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Block-Laying Basics

the last unfilled joint creates a bigger opening that’s easier to fill with mortar.

I lay the second course of block the same way, setting the corners first and then setting up string lines. When I set these

blocks, the block end needs to be half of a mortar joint (about 14 inch) shy of the center of the web of the block below for

proper alignment.

Figure 7. To hold down the treated mudsill, the author installs L-shaped anchor bolts, cutting the bricks to fit around the bolts and filling any voids with mortar.

Figure 8. Synthetic steel wool works well for clean- ing smooth-faced brick. The author scrubs carefully with a dry pad while the joints are still soft, then gives a more aggressive cleaning the following day with water.

Brick Tricks

When building with brick, it’s easy to correct for out-of-level conditions by making the mortar joints slightly thicker or thin- ner as the corner leads are built (Figure 4, p. 7). Because the corners establish the elevation for the remaining bricks in each course and the final building dimensions, I’m careful to con- tinually check that each one is plumb and at the right elevation as I lay up the walls.

To help space brickwork evenly, I always take the time to lay out each course, making marks with a pencil directly on the course below (Figure 5, page 8). This ensures that the final “clo- sure” brick in each course fits perfectly.

When setting brick, it’s important to completely fill head joints with mortar to prevent water from penetrating the wall. To do this, I’m careful to fully butter each brick before setting it, rather than partially buttering the last brick laid and setting the brick dry. When I set each brick, I push it into place so that mortar starts to squeeze out of the head joint (Figure 6, page 9).

Had this wall been taller, I would have needed to use addi- tional steel to laterally reinforce the brickwork. But the only extra steel needed here was the 10-inch L-shaped anchor bolts for attaching the mudsill (Figure 7). I typically install the anchors as I lay up the final three courses of brick, cutting the bricks around the bolts where necessary and completely packing the space surrounding each bolt with mortar. Because three courses of standard bricks equals 8 inches, 2 inches of each bolt remain above the finished foundation for attaching the sill.

Keep It Clean

It’s no fun removing dry mortar from brick, so I try to work as cleanly as I can. When cutting excess mortar from head and bed joints with my trowel, I turn the blade slightly outward, which reduces the amount of mortar that smudges the face of the brickwork. After the mortar has begun to dry in the section of wall that I’m working on, I dress the joints with a 78-inch concave jointer, which compresses the mortar and makes the

joints look neat.

Later, if I’m working with smooth-faced brick, I’ll carefully clean it off with a dry Norton synthetic steel-wool pad while the joints are still soft (Figure 8). The next day, I’ll use a nylon pad and water to give the brick a more aggressive cleaning.

John Carroll is a mason and builder in Durham, N.C., and the author of Measuring, Marking & Layout.


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