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repointing brick

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In this article, I will covered What I Did to Repoint Brick and the Repair a small area of the Foundation under a side porch. It encloses essentially a small storage and the location for the home’s breaker panel.

In the article, I briefly discuss Why I Repair this Foundation & Why I deciding to do it now, plus How I Learned the Skill. I discuss both Mortar Types and also non-structural repairs, say on an interior wall.

Steps included for Repointing Brick are as follows: (Click any link to jump to that section.)

To read more about our Side Porch, you might see the article – How to Refinish a Mahogany Porch. Also of interest perhaps, Repairing this Basement Window and Installing DIY Security Bars. Enjoy. ~jb

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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

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.

* Exposing Brick on Interiors is a Thing – These Tips Also Apply

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.

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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).

* 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

* Prepping the Joints for Repointing

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 – Using a Jointer and Cleaning Up

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 masonry 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.

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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.

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For more on Repointing Brick, you could see this article from BobVila.comHow to Repoint Brick. 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 basement window plus security bars in, this coming weekend.  Thank you. ~jb