Bricklaying for the DIY Enthusiast

DIY enthusiasts will usually 'have a go' at most things. However, more and more, the DIY enthusiast is being regulated in the same way as the professional tradesmen. This is not to say that they have not previously been bound by regulations applying to construction trades, but that a more consistent application of the rules is being applied.

One area which seems to be avoiding the strictest of regulation is the art of bricklaying, which is not always given the esteem it perhaps describes.
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 without the workmanship is of the highest quality.
Quality of workmanship of will always be a determining factor as to whether or not the finished project will gain the esteem it should deserve.
The choice of brick or masonry block will have a large bearing on the aesthetics of projects ranging from a common garden wall to large housing complex or mall but all will depend on 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 – you will not be able to hide poor workmanship.

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.

Do it Yourself bricklaying is not for the faint hearted. Be prepared for some hard graft – hard work.

Here are some basics for the determined!

Firstly, you will need to work out how many bricks or blocks are needed. Once you have done this and your bricks are due to be delivered, you will need to plan your site so that, wherever possible, the brick storage areas are sited as close to the point of work as possible. This will reduce any unnecessary handling which will minimize your effort and possible damage to the bricks reducing waste. The bricks will need to be stored on sound, level ground and raised clear of wet, muddy areas in order to prevent contamination and staining.

The stored bricks must be protected from the weather. So must any brickwork under construction, which should include the covering of any completed uncapped work. Always protect newly built brickwork from rain. Remember – 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 consequent lime blooming. (this is the 'white staining' often seen on newer buildings).

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

Remember – Prevention is better than the cure.

One of the biggest failures 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 certain that when using the trowel to clean the excess mortar, it will be dragged across the face of the bricks, leaving an almost impossible to clean, unsightly smear of mortar.
This is a similar problem when underlining the pointing the mortar joints. Again, if the mix is ​​too sloppy you will have similar problems. If the mix is ​​too dry, the pointing is probably too fall out in a fairly short period of time. It is important that all mortar joints are fully filled to help prevent weeding. Any gaps will allow moisture to be retained in the joints and the bricks and mortar becoming subject to frost damage.
When building a cavity wall, it is essential that the cavities are kept absolutely clean. Mortar 'snots' on the wall ties will act as a bridge for moisture and cold 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 damp and cold bridging.

Do not lay bricks when the temperature is at or below 4 ° C or when freezing may occur before the mortar has hardened. Be careful when using 'admixes' – always carefully follow the instructions on the container.
Remember – 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 contains ice particles.
If a 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. (Do not forget to keep the airspace).

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.

More practical advice is covered in the following article – Do It Yourself Bricklaying # 2