding of the bricks, the shaving of the seams, and stacking, and also superintendence up to the time when the bricks are taken away for firing.
The sand is prepared by the gang but provided by the manufacturer.
The space necessary for a "brick-table" is rather large. There must be an area of at least 600 square metres for laying down the bricks; besides this there must be room for the clay-heap, stacks for drying, kilns, paths, and the place where the clay is extracted during the winter.
A factory for making bricks by hand must then consist of two distinct portions: the space where the moulding, drying, and firing are carried on, and the place of extraction. The arrangement of these spaces depends upon locality and facilities of communication, but the kiln should be placed as near as possible to the exit.
For the life of the pit, it is calculated that 1.250 cubic metres of virgin soil, which give 1.500 to 1.750 cubic metres of excavated clay, furnish about 1000 bricks (0.22 x 0.105 x 0.06). According to the thickness of the bed of clay, it will be easy to calculate the surface necessary for the annual output.
It sometimes happens that, in the same works, the upper stratum of the clay, called weak clay, is made into bricks by hand-presses, while the lower stratum, called strong clay, which cannot be treated in the press, is hand-moulded. In this case the hand-moulders begin work when the upper stratum has been taken away.