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DIY: Bricklaying Tips for Beginners

Alice-India Garwood
by Alice-India Garwood on February 28, 2019

Whether it’s your first time putting brick to mortar or you’re an expert, there’s always room for improvement! Whilst we’ve previously shared tips and tricks for DIY painting, how about the noble art of bricklaying? Check out some of these hints for perfecting your technique or getting started for your first ever bricklaying project.
In the past we’ve highlighted the work of world famous and record holding brickies. But even the best bricklayers had to start somewhere.

So, how do the greats start on a perfect bricklaying project?

It starts with the perfect foundation.

In fact, we’re going to make the focus of this article the importance of a strong foundation because it’s those crucial first layers that will set the quality of the entire build.

bobtrade, construction, materials, building, supplies, diy, bricklaying, brickies[Photo Credit: Heidelberg Cement]

If there is no preexisting foundation, you will need to dig and fill your own. 

Let’s say you’re building a small free-standing wall, you’re going to need a foundation of roughly 30cm deep and 30cm wide - a retaining wall would require a foundation twice as large as this.

"A retaining wall will need a foundation twice as large as a small free standing wall. Around 60cm deep and wide."

Next comes the concrete pour, which should be simple enough.

You want to make sure the concrete is level to ensure the rest of the build is even. The best way to do this is to hammer wooden pegs in to the ground with enough of a gap in between to allow a spirit level to keep them even.

Maintaining the even level of the build is going to be crucial at every stage. From wooden pegs in the concrete to the profile boards and string.

Profile boards are placed at the end of each length to allow for a piece of string to stretch from end to end. Using a spirit level to insure the string is level, you can begin building.

"Maintaining the even level of the build is going to be crucial at every stage."

bobtrade, construction, materials, building, supplies, diy, bricklaying, brickies[Photo Credit: Go Smart Bricks]

Time to mix some mortar!

How many bricks are you going to lay? 1000? 500?

A simple formula for working out how much mortar you’d need is this: If you’re laying 1000 bricks you are going to need 4 bags cement + 0,55 cubic metres sand with water added as needed. You know from this then how much you would need for 2000 bricks or 500 bricks!

The first layer of mortar you put down over your foundation will need to be about 2cm to allow the bricks to sits comfortably. If your first layer of bricks and mortar aren’t even, you’re setting yourself up for disaster!

Our hot tip for mortar? Don’t try and revive mortar by adding extra water. It is never as strong as the first mixture and you run the risk of weakening your wall. Nobody wants that.

bobtrade, construction, materials, building, supplies, diy, bricklaying, brickies[Photo Credit: Torange]

If this is your first time mixing mortar by hand, use a wheelbarrow or fibre board and put down a layer of sand - no more than 15cm, you don’t want your mix to dry out so it’s best to make as much as you need for each small section - then place dry cement on top in a thin and even layer.

Next up, dry mix the sand and cement. Not unlike folding cake mixture. 

Slowly, start adding water in small amounts. Folding it gently. Until you have a thick and soft mixture - you do not want it to go runny or sloppy, or worse, lumpy!

Don’t risk using mortar that you feel doesn’t match the description thick and soft. Make this your mantra: thick and soft.

A pro tip that we came across in our further research was to make sure you only make enough mortar for each hour that you’re going to be bricklaying for. Then start a new batch for the next one. It’s all about that mortar staying at a good consistency.

"When mixing mortar, make your mantra: thick and soft."

Now let’s lay some bricks!

For the first layer, as you put each brick in to the mortar, spread extra mortar up each end of the brick before setting the next one. 

bobtrade, construction, materials, building, supplies, diy, bricklaying, brickies[Photo Credit: Warrington and Vale Royal College]

Where you want corners to be, place a brick side on and build around this. In fact, if you’re uncertain, it may be worth starting from the corners and working outwards, but making sure to secure that bottom layer before moving on up.

Working from the pillars outwards is a personal choice, so go with what you feel will be easiest for you.

The layer of mortar in between each brick on top should be around 1cm thick, no more than 1.5cm.

Before anything gets a chance to dry, be sure to brush down the sides of the wall as you go to remove any loose mortar.

Another hot tip we’ve picked up on our travels: If you’re using clay bricks on a hot day, spray them lightly with some water to prevent the bricks from absorbing moisture from the mortar.

bobtrade, construction, materials, building, supplies, diy, bricklaying, brickies[Photo Credit: Warwick Reclamation]

As long as you remember to create a fresh batch of mortar every hour and regularly check with your spirit level and your profile boards to insure your project remains level you're in for a winner.

Learning a new skill or going it alone in construction can be really intimidating, but everyone starts somewhere. When we spoke to one ex builder about the bricklaying process he reminded us of this: The only difference between a beginning and an expert is speed and confidence.

Want more DIY tips? Or maybe you're looking for some smart construction materials to shake up your next build? Head to the Innovation Blog!

Tags: Efficiency

Alice-India Garwood

Alice-India Garwood

Content Marketing Executive at Bobtrade. Interested in design, sustainability and the history of construction. I love all things indie and theatrical.