Brick Masonry: Terms, Types, and Tips

Brick masonry is an age-old building technique that remains a cornerstone of modern construction. Brick masonry involves the skillful arrangement of bricks to create arches, walls, and buildings. This is an ancient building technique that has provided shelter to countless people and defined cultural and architectural styles all over the world.

What is Brick Masonry?

Masons today practice the art of bricklaying using modern techniques and high-quality materials. But brick masonry still offers a timeless appeal because of its beauty, longevity, and strength. Brick masonry remains an important technique in terms of building and design. Understanding all the fundamentals involved in this process is essential for builders, designers, and skilled DIYers.

What is Brick Masonry?

Brick masonry is a building technique involving the arranging of bricks in a specific pattern and using mortar as a bonding agent. Brick masonry is one of the oldest types of construction, popular in ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley, and Mesopotamia. Though brick masonry is an ancient practice, there are constant innovations in this building technique. Modern masons incorporate reinforcements to the brick like steel and other materials. This gives the structure added strength and durability but does not detract from the aesthetic appeal.

In brick masonry, masons lay individual bricks on top of one another in various patterns, such as a running bond, English bond, Flemish bond, or stack bond. Layering these bonds allows builders to create large architectural structures. Individual brick dimensions are typically rectangular, but masons can buy them in various sizes and shapes depending on the specific architectural design they are creating.

Mortar is a cement-based material that masons use to bind the bricks into a single unit. They apply mortar between each brick using various techniques, such as applying a head and bed joint and buttering the brick. The mortar bonds the bricks firmly together. It also allows the completed brick unit to distribute loads and forces evenly throughout the structure. This unification is what gives the brick structure greater strength, stability, and durability.

Important Terms in Brick Masonry

Brick masonry is a specialized building form that features many terms that are confusing to laymen. Here is a quick overview of the most important terms that you will encounter in brick masonry.

  • Brick – A rectangular block manufactured from clay that forms the primary building unit in masonry construction.
  • Mortar – Mortar is the bonding material in brick masonry. It is most often made from cement, sand, and water, though it can be made from mud.
  • Header – A brick that masons lay facing outward in the direction of the wall’s thickness.
  • Stretcher – A brick that masons lay with its long side facing outwards, parallel to the wall’s thickness.
  • Course – A horizontal layer of bricks in a wall or structure.
  • Bed Joint – The mortar layer between the bottom surface of the brick and the foundation surface.
  • Head Joint – The vertical mortar joint between adjacent bricks in the same course.
  • Bond – The specific pattern or arrangement in which masons lay and bond the bricks together.
  • Expansion Joint – These are gaps in the structure to allow for the natural expansion and contraction of the structure in response to changes in temperature.
  • Weep Holes – Weep holes are gaps in the masonry to allow for water drainage.

Types of Brick Masonry Mortar

There are two main types of brick masonry: cement brick masonry and mud brick masonry.

Cement Brick Masonry

Cement brick masonry techniques use cement mortar to bind the bricks into a single unit. This is the most popular type of bonding material for brick masonry. Modern masons throughout the world use cement mortar because of its strength and durability. There are three classes of cement brick masonry.

  • First Class – First class cement brick masonry utilizes cement mortar with lime, Bricks are good quality, with sharp edges and flat planes. The mortar lines do not exceed 10mm. This type of brick masonry is vital for load-bearing and other critical structural needs.
  • Second Class – Second-class cement brick masonry uses bricks with a rough and irregular shape. The mortar lines in this class are 12mm in thickness. This class of brick masonry is useful for non-load-bearing and internal walls.
  • Third Class – Third-class brick masonry uses bricks that are soft and have a rough surface. Masons use this type of brick masonry for temporary walls or non-load-bearing or non-structural walls.

Mud Brick Masonry

Mud brick masonry construction is still popular in certain parts of the world because of its historical significance, low cost, and availability of certain types of soil. Mud mortar is a combination of clay-rich soil and water. Mud mortar is not as durable or as easy to maintain as cement mortar structures. But with the proper maintenance and care, mud mortar structures can last for centuries.

Types of Bonds in Brick Masonry

A bond is a specific pattern or arrangement that masons use to arrange and bond the bricks together.

Flemish Bond

The Flemish bond type consists of alternating headers (the short end of the brick exposed) and stretchers (the long side of the brick exposed) in each course. Masons vertically align headers and stretchers in adjacent courses to create an attractive and durable wall.

English Bond

The English bond alternates courses of headers and stretchers. Each course contains just headers or stretchers, with headers centered in the course above and below the stretchers. This creates an attractive and durable brick wall.

Running Bond

A running bond is a simple pattern and one of the most popular in brick masonry. In this bond pattern, masons lay bricks in a straight line, end to end. They arrange the pattern so that the course above and below is slightly offset from the bricks in alternating courses. This is a popular bond style because it is attractive and easy to implement, but it is not appropriate for heavy structural loads.

Stack Bond

In a stack bond, builders lay the bricks in a straight line with no offsetting between courses. This creates a cohesive and contemporary look, but it is not a suitable bond style for load-bearing applications.

Herringbone Bond

This bond pattern involves laying the bricks at a 45o angle to the horizontal plane. This creates a V-shaped pattern. Herringbone bonds are common for walkways and patio surfaces because they are attractive and distinctive.

Wall Types in Brick Masonry

There are several types of brick masonry walls that builders construct with different goals for use, aesthetics, and longevity in mind.

  • Solid Brick Walls – Solid brick walls consist of a continuous layer of bricks without any gaps or cavities. Builders use this type of brick wall to provide structural support.
  • Cavity Brick Masonry Walls – This type of brick wall has two layers of brick masonry separated by an air gap between them. The outer layer, or the facing brickwork, provides weather protection and aesthetics, while the inner wall contributes valuable structural support.
  • Brick Veneer Walls – Brick veneer walls are non-load-bearing walls that clad the exterior surface of a building. This type of wall serves as decorative cladding but does not add structural support to the building.
  • Reinforced Brick Masonry Walls – Reinforced brick walls incorporate more reinforcement, like steel bars, into the body of the wall. This enhances the wall’s load-bearing capacity and durability.
  • Hollow Brick Masonry Walls – Masons use hollow bricks, with cavities or holes in them, in hollow brick masonry walls. Engineers and builders value these types of brick walls because of their thermal insulation and low weight.

Tips for Optimal Brick Masonry Projects

  1. Use high-quality and uniform bricks.
  2. Choose an appropriate mortar mix for your application.
  3. Wet the bricks before you use them to prevent excessive water absorption.
  4. Ensure a firm and level foundation.
  5. Use a plumb line and level during the building process to maintain proper alignment.
  6. Use a bond pattern that is appropriate for your project’s design and use.
  7. Incorporate expansion joints to accommodate for movement.
  8. Insert weep holes for proper drainage.
  9. Finish mortar joints consistently for a neat and cohesive appearance.
  10. Allow sufficient curing time for the mortar.
  11. Follow all local building codes and safety regulations.
  12. Employ skilled masons if you are inexperienced in brick masonry construction.

Benefits of Brick Masonry

Brick masonry has numerous advantages that ensure its lasting popularity among builders and the public.

  • Durability – Bricks and mortar are durable substances and withstand weathering, fire, and pests better than other building materials. Well-constructed, designed, and maintained brick structures can last for centuries.
  • Fire Resistant – Bricks are non-combustible, so buildings made of brick are safer in the event of a fire than wood buildings.
  • Aesthetics –
  • Low Maintenance – Bricks do not rot, warp, or decay, so brick structures are easier to maintain over time than wood or metal structures.
  • Energy Efficiency – Brick has excellent thermal mass properties, meaning that it can absorb and store heat well and release it slowly. This helps structures regulate indoor temperatures without resorting to excessive heating and cooling.
  • Sound Insulation – Bricks provide excellent acoustic insulation, so they stop sound from traveling between different parts of the building.
  • Eco-Friendly – Manufacturers make bricks from clay, which is an abundant and sustainable natural resource. Bricks can also be recycled, which adds to their eco-friendliness.

Drawbacks of Brick Masonry

Like all building materials, bricks do have some inherent disadvantages that mean they will not be appropriate for every building project.

  • Cost – The cost of constructing brick structures may be more expensive than using other building materials. This is particularly true if you want to use expensive types of brick or complicated brick patterns.
  • Weight – Most types of bricks are heavy, which can pose challenges in transportation and installation. Proper foundational support is necessary for large brick structures.
  • Slow Construction – Building a brick structure is more time-consuming than modern or more modular building techniques.
  • Moisture Absorption – If you do not properly build and seal brick structures, they can absorb ambient moisture, leading to future problems like efflorescence, mold growth, or freeze-thaw damage.
  • Limited Insulation – Bricks do have good thermal properties, but they are not as energy efficient as modern specialty materials. When you use bricks without other insulation, you could see higher energy costs.
  • Labor Intensive Repairs – Brick repairs can be difficult because the projects are labor intensive and bricks are difficult to match.