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DIY brickwork

Updated on July 28, 2019

How to lay blocks, bricks and other things

After learning how to use the trowel properly a bricklayer should know how to use the spirit level, because bricks or blocks are laid level and plumb, bricklayer need a very accurate spirit level and know how to use it properly.
After learning how to use the trowel properly a bricklayer should know how to use the spirit level, because bricks or blocks are laid level and plumb, bricklayer need a very accurate spirit level and know how to use it properly. | Source
A brickies trowel showing hot to cut the mortar  joint when laying bricks. The bricklayers use this trowel to spread the mortar tap the brick to the right position and many other things.
A brickies trowel showing hot to cut the mortar joint when laying bricks. The bricklayers use this trowel to spread the mortar tap the brick to the right position and many other things. | Source
We need to say here that building are also made of timber, so any tradesman should know at least a bit about other trades, especially have some skills with a hammer and saw even if you are a good bricklayer you will need some of these skills one day.
We need to say here that building are also made of timber, so any tradesman should know at least a bit about other trades, especially have some skills with a hammer and saw even if you are a good bricklayer you will need some of these skills one day. | Source

Building with bricks DIY

Welcome to our article (36), D.I.Y brickwork,

Dear readers, I am writing this article ‘DIY brickwork’, because I have been thinking that it can be helpful, if I share my building knowledge that I have acquired during my life. You see, I am a bricklayer by trade, and I have been building or repairing houses most of my life, so, I want to share this knowledge with you.

I believe that even today, when everything is being automated, there are things that we have to do ourselves, or employ qualified trades people to do the work. So, some building knowledge can be helpful, for people that want to do building work themselves. They want to do it themselves for different reasons, perhaps they live in a faraway place, where tradesmen are not easy to find; so, they are forced to do it themselves, therefore, some knowhow is helpful for them.

Anyhow, we want to help those people that are willing to do some building work, because of their own circumstances. So, we are writing this article of, DIY brickwork, where we are describing how to lay bricks and other building works, using our own accumulated building knowledge. I know that people would appreciate that, for different reasons and most times could be just to save money.

But, to do any building work, whether it is building a small something, a house or just some repairs, we must at least know in theory what needs to be done, unless we are tradesmen and knows what to do. So, it is wise to read articles about what you are going to build. Of course, we can find these articles on the Internet if we look for them. So, in this article we are going to write what we think can be helpful and paste articles that we think are helpful to build or repair things.

We want to do that because it is going to make me feel better, because I have been able to help somebody without costing me anything accept the time of writing this building article. But first I want to point out that it is not possible to teach people to be a bricklayer just by reading a single article about bricklaying. For people that want to lay bricks, the best thing for them is to observe the bricklayers on the job, this is the quickest way to learn. However, even by observing how it is done, it will take a long time to learn bricklaying properly, in fact, it takes years to become a bricklayer. Now, don’t be discouraged about that, because with this article, you can learn enough to do what you want to do. However, to show you how things are done, we are going the long way and explain ourselves clearly.

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Explaining my position and what we write

Now let me explain, you should keep in mind that this ‘DIY brickwork’ article, is part of my life story. I am writing this article ‘DIY brickwork’, since I have been a bricklayer during my life. I am partly retired now from doing this building work, so, I have been thinking that leaving behind my life building knowledge would be a waste; so, I want to share my building knowledge, and for this reason I am writing this article DIY brickwork; where we want to show you how to build with bricks, in fact we are going to take you on a journey that we have started in the story of my life. Therefore, while we are telling you our life story, where we have reached the stage when I became a bricklayer, we want to tell you how bricklaying is done. So, I have thought that it would be good to tell you how to build a brick base for houses step by step for a start.

So, dear readers please note that this article here is the first article about building with bricks, it will be followed by several other building articles, where we share our bricklaying and building knowledge with you; because then I feel that I have contributed in a small way to the community by sharing what I have learned during my life; in the hope that this can help somebody that wants to do some brickwork.

As we know, we are born with the capacity to learn things; so, we believe that most people can do some building work themselves, if they are shown how it is done; therefore, in this article we will talk about the following activities; (1) How to build with bricks; (2) Building a brick base for houses. (3) Bricklayer laying bricks. (4) Getting ready to lay bricks. (5) Making sure that we start the brickwork level; (6) Laying bricks on a sloping site; these are the main items that we are talking about in this article. Of course, there is a lot more to say about bricklaying, but this article will become too long, so, we are continuing with ‘DIY brickwork’ in our next article; Building a brick base, and we will continue to write about brickwork until we complete the brick base at least, even if we have to write several articles about brickwork. Here I want to add that most time I might be repeating a few things, because that is how laying bricks is done, bricklaying is a very repetitive job, anyhow I will try to keep my repetitions to a minimum.

Bricklayers working on a brick wall

A small gang of bricklayers building a brick-wall overhand. This practice is not the best practice, it cannot be allowed everywhere, because when the building is tall it might become dangerous, but it is safe enough in this case.
A small gang of bricklayers building a brick-wall overhand. This practice is not the best practice, it cannot be allowed everywhere, because when the building is tall it might become dangerous, but it is safe enough in this case. | Source

How to build with bricks and other things

Dear readers, my entire life in Australia I have worked in house building or repair, but the best trade that I know is bricklaying, as I have worked as a bricklayer most of my life, therefore, I want to share my bricklaying knowledge with you; then I will share other knowledge that can be useful during our life, since we all live in houses, therefore, any knowledge of building houses and maintaining them can be helpful to most of us. So, we are going to share our knowledge in all aspect of building or repair; so, let us start with building something with bricks, because I am a bricklayer.

But before we start that let me explain why I want to do share my knowledge. I believe that it is the duty of any human being to help humanity to improve their standard of living, (see this web address; www.frankmenchise.com,). We are saying in this article that anything that one learns during one’s life should be passed to the future generations. So, let me pass to my readers some of my hard-learned knowledge, starting with how a bricklayer would build a house brick base.

Now before we do that, because it is hard to visualize some aspect of the bricklaying trade just by describing them, we are going to use some visual lings from the internet to show you a few things about bricklaying, so, it would become easier for you to follow our ways of how to build this house brick base, I know that these are not my videos, but you see, ones you publish anything on the Internet those things are supposed to be shared from the rest of the community, at the same time whoever has published them can still claim to be the owner.

How to Learn the Basics of Bricklaying - YouTube

This link above is for people that don't know much how you lay bricks, however it is a starting point, of course there are things that a real bricklayer would not do, but there are also very useful hints for a beginner.

How to Bricklaying Tips and Techniques DIY - YouTube

This link above shows you other things and if you are able to use this together with what you have learned from the other links, you are on the way of learning how to lay bricks.

How To Lay Bricks Like A Bricklayer - YouTube

This link above shows you how a real bricklayer would finish his face brick wall, of course even here you cannot learn everything, and so if you are not a bricklayer, you need to visit most of other links here.

Now that we have pasted some of these helpful links here and we are pasting another one below in this article, let us continue how to build a brick base for houses.

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Wanting to Build a brick base for houses

To learn something, we need to observe how it is done. In this case we want to teach you about brickwork; so, we are going to show you how it is done; we are going to write how a house brick base is built. I know that I cannot teach you how to lay bricks from scratch for an entire house base, because this takes a lot of knowledge and a long time if you want to do it properly. But let us write about, how a bricklayer would build a house brick base for new houses; since this is what we are talking about in this article.

Anyhow, let me explain, when I was writing this article, in my life story writings, I was going to write so many details that it was like teaching somebody how to do it yourself, so I changed the hub name to DIY brickwork; so, this is what we are doing right now.

So, now let us go back to what we were doing; now, if you have read our previous article called “house building in Brisbane” you should remember that we were explaining what we were doing on the building sites, when we were building a new house and we had reached the point where we were ready for the bricklayer to start laying bricks for this house brick base.

Now what is going to follow here is how we bricklayers lay these bricks; now I need to tell you that I am not speaking any more with the knowledge of the brickies labour that I was, when I was getting everything ready for the bricklayers to start work, in our article, House building in Brisbane, but I am speaking with the knowledge that I acquired when I became a bricklayer and worked as a bricklayer, and I may add that what I am writing here can also apply to other brickwork, because bricklaying is a repetitive job and once you have acquired the skills how to do one job, you can easily use this knowledge to do a different job, so, DIY brickwork, is a possible name that I have given to this article.

So, now that I have explained myself, let me take you step by step how the bricklayers work, when building these brick bases for houses, so that, if you have in mind to do some bricklaying work yourself, you have some ideas of what you need to know. You need this basic knowledge because once you have laid the bricks and the mortar becomes hard it is a very hard and costly to fix it, if you have made any mistakes. I have to say also that it is very easy to make mistakes here, unless you are an expert and really know what you are doing. So, let us follow how a professional bricklayer would start the house base, because there are a lot of things that must be kept in mind, before you even start laying the first brick.

The most important thing is that you start laying the first brick in the right spot at the right level, and this should be done at the lowest point of the foundation, otherwise you could encounter real problems later; so, how we bricklayers go about to achieve that you may ask?

Okay, here we should assume that some of our reader may not know anything about bricklaying, so, it would be wise if we can show or at least describe to you a bricklayer laying bricks and then we will proceed to build the house brick base.

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Bricklayer working on a brick wall

A bricklayer laying bricks on a single wall in stretcher bond. Note how the mortar has been spread and trimmed back and how he lays his bricks following his line.
A bricklayer laying bricks on a single wall in stretcher bond. Note how the mortar has been spread and trimmed back and how he lays his bricks following his line. | Source

How a bricklayer lays bricks

Therefore, let us describe briefly how the bricklayer lays bricks, so that those that have never seen it done before, can have some idea how it is done. Let us explain this first, most of us are right handed by nature, but a few of us are left handed; now let us assume that the bricklayer we are going to talk about is right handed, so, he holds his trowel in his right hand and picks the bricks with his left hand; now let us go back to our last article House building in Brisbane, there we were getting everything ready for the bricklayers to lay bricks; so, we had set near the foundations, a combo-board and a stack of bricks and then again a combo-board and a stack of bricks and so on.

Now that you have this picture of the setup, you can see when the bricklayer lays bricks, first he spreads his mortar bed on the bricks, by picking up a trowel full of mortar and while he tips his trowel to let the mortar fall on the bricks he pulls back his harm towards his elbow, so that a long spread is achieved, if he likes to spread a long bed then he picks a few more trowel full of mortar and spreads it, then he fix this mortar with his trowel more evenly, and at the end he uses the tip of the trowel to split his mortar and collects the extra mortar on both sides, then he picks up a brick with his left hand and at the same time he picks up a bit of mortar on the tip of his trowel, while he turns toward the wall he sticks to the head of this brick the mortar that he picked up and now he can lay his brick, these are the main things that we can describe here, and it would be hard to say more, unless you can see how it is done, so, I have found a bit of a video from YouTube to show you.

Here are a few videos from YouTube to show you how some bricklaying is done.

The Art of Laying Brick - YouTube

Images for bricklaying

These two links above would be very helpful if they work, because one shows a bricklayer laying brick and explaining how it is done step by step; the other link shows photos of many types of brick walls already built, many types of bonds and also brick walls while they are being built, let us hope that these links works for you, if they don’t try to copy them in Google search bar and use Google engine to find them.

We also strongly advise that if you really want to do a bricklaying job yourself, you must practice how to lay bricks before you start, most people find that it is harder than it looks and also think about it, practice make perfect.

Now that we have explained how the bricklayer lays bricks very briefly, let us explain another procedure and what you need to know before we start laying bricks.

But before we do that we want to point out that you need to learn about important tools that the bricklayer uses, and we are going to talk about how to use and check the spirit level and make sure that it is okay, you see some people that don’t know enough may have a surprise, when they use their spirit level and find that what they thought was level a minute ago now it is not.

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Must have good quality bricklayers tools

Bricklayers must have a good quality trowel to lay bricks, it is the only way to work efficiently, you see a bricklayer not only lays bricks with his trowel, he sometimes cuts bricks with the trowel, so, it needs to be of good quality.
Bricklayers must have a good quality trowel to lay bricks, it is the only way to work efficiently, you see a bricklayer not only lays bricks with his trowel, he sometimes cuts bricks with the trowel, so, it needs to be of good quality.
A good quality spirit level in necessary to do a good job, as I have already said, bricks must be laid level and plumb and this is what you can do with a good level, the most used bricklayers level is 1.2 m long
A good quality spirit level in necessary to do a good job, as I have already said, bricks must be laid level and plumb and this is what you can do with a good level, the most used bricklayers level is 1.2 m long

Explaining the spirit level

The bricklayers need many tools to do their job well, and they should know how to use them properly; the two most important tools are the trowel and the spirit level, without these two tools the bricklayers cannot work. So, let us explain how to use them properly and above all let us check the spirit level, as I have seen some DIY or even new tradesman that have made mistakes, because they do not know, how to check if their spirit level is right.

So, in this article let us assume that anyone can easily learn how to use the trowel, since the trowel is like a big flat spoon that picks up the mortar and lays it on the bricks or sticks the mortar to the bricks, it is also used to tap the brick to the right level and the right place and a good bricklayer can use it also to cut the bricks, all these action of the trowel are easy to understand and slowly one can learn how to use it, but the spirit level is not as simple, therefore, let us see how to use the spirit level, and above all how to check that your spirit level is working right.

Most bricklayers use a 4 foot spirit level, most of these modern levels have three bubbles in it and they are very accurate, the two end bubbles are for plumbing (reading if the walls or posts are exactly vertical) the central bubble is for reading if the walls or whatever are level. But what about if these bubbles for some reason have gone out of their proper settings and when you read them, they give you a false reading?

Any good tradesman that uses these levels must know how to check if they are right or not, but let us assume that our readers are not tradesman, so, they want to know how to check if the level they are going to use is okay? To check if your level is okay you should do the following:

First let us check the plumb bubbles; to check the plumbing bubbles, pick up your level, chose a post or wall that you think is strait and plumb, put one side of you level right against it and while lightly pushing against it check that the level touches evenly the surface you have chosen, if it does then without moving it look at the bubble level if it is right in the centre, if it is right in the centre then it is plumb, but to make sure that it is plumb you need to turn your level around 180 degrees in such a way that the face of the level that is now against the wall is away from the wall and the other side is against the wall, if here again the bubble is exactly in the centre then you know that that part of the wall you have chosen is plumb, and you also know that the bubble in your level is set right since you have compared it to the other side of itself.

Now that you have done that, turn your level upside down, so that you can check the other plumb bubble, if this bubble is also set right, the bubble should again be in the centre just like the other bubble, and when you turn you level around as before it should again be in the centre; but if it is not then this bubble is out and should not be used for plumbing.

Okay, we have checked the plumb bubbles and we are now going to check the level bubble, to check the level bubble, pick up your level, chose a wall or a bench that you think is level and do the following, place the level on it and if it the bubble level is in the centre then it is level, now you need to check that this bubble is really right; so, you need to make sure that you check this bubble against itself; in order to do this mark exactly where your level is; then turn your level around 180 degrees so that the end that was on the west side is now on the east side and the end on the east side is now on the west side, if the bubble reading is again in the centre as before your level is set right and you can use it. But if it is not then you might have to buy a new level.

What we have written above is common knowledge to good tradesman. Anyhow now that we have done that, we can go back to work on our brick base.

Floor house plan and profiles

This is a typical main floor house plan, this is the plan where most of the measurement are shown, even if there is another floor below or above, you need this to take your measurements.
This is a typical main floor house plan, this is the plan where most of the measurement are shown, even if there is another floor below or above, you need this to take your measurements.
Before starting work on a house or any other building, it is necessary to erect the profiles and mark them according to the plan measurement.
Before starting work on a house or any other building, it is necessary to erect the profiles and mark them according to the plan measurement.

A typical surveyors' levels and water levels

This is one of the many surveyors level, a trained person can do many things with this instrument, it comes with an extending rod and it requires two people to use and mark the levels for the bricklayer.
This is one of the many surveyors level, a trained person can do many things with this instrument, it comes with an extending rod and it requires two people to use and mark the levels for the bricklayer. | Source
This is one of the most used level for the bricklayer, when there is no surveyors level available, it is very easy to use as I have already explained in my text. It requires to people to use it.
This is one of the most used level for the bricklayer, when there is no surveyors level available, it is very easy to use as I have already explained in my text. It requires to people to use it. | Source
With this type of water level just a single person can use it to mark the levels on the building site. You need to fill up the container with water and then let the water run and fill up the house making sure that there are no air bubbles.
With this type of water level just a single person can use it to mark the levels on the building site. You need to fill up the container with water and then let the water run and fill up the house making sure that there are no air bubbles.

Getting ready to lay bricks

As we have said in our previous articles, when you have to start building a house, the first thing that is necessary to do on a building site is to set up a profile, in order to make sure that the house is set where the house plan says it should be, therefore, a profile must be there before you start laying bricks. Now to make things easier let us assume that the profile is already in place.

So, let us explain the procedure when we start working on this brick base. First, we bricklayers go to the profiles and tie the end of the brickies line, on the outside alignment of the house, then walk to the opposite side while unrolling the line and tie it in the same position. Here I need to point out to the DIY for the first time that the line must be stretched very tight, so that it stays in a straight line even if there is a wind blowing. Now that we have set the first line, we are going to set another line right across the first line and where these two lines meet is the very first corner of the brick wall of the house.

Now with a plump bob or a spirit level mark on to the foundation where the outside corner of the first brick is going to be laid, and you are ready to lay the first brick. Of course, it is necessary to repeat this procedure for every corner of the house. It is also necessary or helpful when the foundation of the house is not level to mark all the steps, so that you know that the wall is exactly in the right place; you see to start laying bricks in the foundation is a very hard and demanding job for the bricklayers, let us imagine that you have to lay bricks below the level where you are standing, and where you are standing is uneven ground and if you are unlucky it might even be wet. So, if you can make everything easier by marking all the critical points it helps. This of course, is only step one to ensure that the brick walls are going to be in the right place, and step two is about levels, so, let us see how these two critical things can be done together.

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How to start the brickwork level

Now that we have marked all the corners, we can start building this brick base on the right alignment, but we need to think about the levels; you see 99% of the bricks must be laid level and plumb, unless there is a specific reason for the walls to be leaning, but this does not happen when we build houses.

Anyhow, to start the brickwork level, we need to know if the two opposite corners are level, and if they are not, what is the difference between them, so that we can start the brick walls at the right level. With short walls it is enough to use the spirit level to do everything, but with longer walls we need to use other sophisticated levels. Therefore, it is necessary to mark the levels on every corner, so that the difference is known to the bricklayers before he starts laying bricks, because most of the difference must be rectified well below ground level and if possible on the first course of bricks that we lay on the foundation.

Today there are a few types of level that we can use, some of these levels are very expensive like surveyors level and other types, they also need an expert to use them and a helper at the other end to mark when instructed to do so, therefore, it is very helpful if one of these levels is being used on the site to mark all the levels around the house base for all the trades that are working on the house, but there are times when the bricklayers are left to their own devises, and they have to work out their own levels.

Now the bricklayers have many tools to carry around including the mixer and wheelbarrows, therefore, they try to avoid carrying expansive levels with themselves even when they know how to use them. So, some bricklayers use even today the water level, because it is a simple and cheap level, as it is only a clear hose filled up with water and it is easy to use, all you have to do is to fill up this hose with clean water and at the same time make sure that there are no air bubbles in it and you have a very accurate level ready to use.

Let us explain how the clear hose water level works, when you fill the hose up with water, make sure that there are no air bubbles left in it, if there are no bubbles, then the water in the two ends of the hose should always be level, whether they are beside each other, or when they are far apart. So, if you mark the top of a brick on a corner that you have already built you can mark this same level on the other corner, therefore, you know that this two marked points are level; then, you should stretch a brickies line between these two points making sure that the line sits exactly on the mark that you have made; now all the level below this line can be worked out easily from the bricklayer, using a type measure or a gauge rod.

The bricklayer can work out what to do if there is any difference on the foundation, and make sure that it is the same course of bricks by running a full course of bricks between these two marked points, at this stage the bricklayer not only has to take care that the wall is at the right alignment, he also has to make sure that the brick are laid level, and at the same time he needs to make sure about the bond, therefore, the easiest way to achieve that is to start from the lowest corner and lay a full course of bricks until he reaches the other corner, this will make sure that the brickwork is started level and with the right bond. This procedure should now be repeated also on the other walls until all the walls are set up, if everything is done properly we should end up with the last wall being the easiest to start, since we have set both corner to build the other walls, but be careful here that there is not a pig in it, which sometimes can even happen when we are not careful enough and the line is set on the wrong course of bricks.

Explaining what is meant that there is a pig in it and how to make sure that everything is set right from the very beginning. To make 100% sure that everything is level and that there is no pig in the brickwork, it is necessary that you run a full course of bricks all around the building at the same level, if that can be done and there is no brick sticking out it is okay. Now let us see how this can be avoided when we are working on a sloping site and the foundations have several steps in it, because this is the most likely place that a mistake can be made.

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Bricklaying and gauge rods

Building a brick corner in stretcher bond. This is one of the easiest and most used corner that a bricklayer can build. Apart from the material to build the bricklayer needs his trowel his spirit level and a type measure to check the gauge.
Building a brick corner in stretcher bond. This is one of the easiest and most used corner that a bricklayer can build. Apart from the material to build the bricklayer needs his trowel his spirit level and a type measure to check the gauge. | Source
There are a few types of line blocks, but I have picked the wooden one because it is as good as any other and can be made very easily from a piece of timber with a saw.
There are a few types of line blocks, but I have picked the wooden one because it is as good as any other and can be made very easily from a piece of timber with a saw. | Source
Gauge rods are used to measure the thickness of a course of bricks. They are not used as shown in this picture, but they can be used if you can tie them firmly on the corner as a bricklayer profile. Note how the joints are all the same thickness.
Gauge rods are used to measure the thickness of a course of bricks. They are not used as shown in this picture, but they can be used if you can tie them firmly on the corner as a bricklayer profile. Note how the joints are all the same thickness. | Source
Stepped foundation above ground. Here I would like to point out that most times we bricklayer find the stepped foundation below ground
Stepped foundation above ground. Here I would like to point out that most times we bricklayer find the stepped foundation below ground | Source

Laying bricks on a sloping site

Laying bricks on a sloping site

As we have said, the most important thing in bricklaying is that the bricks must be laid at the right alignment, straight, plumb and level, and when building a face brick wall, the bricklayer should pay particular attention to these details, beginning from the first course of bricks that we lay on the foundations, therefore, it is better to concentrate on this single issue, because it is very important to start the brickwork right from the beginning.

Now, to lay bricks on a level site it is easy; also to lay bricks on a level foundation is easy, you see, you can build another corner as the one shown here at the other end, and by using a brickies line on line blocks you can stretch a tight line and lay bricks in a straight line easily. Of course, here we have assumed that the foundations have been laid level, but on a stepped foundations it is not that easy, because even the concreters may not have been able to lay the foundations level, because the concrete moves until it sets, therefore, the bricklayers need to check and recheck the levels when they start bricklaying on a sloping site. One of the easiest ways to do that is to mark levels on the profiles all around the building site; then you can stretch a bricklayer tight line between these levels and measure from the line down to check your levels, ether with a type measure or a gauge rod.

I know that you are saying, what is a gauge rod? Okay, a gauge rod is usually made from a long-marked peace of timber that the bricklayer marks himself, once he knows what sort of bricks he is going to lay and how thick these bricks are, and what is the best thickness of the joints for this brickwork. I know that the gauge rod sounds like a strange devise for those that are not used to work with bricklayers, but really it is only a straightedge that has been marked with the space of each brick including the joint, so that you can quickly know how many courses of bricks have to be laid in the space that you are measuring.

Let me explain, to decide the spaces on the gauge, the bricklayer Forman measures the thickness of four bricks that have been laid with an average and attractive joint, and from these measurements he makes his gauge rod for this particular job; here it follows that when the gauge rod is not handy, we bricklayer talk about this space as the gauge that is supposed to be kept on this building site, which is four course of bricks.

Anyhow, I believe that this article is becoming too long, and a bit difficult to understand for DIY for the first time, as there are too many things to keep in mind, and since there is a lot more that can be said about bricklaying, I think that it is better to write another article or two about it; which we are going to call, Building a brick base, or Bricklaying on a sloping site, where we are going to explain in more details how the work must be done and how to avoid to make mistakes.

Please note; these DIY building articles should be read one after the other to make sense, so here is the link of our next building article. Building a brick base

See you soon.

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© 2012 F-Menchise

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