Brick Accents 1 - Introduction Brick Accents 1 - Introduction

Whether it's a sweeping walkway, a barbecue, or just a small planter or two, brick is the accent which gives a look of permanence and distinction to your home. Add to family convenience and fun while increasing the resale value of your home with these attractive and practical brick ideas for the do-it-yourselfer.

Because the projects in this section range from simple to challenging, they will keep pace with your developing skill and confidence. If you've never laid brick, you will want to break in with one of the less complicated projects. As you discover the pleasure of this absorbing craft, you may want to advance to the more difficult projects.

Getting Started

For all but the simplest projects, you first step, always, should be to check local building codes. This will tell you, for example, how deep the concrete footing for your project will be, which in turn will affect your brick estimate. Don't rely on second hand information about building code requirements; it's no fun to find out that the concrete base for your wall should have been deeper after you've already finished it.

Discuss the location of you chosen project with the family, bearing in mind special sitting considerations if indicated in the instructions. For example, you might want the sandbox in line-of-sight from the kitchen.

Buying and Estimating Materials

Brick comes in over 10,000 different color/texture/size combinations. In most areas of the country, SW grade (Severe Weather) brick is recommended for outdoor projects. Your building supply dealer will guide you in your choice of an appropriate and appealing brick. Buy a little extra to allow for waste, especially if many brick must be cut - about 5 percent.

For most of the projects in this section, premixed mortar is a practical choice. It's a little more expensive but saves time and trouble. Allow 15 to 25 percent extra for waste. Estimates given for individual projects do not include waste unless noted.

Bricklaying Tools

You will need to add a few new tools to your workshop. A bricklayer's trowel, mason's string, mason's hand level, 2' and 4' hand levels, rubber mallet, framing square, and broad-bladed brick chisel should equip you for most projects. Other tools may be improvised; for example, a short length of 3/4" steel pipe can substitute for a mason's pointing tool. You can also make your own screed board and wooden tamper.

For the screed board, buy an 8 foot long 2 x 4 and make a 2 inch or 3 inch notch in the end so that it will ride on guide boards (to control the thickness or depth of a sand cushion). A wooden tamper may be made from a 2 x 6 or 2 x 8 piece of 2 inch lumber, cut to 1 foot in length, with a 2 x 2 nailed on as a handle. Round off edges to eliminate splinters.

Tools which will be needed are listed at the beginning of each individual project.

Preparing the Site

Many of these projects work best over a level concrete base. Excavate to the depth required by local building regulations and prepare the quantity of concrete indicated (premixed concrete is convenient, especially for smaller projects).

Concrete is most easily handled from a wheelbarrow - not the gardener's kind, but the kind used on construction sites, with a deep carrying base and nearly vertical sides. A pointed shovel is useful to control placement, and a garden hoe works better than a rake for moving the concrete around in the excavation. Remember that the concrete must be placed in less than two hours; unless you arrange for enough help with the job, it may set up and be unworkable before you're through.

Allow the concrete to season for at least a week; for slabs, two weeks or more. Spray well with water and cover with burlap or an old sheet. Dampen the cover every day, especially in dry hot weather.

A level, stable site is particularly important for mortarless projects. Many of these can be laid over sand and gravel instead of concrete.

Essentials of Good Workmanship

It is always a good idea to lay out the first few "courses" (horizontal layers) of brick in a "dry run" before actually beginning work. This gives you a chance to recognize possible problems before they develop.

Some brick should be laid completely dry; others should be be dampened first. To find out which kind you have draw a circle about the size of a quarter on one of the bricks with a wax pencil. With a medicine dropper, drop 20 drops of water inside the circle. Wait 90 seconds. If the water is still visible, the brick should be laid damp (not dripping wet). Hose the brick pile down about 15 minutes before construction begins.

Mix only a small quantity of mortar at a time - about as much as you expect to use within an hour or two. Your mortar should have the consistency of soft mud; if it begins to stiffen, temper it by mixing in a little water. You may want to rent a powered mortar mixer for larger projects.

The bed of mortar between bricks is called a "joint." For most mortared projects described in this section, allow 3/8" between bricks for mortar joints unless otherwise noted.

Bricklayers refer to a "shoved joint" when they want to describe the correct way to lay a brick in place. Spread a bed of mortar to a little more than the prescribed thickness (the string line will guide you in this) and roughen the mortar surface by making a shallow furrow with the point of the trowel. Don't try to do this for more than three bricks at a time. Then "butter" one end of a brick with mortar and shove it into the mortar bed with a downward
movement so that the top of the
brick is level with the string line.
When you can do this without moving
the brick once it is in place,
you will
be making professional type shoved joints.

Don't be tempted to lay the brick out and simply cram the mortar between them. Moisture is the enemy of masonry; unless your job is watertight - and only shoved joints will insure this - trapped water between the bricks will freeze and thaw, eventually destroying your project.

After the bricks have been mortared in place and the mortar is "thumbprint" hard, the joint must be "tooled." Use the mason's pointing tool (or the short length of 3/4" pipe) to press each joint, working first on the horizontal ones and then on the vertical ones to achieve hard, dense, concave joints.

As you lay the bricks, use the edge of the trowel to cut off excess mortar; this can be returned to the mortarboard.

Cutting Brick

Bricks are cut with the broad-bladed chisel. A tap on the chisel with the hammer will score the bricks along the line of the desired cut; this is done on two surfaces of the bricks. Then, pointing the chisel inward, strike a sharp blow with the hammer. A clean break should result.

When a large number of bricks must be cut, you might want to rent an electric power saw adapted with a masonry blade or a manual cutting machine called a guillotine.

Courtesy of the Brick Institute of America

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