Do It Yourself Bricklaying - Part I


The art of bricklaying is not always given the esteem it perhaps deserves. The quality of workmanship will always be a determining factor to whether or not the finished project will gain the esteem it deserves.

Projects ranging from a common garden wall to large housing complex or mall will all depend on not only the quality of the bricks but more importantly, the quality of the workmanship. In the right hands, poor or low quality bricks can be made to look much better than they really are. In the wrong hands, the quality of the brick will not make any difference at all. Whilst a building or structure will remain standing under most circumstances irrespective of the quality of workmanship, the aesthetic qualities of good brickwork will never be able to be appreciated. However, whilst good Do it Yourself bricklaying techniques will produce a level of accuracy pleasing to the eye, greater accuracy may be required for structural strength.

However, most DIY enthusiasts will always 'have a go' and the results can vary from a satisfactory result to an aesthetic disaster.

Do it Yourself bricklaying is not for the faint hearted. It is also hard graft - hard work.

If you do feel up to having a go, there are some basics that you will need to be aware of. Future articles will cover some of the more practical aspects of Do it Yourself bricklaying.

Here, some of the basic principals are covered.
Firstly, once you have worked out quantities and your bricks have been delivered, you will need to plan your site so that, wherever possible, brick storage areas are sited as close to the point of work as possible in order to reduce any unnecessary handling which will minimise effort, damage and waste. Bricks should be stored on sound, level ground raised clear of wet and muddy areas in order to prevent any contamination and staining.

Stored bricks should be protected from the weather just the same as any brickwork under construction, which should include the covering of any completed uncapped work. Always protect newly built brickwork from rain but maintain an airspace between the brick face and any waterproof covering.
Wet bricks will effervesce and these precautions will help to reduce any likelihood of efflorescence and subsequent lime blooming. (this is the 'white staining' often seen on newer buildings).

If you are using scaffolding, the boards adjacent to the brickwork should be turned back which will avoid any unsightly splashing of the work. Keep the boards clean, not only for safety's sake, but also to prevent mortar staining from rain splashes.
You will also need to take care to prevent mortar smearing the surface of newly laid bricks as cleaning at a later stage is seldom satisfactory, difficult and can lead to expensive and time consuming remedial treatments.
Also cleaning can have a detrimental effect on the face of the brick as many cleaning agents are abrasive.

Remember - Prevention is better than the cure.

Mortar mixes will be covered later, but one of the biggest failings of the average Do it Yourself bricklayer is getting the mortar mix too wet or, conversely, too dry. Either way this will have a detrimental effect upon the structural properties of the brickwork, weakening the wall. Also if the mix is too sloppy, it is almost certain that when using the trowel to clean excess mortar, it will be dragged across the face of the bricks underneath leaving an almost impossible to clean, unsightly smear.
This is also a problem when undertaking Do it Yourself bricklaying when pointing the mortar joints. If the mix is too sloppy you will have similar problems. If the mix is too dry, the pointing is likely too fall out in a fairly short period of time. It is important that all mortar joints are fully filled to help prevent weeping. Gaps will also allow moisture to be retained in the joints and the bricks and mortar becoming subject to frost damage.

If you are building a cavity wall, it is essential that the cavities are kept clean. Mortar 'snots' on the wall ties will act as a bridge for moisture between the inner and outer skin of the wall. Be scrupulous when installing cavity insulation bats at this stage as dirty cavities increase the risk of cold bridging.

Do not lay bricks when the temperature is at or below 4C or when freezing may occur before the mortar has hardened. Temperatures should be rising - not falling.
Do not lay bricks if the temperature of the mortar may fall to freezing point before it sets or if the bricks are frozen or the sand contain ice particles.
If frost is likely to occur before the mortar in newly built brickwork has set, protect it with Hessian and protect the Hessian from rain with plastic sheeting.
If however, the mortar becomes damaged by frost take the brickwork down and rebuild.

If in you are in any doubt take the brickwork down and start again.

For more on Do It Yourself Bricklaying, see Part II of this article:
Do It Yourself Bricklaying - Part II

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