is dedicated to the do-it-yourselfers.
It includes information on tools and equipment
needed to get started, the basics of building
concrete block walls, garden walls, patio
pavers (sidewalks and patios), how to use
mortar and grouting techniques.
in this section are the different sizes, shapes,
types and kinds of masonry materials, and where
you can go to purchase these materials. We'll
also link you to other sites that might provide
even greater information in helping you with
You've heard it said many times, having
the right tools makes any job easier. Before you start, there are some
basic tools and equipment you'll need. These tools may change depending
on the type of job, but generally, the following tools are required when
building a masonry wall:
are different kinds and sizes of trowels.
The blade should be made of forged steel
to last longer. Handles are generally made
of plastic or wood. Blades vary from 9
to 12 inches in length and 4 to 7 inches
in width. The larger trowels are used for
spreading mortar. A variety of smaller
trowels are used repairing old mortar joints
and scraping off excess mortar. A trowel
that you feel
comfortable with can be used to do all
of the above, however, you will need a
separate tool to finish the mortar joints.
two most popular trowels are called
the Philadelphia trowel and the London
to hold the trowel correctly is important
and will make the job easier. Gripping
the handle with four fingers and putting
the thumb on top of the metal band (ferrule)
on the handle is how most masons hold a
next step is learning how to load a trowel
with mortar. Some people like to fill
the trowel by cutting mortar from the
top. Others will load the trowel with
mortar by cutting from the front, and
still others will load by cutting mortar
from the side. Your comfort level will
dictate your style. Once the trowel is
loaded, you must settle the mortar on
the trowel by snapping your wrist. This
keeps the mortar from slipping off the
trowel, especially when you are buttering
head joints. The head joint is the joint
that runs up and down the block. The
bed joint is the one that runs along
the top of the block. The bed joint is
horizontal, the head joint is vertical.
laying the mortar on the block,
line the mortar side of the trowel
on the side of the block where
you want the mortar. In one quick
motion, slide the trowel down,
using the side of the block as
a guide (the trowel should lightly
scrape along the side of the
block during your downward motion).
tool is used for hammering nails and
for splitting block or brick with the
other end. One end is square and flat
and is used like a hammer. The other
is sharp, like a small chisel. The sharp
chisel-end is used to make a cutting
line around the masonry to be split.
Light blows with the chisel-end all the
way around the block or brick and then
a sharp blow with the hammer end will
give a clean cut. You might need to practice
on a few pieces before it all comes together.
chisel-end is then used to take
off any burrs or pieces which
have not broken off cleanly.
The mason's hammer can become
dangerous if not properly used.
Chips can fly off the masonry
being cut and injure the face
and eyes. ALWAYS USE GOGGLES
WHEN SPLITTING MASONRY.
there are more than just a few blocks
or bricks that need to be split, and
very clean cuts are required, then a
blocking chisel should be used. This
wider chisel, up to 8 inches wide. It
comes in a variety of sizes and shapes.
These chisels are made of steel and are
used by holding the small end and striking
the end with a heavy mashing hammer,
mallet or sledge hammer. This will give
a clean cut with usually just one blow.
hammer is used to strike the chisel when
cutting block. It is not recommended
to use a mason's hammer to strike the
chisel since the tempered steel might
split and a piece fly off. A mashing
hammer has two striking ends and will
weigh from two to four pounds.
you are cutting large quantities of block
or brick, you may want to use a masonry
power saw. The two basic types of
are either hand-held or table saws. The
hand-held saws usually have a silicon
blade about 6 or 7" high and, therefore,
will not give a clean cut all the way
through an 8" block. But a hand-held
saw is much quicker and gives a cleaner
cut rather than working with a chisel
saw with an electric motor is
always used when there is a lot
of cutting. Blades are normally
14 to 20" high and will cut through
any kind of masonry block or
brick, especially if the blade
is made of industrial diamonds.
masonry saws can be very
dangerous. Safety goggles
are a must and rings
and jewelry should not
be worn. The same is
true for any loose-fitting
clothing. If an industrial
diamond blade is used,
the blade must be cooled
with water during cutting
to keep the blade from
cut can be made with
a silicon-carbide blade,
bonded with reinforced
mesh. However, dry cutting
throws out a lot of dust
and a dust mask or respirator
must be worn.
to the trowel, the level is the second
most important tool to have when building
a wall. A good level is lightweight and
absolutely straight. The better levels
are called spirit levels because they
contain alcohol in the vials instead
of oil. Alcohol is more accurate.
purpose of the level is to keep
the work you are doing plumb
(even up and down, or vertically)
and even straight across, or
horizontally. A good level usually
has 6 vials, two in the center,
two at each end. The bubble must
line up between the two red or
black lines in order to be straight
or level. If you lay more than
one block at a time, you might
want to get a level that is at
least 36" long. Some levels are
available up to 48", although
mostly used by professional masons.
Since most block is 16" long,
you'll want a level between 18" and
||In order to
have an easier time laying a straight wall, a mason's line is recommended.
It is recommended that you use a nylon or dacron line, stretched between
two corners (and anchored at the corners) of the wall you are building.
By laying the line, you won't have
to depend on your level as often, speeding up the job. A mason's line will
let you build walls without bulges or hollows. A mason's line is placed
very close to the block you are laying, but with enough room to still permit
you to swipe off the excess mortar without disturbing the line.
your wall, you'll want to make sure your corners are at a 90 degree angle,
assuming you're building a square or rectangle wall. A large steel square,
usually 24" long, should
be used for marking off corners when laying out the job, and for checking
corners as the wall is being built. If you are building a room, garage,
etc., you'll also want to use a 12" square for checking window and door
openings. If these openings are not square, the windows and door may not
is used to finish a mortar joint after it becomes hard enough so that a
finger print will show in the mortar upon being pressed. Jointers come
in many sizes and shapes, but typically, for blocks, you'll use a sled
jointer to create a 3/8th inch joint for long horizontal joints. Vertical
or head joints, which are only 8" high, use a smaller jointer. Jointers
are shaped to give a variety of indentations, depending on your preference.
The most popular are the V joint and the half-rounded joint (concave joint).
These two kinds of joints help shed water better than any other kind of
you are using clay brick,
or other brick products, you
want to use a jointer made
specifically for brick.
line comes in a metal or plastic case, with a cotton line coming out of
one end. As the line is pulled out, it passes through
a fine chalk powder, usually blue or red. When this line is stretched between
two points and snapped, it will leave an imprint on the surface being snapped.
A chalk line is used for laying out a block wall on a concrete foundation
to get the alignment correct.
a wall is built, there may be some mortar stains or powder residue on the
wall. Before cleaning solutions are used, these marks can often be brushed
off the surface. A variety of brushes are available. Powder residue can
usually be brushed off with a medium soft bristle brush. A light accumulation
of mortar could be brushed with a stiff bristle brush. If not,
an abrasive stone or piece of same block or brick after testing in an
obscure area may do the job.
Stains that don't respond to brushing
should be cleaned with a special solution and brushing with a stiff bristle
brush. Watering the wall down before and after the wash and brushing is
necessary so that the solution isn't absorbed into the wall before it can
|On small jobs,
it probably won't pay to used a powered mortar mixer. Several tools are
needed to mix mortar. A regular shovel with a square edge will be needed
to proportion materials. A large hoe with two holes in the blade is used
to actually mix the mortar sand, masonry cement and water. The holes in
the blade make it easier to pull the hoe through the mix and to break up
You will also need either a mortar
box or wheel barrow to mix your mortar in, and a water bucket to measure
and add water to the mix. Mortar boxes are usually made of heavy gauge
plastic or steel. Once the mortar is mixed, transfer
the mortar to a mortar board or hawk, from which you will work when
applying the mortar.
(Source: "Building Block Walls: A Basic Guide"
by the National Concrete Masonry Association, Herndon, VA)
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