Q&A / 

Mortar Mixtures for Tuckpointing

A Blending Experiment

The mortar mix you see used by brick layers today contains two ingredients: lime and Portland cement. In fact, the Portland cement ratio is quite high. Old brick layers used to mix their own mortar on the site by blending lime with Portland cement. Old houses, say over 100 years, rarely had any Portland cement in the mortar. The bricklayers just used lime and sand.

Lime and Portland cement are available at building supply houses that supply bricklayers. If you look in the Yellow Pages under "Brick - Supplies" you will eventually find a company that sells bags of lime. It is inexpensive and it is white - pure white!

Mortar Strength / Self-Healing Properties

Brick walls are constantly on the move. The heat of the sun causes them to expand and contract. If the mortar between the brick is too hard, the brick will crack. Portland cement makes mortar hard. Older brick tend to be softer than today's brick. Thus, old mortar had much less Portland cement than today's mortar. The lime content of the old mortar was very high.

Lime adds another benefit, one we could use in today's mortars. Lime is somewhat water soluble and reacts with carbon dioxide and water. As time goes on, the lime in the brick will actually resolidify if a small crack develops. The crack allows water and carbon dioxide to enter deep into the mortar. The lime reacts with the water and gas and heals the crack.

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The first step in mixing new mortar is to blend Portland cement and lime together. If the mortar is very soft and old, you may choose to blend six parts lime to one part Portland cement. If your mortar is very light in color, be sure to purchase white Portland cement. If the mortar is darker, you may get by with gray Portland cement. Mix a very small batch to begin. I would mix no more than 7 to 8 ounces (by volume) to begin. You then mix two parts sand to one part of the blended lime and cement. Be sure to write down your proportions.

You blend the sand, lime and cement together dry. Then add just enough water to make it wet enough to form into a ball. The color of this mixture should match very closely the color of the existing mortar when it is wet. If not, you need to start over with your lime and cement proportions. Pay attention to the sand proportions too. If the existing mortar has not too much sand visible, you may have to mix 1.5 parts sand to 1 part of the blended lime and cement.

To get a perfect match, you should let the mortar dry for several weeks. Hold the sample next to the existing mortar to see how close you came.


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