In this article, we’ll be looking at how to lay bricks.
If you’ve never laid bricks before it’s good practice to build a small sample wall first. A four brick course (row), three bricks high is sufficient. The bricks can always be cleaned and reused later. When you are happy with your ‘practice’ wall, you can start your DIY project with more confidence.
Before you lay your first brick, you’ll need to build a level concrete foundation to support your wall – known as a ‘footing’. The size of the footing depends entirely on the size of the wall you’re building and the surrounding soil.
Typically, a small garden wall will need a concrete footing around 150mm deep by 350mm wide. The top of the footing should be below the ground’s surface so it’s invisible when the wall’s built. Some people like to place the first couple of brick courses below the surface too.
How to lay bricks
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Always lay bricks so the vertical joints are staggered by half a brick. This method is known as stretcher bond or running bond and gives the brickwork added strength and support. It’s the most popular way of laying bricks in the UK.
If the bricks you are using don’t have holes through them but have an indentation (known as a frog), lay the bricks with the frog at the top. The last course of bricks can be laid with the frog at the bottom to give the brickwork a smooth finish on the top.
Lay one brick at each end of the course with a string line stretched between them along the top edge. This gives you a guide as you lay each course of bricks. See fig 1.
When you place the mortar on the foundation or next course of bricks, make a V shaped trough along the mortar with your trowel. This allows the bricks to be tapped into position/level more easily. Spread (butter) mortar onto the end of each brick as you lay them for the vertical joint.
Once you have laid the first course of bricks check the level along the top of the course and along the face or outside edge (it isn’t necessary to check each brick as you lay them). With your spirit level in position on the brickwork, tap each brick level, either using the edge of your trowel or by hand.
Remember, bricks aren’t always square when manufactured so they may not line up perfectly level with each other, use your judgement as minor discrepancies won’t be noticeable when you step back and look at the finished brickwork.
Tools required for laying bricks
- Spot board
- Bricklaying trowel
- 150mm boat spirit level
- 600mm-1000mm spirit level
- Lump hammer
- Bolster chisel
- Tape measure
- Plumb line (a length of string with a couple of nails attached)
- A piece of metal or rubber tube 20 – 25mm diameter
- Soft hand brush
Check out this list of useful DIY tools.
Cutting bricks to size
Don’t forget to wear safety goggles
You will no doubt have to cut some bricks to size (e.g. half bricks to obtain the staggered vertical joints).
To do this, mark the cut on the brick (allowing for the mortar seam) and place it on firm ground or a solid base. Align the cutting edge of your bolster chisel with the mark and give it a sharp blow with your lump hammer. Chip off rough edges using the bolster and lump hammer.
Lay each course of bricks using the string line as a guide and check the levels as you complete each course.
Don’t forget to strike/point the seams on each course before the mortar sets.
Fill any holes in the seams then strike/point them with either the piece of pipe or the trowel to give your brickwork a professional finish.
Brush the brickwork down with a soft hand brush to remove any excess mortar from the brickwork face.
Remember you can always add a colouring agent to the mortar mix if you think it would improve the finished look of your brickwork.
Colouring agents are simple to add, just make sure you note the quantities of sand, cement and agent that go into each mix. Use the same sand for each mix as different ones can produce variations in the shade of colour. The agents come in various colours.
That’s it. I hope the instructions in this post have given you the confidence to get out there and start laying bricks?! Good luck.
Looking for a project to practice your skills? How about building a brick BBQ for you and your family to enjoy this summer?
7 bricklaying tips to help you work efficiently
- Have a ready supply of bricks near the work area
- Mix the mortar using four parts sand to one of cement (4:1)
- Add a plasticiser to the mix, this makes the mortar easier to trowel and it adheres better to the bricks
- Don’t make the mortar too ‘wet’ as the weight of the bricks will push it out of the seam
- Only mix sufficient for one hour’s bricklaying (even less if the weather is hot), as it will dry out before you can use it
- Don’t add water to a mortar mix if it becomes too dry/stiff to use, throw it away and mix again
- Place the mortar as near to the work area as possible
Use gloves when mixing/using cement as it can irritate and burn skin. Use gloves/safety goggles when handling/cutting bricks.
Bricklaying videos for beginners
If you’re a total newbie I recommend you take some time out of your day to watch these two videos by Rob Songer from The Fine Art of Brickwork. He shares tons of tips and I’m sure you’ll learn a lot. Check out his YouTube channel for more.