Q&A / 

Engraved Brick

DEAR TIM: I’ve seen engraved brick on different plazas in public places. An idea popped into my head that one could possibly engrave just about anything into a brick or series of brick. I was thinking of having a special poem placed on several brick for my patio. Is this possible? Are there different ways to engrave brick? Lisa M., Orlando FL

DEAR LISA: Engraved brick pavers are nothing new, that’s for sure. Visit any number of towns that still have exposed brick streets, and you’ll see that brick can be imprinted, engraved, sandblasted and even scored with high-precision lasers. I wish I had a photo of the brick that are used in the streets of Athens, Ohio. Some of these engraved brick are well over 100 years old and look as good as the day they came out of the kiln.

The nearly black letters on this brick are not paint. It's glass created from a laser that melted the silica-rich clay in the brick. This glass is permanently bonded to the brick and can last decades, if not well over 100 years. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

The nearly black letters on this brick are not paint. It's glass created from a laser that melted the silica-rich clay in the brick. This glass is permanently bonded to the brick and can last decades, if not well over 100 years. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

There are several reasons the Athens, Ohio brick look so good. One is that the brick were made from a very dense clay that was fired in a hot kiln for a long time. This vitrifies the brick and transforms the clay into a very hard rock. The heat of the kiln causes the mineralogy of the clay to change.

In addition, those brick were stamped before they were fired in the kiln. This important step allows the edges of the stamped letters to become very hard and resistant to wear.

Many modern engraved brick start with regular paving brick that may not be as hard as they can be and the letters and characters are sandblasted into the brick after the brick is fired in the kiln. If the brick is not that hard, the sandblasting reveals a softer layer under the skin of the brick that may not last for decades under harsh weather or wear conditions.

I’m a fan of laser engraved brick. The reason is pretty simple. The high-powered laser can create very crisp lines along the letters. The laser melts the clay in the brick turning it to glass. Yes, glass. Because the brick has a high silica content, this glass surface wears like iron. The glass surface of each letter is permanently bonded to the brick because the laser welds or simply melts the clay. It’s not a coating as you might find on some less expensive brick.

Just about anything can be engraved on a brick. Most fonts, drawings, symbols, logos, etc. can be easily engraved onto a brick. The brick are available in different colors, so there’s a great chance you can find one you like.

As crazy as this sounds, you can even have a child’s scribble drawing engraved permanently in a brick or series if brick if you want it full scale. If it can be scanned, it probably can be laser engraved.

The best part of the laser engraved brick is they require no maintenance. If they get dirty, just hose them off.

Remember that traditional sandblasted or deeply carved brick engraving is not necessarily the best thing. The deeper the grooves that create the letters, the more susceptible they are to permanent damage. Think of the capital letters A and R. The grooves create a small inside island of brick. If these break off, the letter becomes somewhat illegible.

Laser engraving doesn’t create these issues. The laser cuts a shallow area out of the brick, but because the resulting glass is dark, it’s very legible and will remain so for decades, if not centuries.

The bottom line is that you can have that poem engraved on brick. It’s going to look gorgeous. Take your time and be sure to order some sample brick to make sure you get the color you want.

It’s also very important to get the correct sized font. Remember, people will be standing up reading the poem, so the font has to be fairly large. The brick engraving company can send you one or more sample brick you can place at your feet to test. Make sure you can read them clearly.

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