Home Renovation and Repairs – Bricklaying

Don’t be bamboozled by the vast array of different bricks available. They can be broken down into a few basic types. Most are made up of clay, kiln-fired and sold in pallets of 450, although you might be able to buy smaller quantities. As well as walls, they can also be used on the ground to make paths, terraces or driveways.

Brick Types

Facing bricks are used for exposed brickwork. They can be ‘wire cut’ (cut with a wire like a bit of cheese) before they are fired, ‘stock’ (made in a mould, dried out and fired), or ‘handmade’ (made in a mould but not compacted by a machine so they come with a distinctive creasing known as a ‘smile’).

Of those types, handmade bricks are the most expensive. Commons are cheaper bricks but generally go unseen beneath render or plastering, in foundations or as the inner wall of a cavity wall.

Engineering bricks are the toughest of all and have a high resistance to frost and water. However, the cheapest, and least attractive, are cement or calcium silicate bricks. Specials or specially shaped bricks are most often used for decorative work. Seconds or reclaimed bricks have been salvaged from old buildings and cleaned up.

Colours And Textures

These vary widely. Colour depends on the type of clay, whether any chemicals are used during manufacture, and the length of time for firing. Texture can be rough or smooth, either as a characteristic clay or because the bricks are marked by the manufacturer. Different coloured bricks can be used for decorative effects. Most bricks are solid, with flat sides or ‘frogged’ (with a dent to key the bricks). Sometimes they are cored or perforated (with holes through to act as a frog).

Choosing And Laying Bricks

Bricks are rated for durability in the face of frost, which can make them crumble. Frost resistant bricks (F) are suitable for use in coastal regions, below ground or in cold areas. Moderately frost resistant bricks (M) are mostly used between the damp proof course and the eaves. Non frost resistant bricks (O) are most suitable for internal walls. Soluble salts in bricks can eat away at mortar or cause white powder to appear on a wall. Soluble salt content is rated as low (L) or normal (N).


Each row of bricks is known as a course. The way they overlap is referred to as the bond. Bricks can be laid in three basic ways, stretcher (with the longest side or ‘stretcher’ showing), header (with the end or ‘header’ showing), on edge (the bricks are turned on their side). The most common way of laying bricks is the stretcher bond, which is made up entirely of stretchers and produces a wall half a brick thick.

Combining the different methods can make decorative patterns. The most popular are: English bond, which alternates courses of stretchers and header; Flemish bond, which alternates headers and stretchers within each course; English garden wall bond, where courses of header are separated by three or four courses of stretchers; Flemish garden wall bond, where the headers in each course are separated by three stretchers; herringbone bond, where the stretchers are laid at alternating angles; and basket bond, where the stretchers are laid to look like basket-weave.

An average of fourteen people are killed each year by falling off a ladder. The Health & Safety Executive has issued guidelines on how to use ladders safely. Do not expect your builder to take risks and be prepared for scaffolding if necessary which will have additional costs.


Traditionally, lime mortar was used to bind bricks. Today, a mortar of cement, lime and sand is most commonly used although sometimes the lime is swapped for a proprietary plasticizer. The mix must be in the right proportions so the mortar is close to the same strength as the bricks.

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