Learn How to Build a Brick Wall from the Experts
Did you know that bricks are one of the oldest building materials, dating back to 700 BC in Turkey? This goes to show how durable and long-lasting they are and makes it easy to understand why we still use them today. One of the simplest brick structures is a brick wall, and, as long as it’s not a structural wall, this is one form of bricklaying that can be attempted by DIY enthusiasts. We show you how to build a simple brick garden wall by hand. For a professional quality wall, and more complex bricklaying and masonry projects, talk to the experts at Masonry Chicago: 773-231-5371 or email [email protected]
Is my wall a DIY project?
Before you start to build a brick wall you need to understand the limitations of self-building a brick wall.
- Are you building structural walls? If so you should hire an experienced mason or bricklayer.
- Is your wall higher than 3 feet tall? If you say yes, then you should probably work with a bricklayer as the risk of your wall collapsing gets bigger the higher your wall grows.
- Will the wall be a load-bearing wall? If it is, then talk to a mason or bricklayer.
- Do you want short garden walls, 3 feet tall or under? Then get your tools ready and start planning how to build a brick garden wall!
Does a brick wall need a foundation?
If you want to build brick walls it’s important that they have a good footing or foundation to sit on, otherwise, they are likely to buckle or collapse and all your hard work will be in vain. A good footer or foundation for your wall will also ensure that there is sufficient drainage under your wall. If you are in a colder part of the country you want to ensure your foundation is deeper than the frost line where you live as this will prevent damage to the foundation and wall in the winter.
When you are preparing your foundation you also need to be careful that no underground pipes or wires run through the area where you will be digging
How deep should a footing be for a brick wall?
The depth and width of your foundation will depend on the size of your wall, but for small garden walls, up to 3 feet tall, you can usually manage with a 12 inch depth, if your soil is firm. However, if you live in an area with looser soil you may need foundations at least 18 inches deep.
Your footer or foundation should be three times the width of your wall, so the total width will depend on whether you build a wall with an end-to-end or side-to-side row of bricks (confusingly referred to as half-brick or one-brick walls respectively).
How to build a brick wall - step by step
So you’ve decided you are ready to begin your first brick wall project and now you’re wondering about brick wall construction details and how to build a brick wall foundation, so here’s your simple step-by-step guide.
Tools and materials
To build a simple brick garden wall you will need:
- Concrete mix
- Brick trowel
- Brick jointer
- Tape measure
- Bubble level
- String line and wooden stakes
Choose and buy your bricks
When it comes to choosing your bricks, if you are building a brick wall outside you need to make sure your bricks are weatherproof and suitable for the coldest temperature they will be exposed to. Once you have chosen your brick you will need to calculate how many bricks you will need to buy.
First, you need to calculate how big your finished wall will be. Then you need to decide if you will build a half-brick wall or one-brick wall – a half-brick wall has a single row of bricks laid end to end, a one-brick wall uses them side by side or in various other patterns. A one-brick wall will be much stronger but will require a larger foundation and more bricks.
When calculating how many bricks you’ll need don’t forget to account for the mortar joints, which are generally 3/8 or 1/2 inch thick. Professional masons also usually order 5-10% extra bricks to account for broken or damaged bricks.
Prepare the foundation
Making sure you have a solid foundation is vital to ensuring you have a strong, long-lasting brick wall.
To start, mark out your foundation using wooden stakes and then dig the trench for your foundation to a suitable depth and width for the size of your wall. If you live in an area with a lot of rainfall you might want to place a layer of gravel at the bottom of the trench to help with drainage.
Make sure the stakes in your trench are completely level and flush with the ground. Then you can mix your concrete and pour it into the trench, making sure it’s completely level and one row of bricks below the top of the stakes, as you want to lay the first row of bricks so it’s flush with the ground.
Make sure the foundation is completely dry before you start building a brick wall on top. This may take from 1 – 3 days depending on the temperature and weather.
Stake out your guideposts and string line
When your foundation has dried completely you’re almost ready to start laying bricks. But first, it’s important to stake out guideposts and string to make sure your bricks are level!
There are various ways to do this but one of the easier ones is to cut wood so it can go in the ground to the height of your finished wall, and mark where each row of bricks should come to on the pieces of wood. Place these at either end of the wall and then you can tie a string line from one rod to the other at the marks for the second row of bricks – remember the first row of bricks will be in the trench and laid to be flush with the ground. Ensure your string line is taut and level.
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Mix the mortar
Mix your mortar following the manufacturer’s instructions. You don’t want your mortar too wet but it should have a smooth consistency while still being firm enough to keep its shape.
Make sure you don’t mix too much mortar or it will go to waste. Mortar dries out and becomes unusable in 1-2 hours, so as you get more proficient in your bricklaying you may be able to mix larger batches.
Begin laying your bricks
Using your masonry trowel layer 3/8 inch of mortar onto your foundation then butter one end of the first brick, where it will adjoin the next brick, with 3/8 inch of mortar. Place the brick firmly into the mortar bed, then tap into place.
Do the same with all the bricks in the first course, making sure to butter one end of each brick except for the final one. As you go you can also get rid of excess mortar with your trowel. Remember to check your bricks are level,l using your bubble level, and that the thickness of the mortar joints is consistent.
Cut bricks to size
As you should stagger your bricks to create a solid structure you will need some half bricks for the ends of the rows. Use a bolster and a hammer to cut your half bricks. Place the bolster in the center of the brick and tap the end firmly with a hammer. You may need to repeat this a couple of times for a clean cut. But don’t worry if the cut is slightly rough- if it is, make sure that the rough edges face inwards in vertical mortar joints.
Clean the mortar joints
Before the mortar fully dries you can use a brick jointer to make indents in the mortar, giving them a more attractive finish, and to scrape away excess mortar. You can also use a brush to clear away bits of mortar from the surface of the bricks.
Continue laying bricks
Before laying the second row move your string line to mark the height of the next row. Start the next row with a half brick, making sure it’s over a full brick, giving you a staggered pattern.
Continue building up your wall in this manner, checking the bricks are level and the mortar joints are even as you go.
Finish your wall
Depending on the design you want, you might want to lay a different pattern or style of bricks on the top row of your wall. Once your newly built wall is complete remember to check for anywhere you have missed a spot and fill any gaps in the mortar. Don’t forget to brush away all excess mortar and clean any mortar from the ground before it fully dries.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I build a brick wall myself?
Most intermediate home DIY enthusiasts are able to build a brick wall, as long as they avoid load-bearing or structural walls, and keep their small garden wall to 3 feet high or less. However, building a brick wall is not just as simple as laying one brick on top of another and requires some careful preparation and planning.
How much does it cost to get a brick wall built?
When wondering ‘how much does it cost to build a brick wall‘ you should expect to pay from $10 up to around $45 per square foot. The total cost will depend on many things including where you live, local labor and material costs, the depth and height of the wall, and the type of bricks you choose. If you need a higher wall you’ll also need to pay for scaffolding which adds to the total cost.
How do you start a brick wall?
The first step when building a brick wall is to decide on the size of the wall and then build a suitably deep concrete foundation. Many self-builders overlook how important this step is, but without a solid foundation, you’re in danger of wall failure.
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