For the aspiring DIY mason, it’s important to understand the basics. Like how does a mortar work or anything else related to masonry.
Skipping over the fundamentals can land you in a world of trouble and leave a huge dent in your wallet. If you want to be successful, take the time to learn about the materials you’re using and how they work.
Mortar is one of the cornerstones of effective masonry work. It’s involved in so much that we do. When done properly, mortar work looks elegant and gets the job done. Without proper technique and preparation, though, it can degrade your brick and stone exterior, wall, or fireplace.
In this article, we explore the world of mortar and talk about how it works so you know what to expect. Here are the basics you need to know to get ready for your next project.
How does a mortar work and what it is
What is Mortar?
A lot of attention goes into bricks and stones. Different strands, restored bricks, granite, marble, etc. get most of the shine. Indeed, the choices you make on what material to use for your masonry work will have a huge impact on the result.
However, mortar is just as important, and without it, the bricks or stones you’re working with won’t hold up to the test of time.
At the most basic level, mortar is a material that holds together and bond two bricks or stone. Higher quality mortar will keep brick walls and other structures together for longer.
Mortar is integral to the structural integrity of your home or building. It’s usually made from a mixture of Portland cement, sand, and water. Different amounts of each material in the mixture results in different strength and consistency.
There are Different Types of Brick Mortar
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are different qualities and price points for mortar. There are three main types:
Type S – This mortar is mainly used for outdoor projects like patios, decks, and retaining walls. It’s highly resistant to impact and holds up to the elements well.
Type N – This is a medium-strength material that’s frequently used for small walls and chimneys. It’s the preferred mortar among the DIY crowd.
Type M – Type M mortar is the strongest available and should be used in weight-bearing masonry projects.
What Does Mortar Do When It’s Applied?
There are multiple benefits to using mortar in construction. When the mortar is applied to brick or stonework, it acts as an adhesive, holding bricks in place and preventing them from coming into contact with each other. This helps preserve the brick for longer.
Mortar also fills gaps in bricks. Sometimes, bricks have craters or small cracks. Filling them with the mortar helps stabilize the wall, chimney or other structure you’re working on. Filling the gaps between bricks helps level brickwork and keep wall lines plumb.
Mortar, when effectively applied, also helps spread the weight evenly across your masonry work. Whenever you are working with brick or stone, the weight or a wall or mantle should be an important consideration.
If the weight is not evenly spread across the structure, then you could experience a failure or even collapse down the road. Mortar, when done right, acts as a cushion, pushing the vertical weight evenly across brick lines.
Finally, mortar is weather-resistant and can help protect your bricks or stones from water penetration. If you have a porous material bonding your masonry work, water can find its way in and slowly erode your structure. The right mortar creates a seal between bricks that makes it impossible for water to get in.
Getting Mortar Ready for Application
Most of the time, you’ll be able to find pre-mixed mortar in bags at your local home improvement store. Then, all you have to do is open the bag, pour it into a tub, and mix the prescribed amount of water in. It’s mixed best with a hoe or a shovel until you get the right consistency.
You will want the mortar mixture to be liquid enough to easily apply and shape across brick lines, but not so liquid it can’t be molded and shaped.
Before you begin, you will want some basic tools to get your mortar on correctly so it will work well. The first thing you’ll want is a trowel.
A trowel is a thin, long tool that’s used to scoop and spread layers of mortar on top of a brick. Once the mortar is spread across the brick line, you’ll place the next layer of bricks on top.
To create a tight fit, you’ll need a brick hammer. A brick hammer has a blunt side you can use to make sure bricks are in snugly. It can also be used to break bricks to get the right length along edges and corners.
Practice Makes Perfect
Before you start demolition and take a sledgehammer to your fireplace, take some time and get in some practice working with brick and mortar. You never want a critical project to be your first time using mortar.
Instead, practice on a small faux brick wall. Practice mixing small amounts of mortar so you can get the right consistency. That way you will know how mortar works and what you need to do to get it right.
On a small practice wall, you can work on cleaning up spills and creating clean mortar lines. The consequences won’t be so dire, and you won’t risk messing up your home’s brick wall.
Remember, the mortar industry has come a long way over the years. Now, mortar comes in different colors and shades, so you’ll want to make sure you have all the details down before you get to work.
A simple brick repair job you think you can tackle on the weekend can turn out to be much more trouble. The last thing you want is mismatched mortar coloring that stands out to everyone who passes your home. Put in the effort now to understand how mortar works and you’ll end up loving your home project when it’s done.
Feature image from sakrete.com