In one form or another, brick has been around for thousands of years. It has evolved through the centuries to become one of the most durable building materials ever made.
Interestingly enough, it is believed that the very first brick made for the English Colonies, in 1611-1612, was most likely made right here in Virginia, There was no need to import brick because of the abundance and exemplary quality of clays found in Virginia. The fact that it may be recycled and reclaimed is an added bonus for such a quality building material.
It is amazing how brick plants have evolved in the last 30 years or so. Completely automated plants today can produce 100,000-150,000 bricks per day with as few as six employees. Thirty years ago, a brick plant employed 30-40 workers and still could not make 100,000 bricks in one day. Hand thrown bricks, even today, are so labor intensive to make that it is only possible to make about 10,000 of them a day.
Since ancient times, the process for making bricks has improved considerably. Clay was added to make brick stronger and heat was applied to improve stability. Many materials may be added to brick today, such as silica and ceramics, but current formulas are still basically the same as they were centuries ago: water, sand, clay and heat. Brick has an impressive list of durable qualities, including the fact that it is virtually maintenance-free, it does not fade or need to be painted; it is naturally weatherproof and resists damage from wind, water and fire. It also offers both noise and thermal insulation by staying cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Additionally, brick homes sell for higher prices than wood or vinyl siding homes because they are basically maintenance free.
There are different types of bricks available for individual projects. There are certain kinds of bricks used for construction and others used for pavers of patios, driveways and sidewalks. There is glazed brick that is easy to clean and installed in hospitals and laboratories and firebrick made just for fire pits and heat sensitive construction projects. Though brick doesn’t respond well to shaking, twisting or stretching, it can support substantial weight. In addition, brick comes in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes and the mortar used to lay brick is available in a wide range of colors. The color of the brick depends on what ingredients go into making it. Possibilities can stretch as far as your imagination.
Brick Masonry & Waterproofing
Brick masonry is the technique of constructing a building or project from single bricks laid in a precise pattern and bound together, typically by mortar. Masonry is considered one of the most durable construction methods ever used in building. Even the Three Pigs knew brick would keep the Big Bad Wolf out versus their straw and stick built homes. Furthermore, brick is one of the most universal types of masonry used. The strength of a brick masonry structure relies on the consistency and type of the individual bricks used and the mortar strength in relationship with the style of masonry used to install the brickwork. It takes many years of practice to master the art of masonry. It is not unusual to find several generations of masons in a family because one generation passes the technique and expertise down to the next and so on. Although J.D. Davis, owner of J.D. Davis Masonry, in Tappahannock contributes his interest in brick masonry to enrolling in a class in building trades when in high school. Davis says, “I learned some in high school and brick laying just seemed to come naturally to me so I just rolled with it and I’ve been doing it ever since, I started my business in 1981. It’s tough work but very rewarding.”
in order to keep any water flow away from the Brick masonry is an art form in workmanship and efficiency. Masons must think and plan each movement ahead of time and have all materials at hand before beginning work, even down to the necessary scaffolding. They must also complete their bricklaying technique with the fewest movements possible and the least amount of mess feasible, all to prevent the mortar from drying too quickly. This is all done with accuracy to give you a professional, high quality structure with little or no maintenance that will last several generations for you and your family.
Davis stated, “When working with old handmade brick, or even reproduction brick, it requires more precision and more time to install than the ‘new style’ bricks popular today. It is truly an art form.” Davis has just repaired a wall on an eighteenth century smokehouse. “I had to take down a badly damaged wall, clean the old bricks and build the wall back up to look as original as it was when built in the 1700s,” commented Davis, “I enjoy this type of work, it is a nice challenge to match brick installed centuries ago and it is very gratifying to see the finished product and to see the owners pleased with the outcome”.
Brick is very porous and will absorb water, especially during heavy storms. It is extremely important that proper water barriers be installed when building a home or other structure. These barriers are to keep your construction dry and to keep water away from all wooden materials in the structure. If water reaches the framing infrastructure, then you have the potential for not only wood rotting but also mold. In the process, all windows and doors must be flashed (above and below) so that rainwater does not seep behind them. Flashing material should be installed throughout the entire bricklaying job. Your structure must be flashed in the proper way. It starts below the very first run of brick and continues behind the water barrier and into all inside and outside corners in order to keep any water flow away from the interior wooden frame. Correct flashing should protrude three-eighths of an inch (3/8”) beyond the face of the brick to allow for adequate water drainage. Where flashing is in place, the mason must also create weep holes. These holes should be no more than two feet apart and their purpose is to allow drainage from water absorbing brick. This is a major reason that a professional mason with years of experience should be consulted when planning any brick construction. Any breakdown installing the flashing or water barrier may lead to an expensive disaster years down the road.
Bricks are produced with several different textures that can set your construction project apart from others. Different textures can enhance your design and reflect your individuality onto any construction project you are considering. Always consult a professional mason before undertaking a large construction project to make sure the type of brick you choose is best suited for the purpose you desire. The following is a description of some of the more preferred textures used in Virginia:
- Thrown bricks are cast in sawdust-lined molds, by hand, to produce a unique texture and a different appearance for each brick.
- Smooth bricks have a consistent texture and crisp, square edges.
- Hewn bricks resemble masonry or quarried stone by having their faces professionally chipped.
- Slurried bricks have a pigment on some or the entire surface.
- Wire cut bricks have a rough texture on their face and straight edges.
- Rolled bricks have a large variety of textures and are treated with a type of patterned cylinder before firing.
- Tumbled bricks have rounded or uneven edges and have a “hand-made” look to them.
Types of Bricks
In construction, building brick or common brick, are usually “cored” with two rows of holes to reduce weight and save material. These common bricks are strictly for re-enforcement. They are used as the second layer of mason work, made from ordinary clay or shale and are kiln fired most of the time. Because building bricks are the backbone of construction, the harder and more durable types are preferred. They also have no special texture, markings or color.
Face brick is used on visible surfaces that are exposed and is often the most expensive. This is the brick that comes in different sizes, shapes and colors and offers the highest quality appearance and durability. These are the bricks that give your project the individuality and distinctiveness you desire.
Pressed brick is also used as face brick in construction. This type is not kiln fired, it is dry-pressed. Pressed brick has perfectly squared corners, a smooth face and sharp edges.
There is also the popular brick veneer, which is another name for exterior face. This is the most prevalent in today’s brick masonry. This exterior face is used on the surface of another building material to create the appearance of a brick wall or structure. Veneer walls are usually separated from the original structure by an air space that consists of a type of insulation board and moisture barrier.
Glazed brick is formed when mineral ingredients fuse together to form a glasslike coating when the brick is fired. This type of brick is more sanitary and easy to clean and therefore more suited for laboratories, dairies, hospitals and places that require sanitary conditions.
Firebrick is made from a certain type of pure clay that is able to withstand very high temperatures. These bricks are often hand molded and are usually larger than regular brick. This type of brick is produced for fireplaces, boilers and any other high temperature structure.
Pavers come in numerous shapes and sizes and are produced for sidewalks, patios, driveways, flowerbed edges and the like. Most pavers are interlocking to endure more weight or to create a specific pattern. They are thinner than regular brick as well.
Brick Standards and Grades
Brick can come in many shapes, sizes and grades. The standard size of brick, in our area, is three and five-eighth inches by two and three-quarter inches by seven and five-eighth inches (3-5/8” x 2-3/4” x 7-5/8”). Bricks weigh between 100-150 pounds per cubic foot. The weight depends on the duration of firing, because fired brick is heavier then unfired brick, and on the ingredients used in making certain types of bricks. Homeowners should always allow for breakage and be prepared by having a lot of extra brick on hand. Otherwise, you may end up with mismatched colors if you have to purchase extra materials at a later time.
- Grade SW is severe weathering and is able to sustain normal freeze and thaw cycles without cracking. It can also handle exposure to temperatures below freezing and a very moist climate.
- Grade MW is moderate weathering and is tolerable to frost, freezing and drier climates.
- Grade NW is no weathering and is mostly for indoor use or as backup brick in warm, dry areas. NW may be used outside but only in climates where there is no frost or freezing.
To enhance the look of your brickwork, mortar is available in many different colors and applications. Mortar is created with pigment and can be matched to a particular color you choose. Typically, mortar characterizes fifteen percent of the total visible brickwork so you can make a distinct statement with your choice. Choosing mortar that is the same color as your brick will give an overall appearance of the large area consisting of the same color. Opting for a contrasting color will enhance the shape, color and design of your brickwork.
The strongest and most widely used is portland-cement-lime mortar. This type is, in general, stronger than the brick itself when applied properly. Mortar made with just plain lime carries less than half the strength of mortar containing portland-cement-lime. In restoration work, masons must use plain lime mortar to bond to the brick properly because the portland-cement-lime is too hard and strong for old brick. It would cause the old brick to disintegrate. Properly mixed mortar is of the utmost importance in every masonry job. It is the strength that holds it all together.
For mortar to bond properly to brick, water must be present to hydrate the portland-cement in the mortar fully. Some thrown brick, or handmade brick, can have a very high absorption rate; therefore, it must be treated properly to prevent hydration of the mortar. If not, the brick will literally suck the water out of the mortar too fast and your brickwork will not be very durable. There is a simple test to determine if brick has been treated. Using a dropper, apply 20 drops of water in a one-inch circle on a brick. If the brick absorbs the water in less than ninety seconds, it will absorb the water out of the mortar too quickly and cause bonding problems. To correct this, thoroughly wet the bricks and allow them to air dry on a pallet or raised off the ground before using them. It is important not to over-treat brick; you want it to pull moisture and mortar into itself for the strongest adhesion possible. Extruded brick does not normally have this problem.
A professional mason will know exactly how much mortar to use. This is very important during the installation process because excess mortar on the backside of your brickwork can cause alarming damage. It is easy enough for a mason to wipe off excess mortar on the face of the brick, but not so easy on the backside. If mortar is used in excess, it could drop off, collect water and in addition, block the weeping holes. Excess mortar could also drip down and create a “bridge” to your wooden frame which in turn will lead water to your main infrastructure. This can cause costly or irreparable damage.
The type of tooling or trowel used on the brick joint that you choose will also enhance the style of your brickwork and add character to your project. Tooling must be done when the mortar is at a thumbprint hardness, doing this too
early will result in joints of a lighter color and too late will result in joints that are darker in color.
For outdoor work, a flush joint leaves the mortar completely flush with the brick, though this is more common on block work. A concave joint is the easiest, most popular and most waterproof there is. This type looks like someone just rubbed their thumb over the joint seam to make it look uniform. A weathered joint is troweled to a slant upwards in a way that water automatically runs off. A V-joint is made by a trowel and is shaped like a “V”. It is just as weather resistant as a concave joint. The beaded joint consists of a small protruding “bead” extending from the center of the joint. A grapevine joint is the opposite of a beaded joint. This type has a small indent in the middle of the joint. A raked joint is recessed in from the face of the brick about a half inch (1/2”) and should be used only on interior walls because of the amount of face brick it leaves unprotected to harmful outdoor elements.
Brick Masonry Lingo
Each surface of a brick has a name. The largest surface of the brick is the bed. The longer front side is the face. The longer backside is the shiner and is usually unfinished. Lastly the shorter ends are called heads. If a brick is installed backwards, masons call this a shiner because it is the rear side of the unfinished brick facing out.
Bricks also have names for their application position. A stretcher is a masonry unit laid flat on its bed, along the length of a wall, with its face parallel to the face of the wall. A header is a masonry unit laid flat on its bed, across the width of a wall, with its face perpendicular to the face of the wall. A rowlock is a header laid on its face or edge across the width of a wall. A bull header is a rowlock brick laid with its bed perpendicular to the face of the wall. A bull stretcher is a rowlock brick laid with its bed parallel to the face of the wall. Finally, a soldier is a brick laid on its end with its face perpendicular to the face of the wall.
On occasion, brick will have to be cut to complete a run on a home or project, to make a design or to be used as fill in for corners or small spaces. There are certain ways to cut a brick properly and the types of cuts are called half or bat, three quarter closure, quarter closure, king closure, queen closure and split.
In masonry, the word “bond” may have one of three different meanings: structural bond, mortar bond or pattern bond. The term structural bond refers to how individual bricks interconnect or join together into a single structural unit. Mortar bond refers to the adhesion of the joint mortar to the brick or to the reinforcing steel. Finally, pattern bond is obviously the pattern created by the brick and mortar joints on the face of the wall. It is possible that the pattern results from the structural bond or it could just be decorative and irrelevant.
Several bricklaying pattern bonds are popular today. It is here, choosing the style and design of your project, that you may display your own individuality or accent your project or home’s architecture. The most common bonds for bricklaying include running, common (or American), Flemish, English, Stacked and finally English cross (or Dutch) patterns. A professional mason will be able to explain the different styles and illustrate how to draw attention to special features you would like to showcase. They will even give details on how extruding corners or intricate masonry will add value and quality to your job. Always ask to see pictures of previous work and a list of previous clients that you may get referrals from to make sure they were satisfied with the workmanship. It is rather expensive to correct mistakes in brickwork.
Overall, if you are looking for classic longevity, safety, reliability and coziness, brick is the best choice. Brick homes not only have a higher resale value than homes with other types of siding, but brick is also safer during heavy storms and fires. Fire will not spread as fast as in standard siding homes. Brick is an excellent insulator, which in turn helps the environment and, interestingly enough, it is a natural noise barrier from the hustle and bustle outdoors. With today’s large quantity of options in colors and patterns, you are sure to be able to personalize your home or any project, exactly the way you desire. The design and bonding style you choose will allow you to give your own stamp of individuality on whatever construction project you are building. Whether you are building a home, dividing wall, patio, freestanding BBQ or fire pit, it is apparent that brick stands for style and quality.
A special thank you to contributors: J.D. Davis, owner of J.D. Davis Masonry, contractor for new builds, rebuilds, reproductions and more.