Bricklaying Guide For DIYers

I can remember my first attempt at bricklaying, the words “disaster” and “sloppy mess” spring to mind.

The worrying thing was, I’d previously spent several years working in the roofing industry and had plenty of experience at bedding roof tiles onto mortar.

Bricklaying, however, is an entirely different beast and the skills I’d learnt up on the roofs really didn’t help much.

I’d hate to think what a complete newbie would create at the first attempt.

If you’ve never laid a brick before and you don’t want to pay for a bricklayer, the guide below should help you take the first steps.

As with any project, preparation is key.

(The guide below assumes you are working with modern bricks and other materials as old period buildings are built with entirely different bricks, mortar and other materials that are designed to let the home breathe.)

Tip 1 – Choose Your Sand, Cement and Additives Carefully

The best sand for bricklaying is usually Builders Sand, otherwise known as Soft Sand.

Kiln-dried sand is great for filling gaps in driveway block paving but is far too fine for bricklayers who require more grainy sand.

Sharp sand is at the other end of the scale and is very gritty, this is great for large slabs of concrete but it’s not much good for the average bricklaying project.

You should avoid fast setting cement, often referred to as “rapid” cement. These are very difficult to work with as the mortar mix will begin to set in as little as 15 minutes, giving you very little time to lay the bricks before your trowel and bucket are encased in a solid hard mortar.

I’ve always used normal Mastercrete cement without experiencing any issues.

The only additive you need is plasticiser, this makes the mortar “soapy”, smooth and easier to work with. Without plasticiser, your mixture will stick to the trowel and will be generally more difficult to work with.

Tip 2 – Mix the Mortar Correctly

For normal house bricks, a ratio of 4 parts sand to 1 part cement can be used.

For slightly softer or second-hand bricks, use a ratio of 5-1. For very soft bricks, some bricklayers will go with a very weak 6-1 mix.

If you’re using period bricks, you should consider removing some or all of the cement and replacing it with Lime. Lime allows the wall to breathe and is perfect for soft absorbent bricks. The issue with Lime is that’s very difficult to work with.

Engineering bricks are often laid with a slightly stronger mix, 3-1 or 4-1 is common for these bricks.

For more detailed information about mortar mixes, check out our guide to mortar.

The sand and cement should be blended with water to create a smooth consistent mortar that isn’t “sloppy” but also doesn’t break apart in lumps when you’re working it with a trowel.

Only by regular practice can you truly get an understanding of how firm/wet the mortar should be.

Tip 3 – Build a Practice Wall

This is probably the best advice I can give you.

Your first attempt at laying bricks probably won’t be pretty, mine wasn’t! So do a practice session first.

You could build a small wall two metres long and perhaps three to five courses of bricks high. Also, practice bricklaying around a corner.

When you’re finished with your practice wall, leave it for an hour and then dismantle it and clean the mortar off the bricks with a trowel, you can then reuse them later.

Tip 4 – Bricklaying

Make sure you have a good supply of bricks close by, you don’t want to be walking up and down the garden every minute or so.

The bricks should be laid with staggered joints as this will give the wall extra strength and stability.

Some bricks will have circular holes in them, others will have an indentation on one side, this indentation should always face upwards.

Orange bricks

Bricklaying –  with holes in the brick

House brick frog

Indent facing upwards

Professional bricklayers spread the mortar across the brick with a V shape indent. This creates a small void in the centre of the brick, this allows the bricks to be laid in place more easily:

How to lay bricks

Mortar laid with a V shape indent – this makes tapping the bricks into place much easier

The ends of the bricks should be buttered like this:

Brick buttering

A string line should be tied to each end of the wall with a peg, this acts as a guide and is used alongside a spirit level:

String line used for bricklaying

The spirit level should also be used to make sure the wall is vertically straight.

Tip 5 – Cutting the Bricks

If you need to cut a brick, the easiest way is to use a hammer and bolster.

The brick should be laid on solid ground and make sure you are wearing eye goggles for protection.

Power tools will create a lot of dust and most people don’t use them to cut bricks, if you do, make sure you wear a dust mask too.

Tip 6 – Pointing the Mortar Course to Leave a Neat Finish

Bricklayers don’t “point in” the mortar straight away but instead, they wait until the mortar has firmed just a little. Moving or nudging the bricks causes vibrations that will cause any wet mortar to slump.

You shouldn’t wait too long before you start pointing, once the mortar has set, it’ll make it difficult to point. The time you’ll need to wait will depend on the weather conditions; you can wait longer in the winter but on a very hot summer’s day you may need to start pointing 10 minutes or so after laying the brick.

There are many different pointing styles, but the Bucket Handle (concave) is the most popular:

Pointing types and styles for brickwork

Tip 7 – Pro Tips For Bricklaying

To keep the colour of the mortar consistent, you should use the same sand throughout the build, so buy from a local store and don’t get it delivered via the internet.

Many DIYers try to make the mortar as neat as possible as they lay the bricks. Unfortunately, nudging the bricks while the mortar is still wet will cause the bricks to move and the mortar to slump. It would be better if you continue laying the bricks and let the mortar firm just a bit before coming back and pointing in the course.

You should use gloves as cement draws the moisture out from the skin and causes it to crack. It’s also an irritant so if it gets into the cracks on your skin, expect some discomfort and bleeding.

Keep an eye on the weather, if the temperature is forecast to drop below 5 degrees in the next 48 hours then abandon your bricklaying plans and come back when the temperature warms up. Don’t lay bricks when rain is forecast either, mortar washes out very easily.

Once the mortar in the bucket or on the mixing board has started to set, don’t add water to it to make it wet again. Discard it and mix a new batch.

Only mix enough mortar for about 45 minutes of work, too much and it will set before you use it, too little and you’ll be wasting your time mixing new batches far too frequently.

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