The term ‘repointing brickwork’ refers to the practice of replacing, or repacking, the mortar that joins together the bricks in the walls of a building (or standalone wall).
Over time, due to weather conditions, aging and sometimes the quality of the original mix, the mortar crumbles away leaving gaps and holes, which allows water to penetrate the brickwork.
When this occurs it’s best to replace the mortar to avoid potential harmful damp problems within the property.
Repointing brickwork is a labour intensive process but most competent DIYers can do it. What’s more, you don’t need many tools and the ones you do need are relatively cheap to buy if you don’t already own them.
What you have to bear in mind here, is that the average cost for repointing a typical three bedroom semi-detached house in the UK is around £2,500 to £3,000 (source). This price includes all materials, scaffolding and labour.
That’s a lot of money to spend on a job you could do yourself over a couple of weeks or several weekends.
So, if you don’t have a spare few grand to spend on repointing brickwork and want to do the job yourself, what do you have to do and what do you need to know before you start?
Let’s take a look..
You’ll need specialist equipment to work at height
Small and low areas of brickwork can be repaired by crouching, standing on your feet or using a ladder to reach the work area (I don’t recommend taking more than a couple of steps up a ladder to repoint brickwork, and definitely don’t go higher than head height).
But if, for example, most or all of the wall requires attention and you live in a typical two storey house, you’re going to need scaffolding to work from. Scaffolding provides a stable platform to stand on so you can move around freely and safely.
This is where your expenses start creeping up a little. If you need to hire scaffolding for the side of your house, you can expect to pay around £1,000 for a week. And you’ll need a permit if you’re in the UK.
As an alternative, you could consider hiring a high access tower. I’ve done some research on the cost of hiring a high access tower and prices vary quite a lot but HSS do weekly hire for £75.
The tower can be assembled in around 10 minutes and although you don’t need specialist knowledge or qualifications to build and use the tower, the person I chatted with online recommended taking a one day course (half theory, half practical) for around £150 to learn how to use it correctly.
Which is still cheaper than hiring somebody to do the job for you.
What kind of mortar should you use?
Before you start repointing brickwork it’s important you think about the mortar you’re going to use, how it will look when it’s dry and how it works with the original mortar.
For example, older properties were built with lime mortar. So, if you’re repointing an older property, built prior to the 1930s to 1940s, you should use lime mortar for the repointing.
Lime mortar is much softer than the cement equivalent and can sometimes be determined by eye. Take a quick look at the video below for ways to test if mortar is lime-based.
How to match the colour of your repointing mortar to the original
Have you ever noticed a patch of repointing that stands out from the rest of the mortar? I’m sure you have and will likely agree that it looks terrible.
The reason for the mismatch is down to the new mix not matching the original. It’s an easy and common mistake that people make. Instead of first creating a test mix and letting it dry out, they’ll make the mix and crack on with the job. Only realising when it’s too late that the colouring is all wrong.
To prevent this happening to you, experiment with different mixes and colouring agents (such as mortar tone or cement dye) before you do any repointing. You don’t need to create a large mix, just equal amounts of sand, cement and whatever colouring agent you use (if any). The important thing is to leave the mix to completely dry out because the wet colour is different to the dry colour.
So you could use as little as a cup of each material (3 cups sand to 1 cup cement to 1 cup colouring agent). You really don’t want to be using bucketloads of materials when testing for a colour match.
When you’ve got a decent colour match, scale up the measurements when you’re creating the mix.
Watch the video below by DIY Doctor for a demonstration on how to do this.
What tools do you need to remove mortar from brickwork?
Before you start repointing, you’ll need to remove the old mortar. There are several tools to help you do this:
- Lump hammer and bolster chisel
- Hand grinder and diamond-tipped disc
- Hand grinder and mortar rake system
- Brick joint raking tool
Each of these tools has and pros and cons and can be used at different stages of the mortar removal process.
How to remove the old mortar before you start repointing the brickwork
Removing mortar is a messy job so always wear a suitable mask, safety glasses and old clothes.
Earlier in the article I mentioned lime-based mortar. This is softer mortar used in older buildings and tends to crumble fairly easily. For this reason, a hand tool such as a brick joint raker is usually strong enough to do the job.
This is a simple tool with a long handle and two wheels that you push back and forth along the bricks. Between the two stake wheels, there’s an adjustable pin/nail so you can go as deep into the mortar as you want.
If you don’t want to buy a join raker, a hammer and bolster chisel will do.
If you’re working with harder mortar, a hand grinder with a raking bit or diamond-tipped disc attached is a better choice.
Whichever tool you decide to use, you’ll need to remove the mortar to a depth of around 3/4″ (20mm). This should be sufficient for most repointing work but sometimes you may need to go deeper.
Work your way across the area you want to repoint and brush away the debris and dust from the seams as you go. Spraying the joints with water will create less dust.
How to insert the new mortar into the joints
To insert the new mortar into the joints, ‘knock up’ the mix and use a tool called a brick jointer, or the edge of a small pointing trowel, to force it between the bricks. Start with the upright (called a ‘perp’ (perpendicular)), then the adjacent horizontals.
You want to pack it in as tight as possible so there are no air gaps.
When the mortar is in the joints, you’ll need to remove the excess. Go back over the area you’ve repointed and use the same tool to scrape away the excess mortar.
Once the mortar starts going off a little bit, it’s time to create the final finish. The way to test this is to press your thumb into the mortar so it leaves a print but doesn’t sink into it.
Now you can finish off the new mortar so it matches the rest of the wall.
There are four common finishes:
You can even use a bit of hose pipe to create a concave finish.
The final step in the process is cleaning up – go over the newly pointed brickwork with a soft brush to remove all the excess mortar, and clean up the other tools you’ve used and you’re done.
Video: How to Point a Brickwork Wall or Repoint a Chimney
- Small spade / shovel
- Spot board
- Bricklaying trowel
- Finger (pointing) trowel
- A piece of metal or rubber tube 20 – 25mm diameter
- Lump hammer
- Bolster chisel
- Soft hand brush
- Power hand grinder
- Extension lead
- Ladder or scaffold tower
Take care when working at height, especially on ladders, if possible only use a hand grinder at height working from a scaffold tower, wear a face mask that covers both your mouth and nose, wear safety goggles. Use an extension lead fitted with an RCCD plug top.