Frost damage can play havoc with old brickwork and if left unrepaired you may end up spending more money because you have to replace entire sections of wall. Here’s a guide to repointing for beginners, with easy to follow instructions, pictures and advice on tools and materials.
- Mortar – a mixture of sand and cement
- Trowels and jointer (this gives you a nice finish)
- Hand mortar rake – fantastic gizmo on little wheels that removes old mortar
- Angle grinder – if you need to do some heavy duty mortar (or cement) removal
- Safety goggles – better protection than safety glasses
- Dust mask – if you plan to use the angle grinder
How much mortar will depend on the size of the project. You can buy various sizes of bags starting with as little as 5kg. I used about 25kg for a 14ft by 5ft wall.
I’m not suggesting we all turn into brickies or that anybody should attempt repointing a wall on their house without a high level of skill or expert advice. But garden walls are worth tackling. Pointing is what you call the mortar between the bricks, so repointing is simple getting rid of old and crumbling mortar and replacing it with some new stuff. Old walls may have been repaired with all sorts of concoctions over the years. My wall had been repointed with concrete here and there, which just made matters worse. Always use mortar – a mixture of cement and sand. You can by this in small quantities and ready mixed.
Removing the old mortar
It’s worth spending time on this stage. Loose mortar can be removed relatively easily with any sharp, strong tool but I’m really impressed with the hand held mortar rake pictured on the left. It has two little wheels that trundle along the bricks either side of the line of mortar and a sharp point in the centre that removes the mortar as it goes. For particularly tough sections – or ones where cement has been used in the past to carry out repairs – you may need an angle grinder with a suitable blade. Always wear safety goggles and a mask when creating dust. And warn the neighbours!
Removing all dust and debris
A stiff brush does a good job but a hoover is even better. Any dust and loose debris will reduce the way the mortar sticks to the bricks.
Mixing and applying the mortar
The ratio for mix and mortar will usually be given on the bag but you want a thick mix that clings to the trowel and then to the brickwork. You can use an old piece of wood (or in my case, an old cat litter tray) to hold the mixture. Place newspaper on the ground at the base of the wall to catch drips.
Hold the trowel with the handle underneath and push the mixture up onto the base of the trowel and then upward into the space between the bricks, smoothing into place, gentlybut firmly, as you go. You don’t want to leave any form of ledge where rainwater could penetrate from.
Smoothing the pointing
Let the mixture begin to ‘go off’ before smoothing. It needs to start to dry but still be damp enough (slightly crumbly) so you can gently scrape away any mortar excess. Yet again, there is a handy little tool called a jointer that you can use to shave off any excess mortar and create a nice smooth finish, without ledges or crevices where water can cling. If water is allowed to cling to the brickwork it will weather it more quickly and make the wall more suscptible to frost damage, as well as moss and weeds.