Basic Bricklaying and Cement Mixing for Beginners
I have been laying bricks for nearly 8 years now. When i first picked up a trowel i didn't have a clue how to use it, the people who were supposed to be teaching me were too busy with their own work so for a few months i struggled along trying to get better on my own. That was until one day when i spent the afternoon learning off someone who actually wanted to teach me, who wanted to pass on the basic techniques. After that day my confidence soared and I haven't looked back since. In this hub i will try to pass on the basics of laying bricks as well as how to mix cement and good beginner tools to buy. Some of it from what i learnt on that day and the rest is what i picked up myself. I'll try to make it relatively short and as simple as possible as i know from experience that some of the lingo can sound like mumbo jumbo if you are new to it.
Tools to buy
The tools you will need to build the project at the end of the hub:
- A brick trowel
- A spirit level
- A jointing bar
- A tape measure
- Line and pins
- A soft brush
The best trowel to buy in my opinion is a Marshall Town one. They are long lasting and normally cost around £25. If you aren't planning on doing that much brickwork then you can pick them up for a lot cheaper from builders yards and DIY retail stores. I think the lowest i've seen is around £6. Any make will do if you aren't looking for longevity. I personally would always go for a plastic handle than a wooden one though. I started with an 11 inch trowel which always served me well so i would also recommend that particular size.
For a spirit level look no further than German manufacturers Stabila. Like Marshall town they are pricier than other makes but that's because you are paying for a quality level. A 5ft level could cost you as little as £30 or as high £80 depending on how durable you want it to be. If you want something a bit cheaper but still of very good quality then i would recommend a Stanley level. I personally would never buy a really cheap level (under £10). If you're level is wrong, your work is wrong. It just isn't worth it.
A jointing bar is what finishes your brickwork off. Marshall town or Footprint is the way to go with this one. The american and English manufacturers (respectively) do make some excellent tools. You should be looking at between £7-£12 for a good jointer. Again you can get them cheaper but it depends whether you want to use more than a few times.
Your tape measure doesn't have to be anything special. Pick one up for a couple of quid/ dollars from your nearest store.
A line and pins can usually be picked up for between £7-£10 for a good set. I have always used footprint for my line and pins and have never had a problem. Again you can get them cheaper but this is another tool that you need to be of excellent quality.
I usually just buy a head for a sweeping up brush for the last item. It's to brush off any excess mortar after you have finished.
Mixing cement is an extremely important part of the job. You have make sure you don't make it too wet or too dry to use. You will always work on a ratio basis. I was taught to mix 4 parts sand to 1 part cement but recently i've been mixing 3:1. It's vital that once you choose what ratio you are going to mix that you stick with it through to the end of your project otherwise you will get the mortar drying in different shades.
If you have access to a cement mixer then this is the easiest way to mix your mortar. For mixing you will need:
- Building Sand
- Feb (Mortar additive)
Here's a step by step guide on how to mix mortar in a cement mixer:
- Fill a bucket with water and add two sachets of feb (i've only ever known it called this) Tip about a quarter of it into the mixer and turn it on.
- Leave the water and the feb to spin for about 30 secs. Then add your first 3 shovels of sand (4 if using 4:1) Leave it to mix with the water and feb for a little while.
- When the sand has formed a consistent mixture (add more water if it hasn't) then you can add your shovel full of cement. Let it mix for a little while and repeat the step until your mixer is full, adding water as you feel necessary.
Warning: Do not add too much water. Give the mix a chance first. It may seem too stiff but it often needs time to spin. If it still isn't looking right then add your water a bit at a time.
Mixing by hand
- Make sure you have a spacious wooden board to mix on. You will need it.
- Tip your 3 sand and 1 cement onto the board and mix together dry with the shovel.
- Create a hole in the middle of your sand so it looks like a volcano.
- Add you're water and feb from the bucket and mix it altogether again.
- Repeat these steps until you have as much Mortar as you need.
There is a few things that you need to know before you start laying your bricks.
First of all a typical mortar joint should be 10mm (vertical and horizontal) As long as it isn't any less than about 7mm and no more than 13mm then you should be ok
A brick is typically 65mm in height (sometimes they do vary though) and 75mm with a mortar joint. Obviously 2 courses should be 150mm and 4 courses should be 300mm. This is called brickwork gauge. You only ever measure after you have your first course in place though (You will measure from the top of your first course)
Don't lay bricks in the rain or freezing temparatures. The rain will get into the mortar which will then run down your brickwork and stain it. The frost will also get into your mortar and you will start to notice it cracking over the next few days. On site it has to be 2 degrees and rising for bricklayers to be allowed to start.
The project i'm going to tell you how to build is the very first project i built at college. It's a simple pyramid. The lay out is:
The bottom course is 4 bricks long,
second course is 3 bricks,
the 3rd is 2 bricks long
and then you are left with 1 brick on top as your summit. So that's 10 bricks you need to complete this project.
Spreading cement is quite difficult at first.
- Only pick up as much on your trowel as you are comfortable with. The more you practice, the more you will start to pick up on it.
- Spread the mortar along the area you are laying your bricks.
- Scrape excess mortar from each side of your spread and carry you spread on further with what you have collected.
- Now with your trowel at a slight angle and facing upwards go over your spread creating a trench like appearance by moving your hand up and down as you go through. Make sure the cement is evenly spread out.
- Only spread a little bit at a time otherwise the mortar will become stiff.
Laying your bricks
- Pick up your brick. Make sure you have a comfortable grip
- Lay the brick onto the spread and push it down to get your desired bed joint
- Add mortar to the end of the next brick, making sure you leave a full vertical joint.
- After you have your 4 bricks laid, pop your level on top. Obviously you want the bubble to be perfectly central in the the middle of it.
- Tap the bricks (not the level) until you have a level first course. You can also check if they are are level width ways to ensure they are not tipping to one side.
- You now have to make sure your bricks are in line with each.
- Wrap your line and pins around a brick (either side of the wall) that you're not using and push each brick so that it's to the line. Don't tap your bricks down as you've already levelled on top.
Once your first course is in place the rest is pretty straight forward. Lay your 3 bricks on top of the first course ensuring that the vertical mortar joint below falls in the middle of your brick. This is called half bond.
- Level your brick on top just like you did before
- Now, holding your level vertically, put it up the face of the brickwork and make sure it's level (this is often called making your brickwork plumb)
- Plumb the two end bricks and place your level across vertically across the 3 so that you can 'range them in'. There should be no gaps between the brick and the level.
Repeat all of these step until you have your finished structure.
Jointing Your pyramid
Your project now needs the finishing touches added to it. You will need your brick trowel, jointing bar and soft brush for this.
- Pick up a small amount of mortar on your trowel
- scrape some of the mortar off with the end of your jointer
- Apply mortar to any vertical joint that needs it and finish every one of them with the tool
- Now go along your bed (horizontal) joints and do the same.
- After you will need to do what is known as 'top and tail' your joints*
*Topping and tailing your joints basically just means neatening your project by using the jointer at the top and the bottom of your vertical mortar joints.
When your project will take it (usually between 30 - 60 mins depending on weather conditions and how absorbent the bricks are) use your soft brush to get rid of any stains that might have been missed.
Congratulations, You've just completed your first bricklaying project. Feels good doesn't it?