How To Build A Brick Wall

Ready-mixed mortar
Ready-mixed concrete
Plastic sheeting
Sheet of plywood
Brick trowel
Spirit level
Plumb line
Club hammer and bolster chisel
Bricklayer’s line and pegs

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Around 40p per brick (60 bricks per sq m for a single skin wall)


A weekend to build a small garden wall



Set A Concrete Foundation

Step One: Set A Concrete Foundation

All walls need a firm foundation. For a single brick width low garden wall, up to around a 450mm high, dig a trench around 300mm wide and 300mm deep. If the soil is soft or unstable, you may need to dig deeper. You can use bags of pre-mixed concrete to make the foundation or mix one measure of cement to six parts of ballast (a mixture of sand and gravel). Pour the concrete into the trench and push it down firmly with the end of a post to get rid of air pockets and level the surface. This concrete foundation is known as the ‘footing' and should be around 150mm thick for a low wall.

Dry The Footing

Step Two: Dry The Footing

Cover the trench with a length of plastic sheet and allow the concrete to set or ‘cure' for three to four days until hard.

Prepare The Mortar

Step Three: Prepare The Mortar

For small walls, bags of mortar mix are easy to handle and mean the ratio of sand and cement is always right. Lay the piece of plywood board down to protect the ground. Mix the mortar well on the plywood, using a spade to fold the mix together and using a chopping action across the mortar. Aim for a smooth consistency that is still stiff enough to hold its shape when you make a hole in the mix with your spade. Make sure no streaks of cement remain and the mortar is a consistent colour.

Lay The First Bricks

Step Four: Lay The First Bricks

Spread an even 10mm layer of mortar along the centre of the footings. ‘Butter' the mortar onto the end of the first brick with the trowel and place it on the footings with the brick's hollow, or frog, facing upwards. Fix pegs and a string line along the footings to give you a guide line for the top corner of the first row of bricks. Lay this row of bricks, regularly checking the horizontal with a spirit level.

Arrange The Bricks

Step Five: Arrange The Bricks

The simplest arrangement of bricks for single thickness walls is called a stretcher bond - in this layout, each vertical joint is staggered and half bricks are used to fill in the end gaps. Use a gauge stick (a piece of batten with the widths of a brick and mortar line marked up one side) to check that the mortar levels are even as you complete each layer, and the end of your trowel handle to tap the bricks level.

Your spirit level can also be handy to check that the outer brick faces are all aligned. Check that any corners are vertical with a plumb line.

Finish Off

Step Six: Finish Off

Lay the top course of bricks with the frog facing downwards. Alternatively, finish off the top with special coping bricks or a row of half bricks laid upright. You can neaten the mortar joints by running a piece of dowel along and across the joints and then use a stiff brush to remove any excess mortar before it has fully dried. Cover the wall with some old plastic bags or tarpaulin to protect setting mortar from rain and frost.

Illustrations: Ed Roberts


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