This article will discuss some of the basic techniques for working with mortar and a trowel, and should be considered as a prerequisite before undertaken any form of construction work. Mortar is the basic bonding material that holds bricks, stones and blocks together, a trowel is the essential tool for working with it. Once you master mixing and trowelling mortar, you can repair walls or paving, or launch more ambitious projects such as constructing a brick wall or laying a path with paving slabs.
For most purposes, you can produce workable mortar by following either of the 2 separate mixing quantities. However, for optimal mixing, a cement calculator is recommended. When mixing mortar, remember that you need only roughly 0.01 cubic meters (about 2kg cement) to lay 25 to 30 bricks, as much as you are likely to have time to use before the mix hardens. With practice, however, you may be able to increase the size of the batch to lay about 60 bricks at a time.
The cement-lime mortar at its normal strength is frequently called a 1:1:6 mix, since it contains Portland cement, hydrated lime and sand in these proportions. It produces a good general-purpose mortar suitable for most weather conditions. The plasticized mortar differs from it in that the lime is replaced by a plasticizer, which is added to the sand before mixing. The plasticizer makes the mortar more resistant to frost damage, so this mix should be used for work that is likely to be exposed to severe weather.
You can get the ingredients pre-mixed in the form of dry mixes, sold under several brand names, to which only water needs to be added. The dry mixes are more expensive than ingredients purchased separately, but the cost may not matter when only small amounts are needed. Sand for mortar can be any clean, dry, finely graded builders or soft sand. Never use beach sand as it contains salts that will weaken and discolour mortar and prevent it from drying properly. The exact amount of water required for the mortar depends on the humidity and temperature as well as the moisture in the sand and cannot be computed in advance. Add water slowly in small amounts, stirring until it is all absorbed. As you can see, working with mortar is not the most difficult of past-times, and can be learnt by even the novice builder or handyman.