Easy Masonry Brick Repair – It’s not that hard if you are prepared and have patience

Masonry is fun, rewarding work if done properly. If you don’t plan on doing it properly, please don’t bother. It is not easy work, but it is not incredibly difficult if you have some patience and are prepared ahead of time.

Here is a pipe passing through some brickwork. The pipe is no longer used and you can see the bricks we are dealing with pass beneath an adjacent porch.

The first thing to think about when repairing any fine masonry is to investigate exactly what type of materials you are working with. Look at the overall condition of the rest of the house and ask the owner exactly what kind of repair they are looking for.

It’s also very important to ensure a few things before you buy any supplies. Especially when you’re dealing with historic bricks like shown here.

I won’t write an article on mortar here. What you need to know: Mortar is the stuff between the bricks. Modern mortar is made with portland cement and is very durable and strong. Before they invented portland cement, they used to use a type of lime mortar. It was not nearly as strong but it was great for other reasons.

If you have historic lime mortar, you want to repair it with lime mortar. You don’t want to go to the hardware store and buy mortar from there. Most houses will have modern portland cement mortar. Then you are most likely safe to use an off the shelf mortar as long as you’re happy with the colour matching etc.

How can you tell if you have portland or lime mortar? Vinegar. Take some vinegar and if the mortar fizzes and bubbles then it’s lime mortar. If it doesn’t fizz or bubble, and it generally feels like grainy sandy concrete/cement that you would touch on a sidewalk or a curb for example, then it’s most likely modern portland cement mortar and you can repair it with something from the hardware store. Not just anything from the hardware store. Go get proper masonry mortar that’s ready to mix with water and follow the package.

The first step was to cut slots in the steel pipe and carefully fold them in to close it off.

Here I knocked out the rest of the middle brick and cut the upper brick in half. I didn’t want to disturb any of the bricks going behind the porch for this minor repair.

You can easily break out bricks like this by drilling 3 or 4 holes in a straight line on a brick and using a cold chisel to carefully tap a nice perfectly straight crack.

Once you’ve removed all of the old mortar and all of the old bricks you are replacing, sweep out all the surfaces and wash them down nicely. This makes sure the new mortar really sticks to the bricks….Otherwise, you’re putting new mortar on a layer of dust and then…well it’s not sticking to the brick!

It’s easy to test fit bricks before you put any mortar on them to make sure everything will be spaced out nicely. You can use sticks if you want but you can usually see pretty well. Don’t get fancy, just try to match the thickness of the old mortar by eye.

If you really don’t like it when you go to put the mortar on, you can always scrape everything back out in 30 seconds and go cut another brick so don’t rush if it gets messy your first try. Just wash everything down and try again. Done properly, masonry can last hundreds of years.

It’s probably a good idea to test fit everything before you open up your mortar, but you often need to let the mortar sit for 30 minutes after mixing so you have time to cut a couple bricks and get a coffee.

Sometimes, it’s easier to drill a few holes in a brick and tap it with a cold chisel to snap a straight line in a brick like above. Once I’m fitting bricks into place like this, it’s really nice to have an angle grinder with a masonry cut off disc to cut your bricks the perfect shapes.

Take your time and experiment with different tools and techniques until you get the results you want. Wash the surface of the bricks off with a damp cloth and knock down all the rough edges of the mortar and you’re finished.

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