repointing brick

:: More Patio Project Progress

As with my post from earlier in the week (Installing a Post Lamp), this post is meant less as a tutorial, say, and more as a – This is What I Did.  I’ll admit – I am always very hesitant to call these types of posts “How To’s.” I mean – I am by no means a master electrician, nor as in this case – am I any sort of professional mason. And I just feel sometimes it needs to be said.

As I mentioned in the “Post Lamp” post, we are working on our patio. In conjunction with that project, there were/are a number of little items that we felt also needed … addressing. Among these things, yes – lighting, also – repair of a basement window, replacement of some exterior stair treads, and repair of a small section of brick, about a 15-30 foot area, at our side porch foundation.

brick compressing before


The Situation – Part of the problem with this brick, due to the weight of two porches, a roof, and 120 years pushing down on it – it had, for lack of a better word, sagged. Much of the mortar, likely of an inferior grade, had popped out and consequently, some of the bricks themselves had compressed.

brick compressed mortar crumbling

Now, I know I could have jacked up those porch(es) re-setting the brick, never to be bothered … well, for at least another 100 years or so. But frankly, I didn’t want to get into all of that.  So … my other option – repair what I could, and re-point the brick at that location.

Some Backstory – Funny, and I am taking a little pride in sharing this … repointing brick may officially be the first ever project I ever DIY’d. That is – on a house I owned.  I could tell you the story about our (me and Mrs. Moxie’s) first home. A rowhouse in Upper Fells Point, Baltimore, and our very first home project. Bored on a Friday night, and on a whim, we yanked off two rooms of 1970’s sheet-paneling, and all the horse-hair plaster behind it, just to expose … brick.

Back in that day (2000) and in that area, exposed brick was kinda a thing.  And what was left for us was a single long wall (maybe 30-35 foot long and 8 ½ or so feet high) that we scratched the mortar from, repointed and ultimately polied. We actually lost our first vacuum cleaner in that process (yes, we killed it) and quite truthfully – Mrs Moxie did shoulder a lot of the work involved with that repointing project (a good woman). 

Through the years, I have been on jobs where minor brick repair was needed, but you saw – we hired out our formstone removal to brick project and really, the only other chance (before this) I had for breaking out the mortar – the chimney as we opened up a wall creating our current kitchen pass through.

screening mortar for a repair

Tip: Screening old mortar can make it much easier to work with

I bring that passthrough project up now, because to match the mortar color on our chimney I had to play around. I had to add a good bit of both red and bronze cement color … ing powder. That left me with a little red-tinted mortar, enough to do this job, but it didn’t quite match any of the brick we have on the outside of our house (seen, here).

A Look at Mortar Types – It’s probably a good point to point out that, for the most part, mortar comes in two types – S & N, and whether or not this is accurate and true, for me, S = Structural & N = Non-Structural and if I can, I always choose S.  Mortar also comes in a variety of colors for your various installation needs, but for me, for this repair, I had some gray, colored with some red. And I had a little bit of builders sand (from the patio project).

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Repointing Brick

Mixing Mortar – This is probably about the most important aspect of the entire process … mixing your mortar up right. You do not want your mortar to be too dry (it’ll be too weak), and even more troublesome – you don’t want it to be too wet (’cause it’ll crack). I took my mound of mortar mix (1 part mortar, 2 parts sand and a dash of white thin set (tile) mortar – to lighten it) and made a cavity in the center, pouring water in, in very small amounts. (It takes surprisingly little.) I mixed with a margin trowel as I went.  The consistency you are going for, as they say, is something like peanut butter and ironically that was roughly the color of mortar color I came up with.

masonry tools for repointing

Tools for repointing

adding builders sand to mortar

making a custom color mortar

Making custom colors is fun

adding water slowly to mortar

mortar should stick to the trowel

Prep – To prep for my little repair I purchased a tuck pointing blade – a fat diamond blade for my angle grinder. Outside, at this point, I knew I’d be okay with the mess. I ran it through all the mortar joints, to about a depth of ½” or 5/8”. (I didn’t want to go too deep because the area I was working in is in fact a bearing pier.)

tuck pointing diamond blades

diamond tuck pointing blade

Prepping brick with grinder

While I did this, I used the same blade to cut long, thin notches in the bottom edge of the top most courses of brick. This created not only a line to which I could apply mortar, it also allowed me to slip long steel shims in – and hopefully at least mitigate the compression in the brick over time. I cut my steel shims too with my angle grinder, but fitted then with a metal cut-off blade.

cutting installing steel shims in a brick pier

steel shims installed in a brick pier

Aside: Now, I know Tom Silva would have told me to spritz (with water, maybe in a spray bottle) up the existing mortar joints (for you Todd-o :~) ), so it wouldn’t be tempted to suck the moisture out of the new – causing it to crack. Frankly, though, I forgot. (fortunately, so far, again, no harm no foul.)

Pointing the Brick – Anyway, using my mortar pan/trough and setting it under where I was working, I loaded up the back side of a large mason’s trowel. I took a tuck pointer and I worked to fill up the cavity in my brick, fully. It’s much easier working the horizontal joints. I used a inexpensive 5” pointing trowel for the vertical joints.

repointing brick

Finishing – I did around 4-5 courses at a time, usually opting to fill the vertical joints first.  I allowed them to set up a bit, and while I could have reached for a scoped jointer to finish off, well, my joints, I decided to forgo this in favor of … a simple brush (actually a dust pan broom) finish, ending with a quick “strike” (being conscious of straight lines) of the tuck pointer.

brick foundation repointed

If I cared a lot, and now that the mortar is mostly cured, I could circle back and clean it up maybe witha haze remover or a wash of muriatic acid, coupled with a dusting from a grinder wheel.  In the end, though, I think I enjoy the “rusticness” of this look. And it, in some small way – takes me back … to that first project. I am happy with the way it turned out.


That’s it. Thanks for reading, may your brick always be pointed and able to bear. And yes, I do hope to get to that window (broken during the break-in), this coming weekend.  Thank you. ~jb