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Learning how to lay bricks or other building trade
Building with bricks
Welcome to our article ((9) (36)), D.I.Y brickwork,
Dear readers, let me try to help, those people that would appreciate some help in building with bricks, for a start. I am writing this article ‘DIY brickwork’, because I have been thinking that it could be helpful, if I share some of my 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 would like to share this knowledge with you.
I believe that even today, when everything is being automated, and trades people can only do what they are qualified to do, some old knowledge could be helpful, for people that want to do some building work themselves. They want to do it for different reasons, perhaps it could be due to different factors, perhaps they live in a faraway place, where modern ways of building could not come to them easily yet, and tradesman are not easily available. So, they may be forced to do it themselves, therefore, some old knowhow would be helpful for them.
Anyhow, we would like to help those people that are willing to do some building work themselves, because of their own circumstances, so, we could help them by describing here our own accumulated building knowledge. I know that some people would appreciate that, because I have been sometimes in that position myself. As I have said already, they might want to do this building work themselves, for different reasons and most times could be just to save money.
But, to do any sort of building work, whether it is building a small something, a house or just some repairs, one must at least know in theory what needs to be done, unless one is already a tradesman and knows what to do. So, it would be wise at least to read some articles about what you are going to build or fix. Of course, you could find these articles on the Internet if you look for them. So, in this article we are going to write what we think might be helpful for you, and paste also some articles that we think may help to build or repair whatever you want to do.
Some of you may ask why we want to do that? We would like to do that just because it is going to make me the writer feel better, because I have been able to help somebody without costing me anything accept the time of writing this long 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 might be able to learn enough things to do what you want to do. However, to show you how things are done, we are going to go the long way, so, we hope that we would be able to explain ourselves clearly, for you to follow us and understand what we are saying.
Explaining my position and what we are writing
Now let me explain, to understand what we are going to write next, you should keep in mind that this DIY brickwork article, is part of my life story. So, I am writing this article about 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 all my life building knowledge would be a waste, for this reason in my old age I would like to share my building knowledge, if I can with you, and for this reason I have written this article called, DIY brickwork; where we would like to show you how to build with bricks, in fact we are going to take you on a long journey that we have already started in my other articles about the story of my life. Therefore, while we are continuing telling you our life story, and at this moment we have reached the stage when I became a bricklayer, and we would like to tell you how bricklaying is done. So, while we are telling you how bricklaying is done, I have thought that it would be good to tell our readers 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, therefore, we hope that you would be interested in following us, because we would like to share our bricklaying knowledge and also other building knowledge with you; not only because it gives me another excuse to write a useful article, but also because then I would feel that I have contributed in a small way to the community by sharing what I have learned during my life; therefore, we would like to interest you our readers to read these articles and learn from them at least in theory how to lay bricks, just in case one day you would like to do some brickwork yourself in the future, because if you do then you already have at least some idea of what knowledge is required to do the job.
As we all know, we need to learn things if we want to do them and we are born with the capacity to learn things; so, we believe that most people would be able to do lots of building work themselves, if they are shown how they can do it; therefore in this first article we will talk about the following activities; (1) How to build with bricks and other things; (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, and Laying bricks on a sloping site; these are the main items that we are talking in this hub. Of course there is still a lot more to say about bricklaying, but this article might become too long to describe most of the things that need to be done from beginning to end, so we are going to continue with DIY brickwork in our next hub; 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. But before we do that let us say a few things about my own personal experience as a bricklayer and building houses with bricks. Here I would like also to add that most time I might be repeating a few things over and over again, 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 wall
How to build with bricks and other things
Dear readers, forgive me if I repeat this phrase here again; for 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 would like to share my bricklaying knowledge with you, before I would share other knowledge that could be also useful during our life, since we all live in building accommodations, and therefore any knowledge of building houses, or maintaining that building accommodation that we live in could be helpful to most of us. So here and now, we are going to share this knowledge with you as I have said, in all aspect of building, repairing or owning a house; so let us start with building something with bricks, because as I have said I am a bricklayer.
But before we start that let me explain why I would like to do that again; you see, I have to say that this article may have a double purpose one is to tell you about building, but at the same time I am telling you the story of my life and what I believe any of us should be doing; I believe that it is the duty of any human being to help humanity to improve their standard of living, (an article about this is written at this web address; www.frankmenchise.com, if it does not work from here try to Google it in Google search bar) therefore we are saying in this article that anything that one learns during one’s life should be passed to the future generations. I know that in the past some trade people tried to hold on their knowledge so that they would be employed if they were required to do certain jobs, but that is in the past and today that would not help much anyhow, so let me try to pass to my readers some of my hard learned knowledge, starting with how a bricklayer would go about and build a brick base for a house.
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 that 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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a copy of my brick trolley
Building a brick base for houses
As you know to learn something new, we need to observe how it is done. In this case that we want to teach you about brickwork, we are going to show you how it is done, so, we are going to write how a house brick base is built. I know that some of you are going to say that this article is not exactly what it claims to be, because it cannot really teach you how to lay bricks from scratch for an entire house base, as this takes a lot of knowledge and a long time if you want to do it properly. So, it should have been called with a different name, perhaps its name should be how a bricklayer would build a house brick base for new houses; since this is what really, we are talking about in this article.
Anyhow, let me explain how the name of this article came about. When I was writing this article for the first time, because I was writing my life story, it became obvious that 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. At this point of time our intentions are that we are going to write a few or several articles mainly about brickwork as I have been a bricklayer most of my life, then I might also write other articles with whatever I know about other building trades like concreting and other helpful hints that might help whoever has the intention of building something themselves, I hope this would help our readers that are willing to have a go at building something themselves.
So, now let us go back to what we were going to talk about in this article; now, if you have read our previous hub called “house building in Brisbane” you would 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, click on this link to check it out, House building in Brisbane
Now what is going to follow here is how we bricklayers lay these bricks; now I need also 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 last hub called, House building in Brisbane, but I am speaking with the knowledge that I acquired when I became a bricklayer and later in life during the long time that I have worked as a bricklayer, and I may add that what I am writing here can also apply to other brickwork in general terms, as bricklaying is a repetitive job and once you have acquired the skills how to do one job, you may easily use this knowledge to do a different job, so, DIY brickwork, is a possible name that I could have given also to this hub.
So now that I have explained myself, let me just take you step by step how the bricklayers have to work, when building these brick bases for houses, so that any of you that have in mind to do some of this bricklaying work yourself, may have some ideas of what you need to know, and here I am talking about the basic knowhow that is required to lay bricks the right way, you see you need this basic knowledge because once you have laid the bricks and the mortar becomes hard it is a very hard and costly job 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 all at the same time 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, whenever and wherever is practicable when the site is not level, 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 you 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.
Bricklayer working on a wall
Bricklayer laying bricks
Therefore, let us describe very 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 also; 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 one of our last articles called House building in Brisbane, there we were getting everything ready for the bricklayers to lay bricks; so we had set 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 also collect 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.
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 should practice how to lay bricks before you start, as some people may 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 go back and explain hereunder the procedure and what you need to know before we start laying bricks, while we are getting ready to lay the first brick on this house brick base.
But before we do that we would like to point out to you that you need to learn about some important tools that the bricklayer uses, and we are particularly going to talk to you 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.
Must have bricklayers tools
The spirit level
The bricklayers have many tools in order to be able 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 they are used and how to use them properly and above all let us check the spirit level, as I have seen some DIY or even some new tradesman that have made some mistakes just because they do not know how to check if their spirit level is right.
So, in this article let us assume that just 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 just learn how to use it, but the spirit level is not as simple, therefore, before we are going to lay bricks for our brick base, let us see how to use the spirit level and above all how to check that your spirit level is working right.
So, let us talk about the spirit level; first of all 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, now these levels are supposed to be set right and if they are set right there is to problem when you use them, 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 should know how to check if they are right or not, but at the same time let us assume that some of our readers are not tradesman, so, they would like to know how to check if the level they are going to use is still okay? To check if your level is okay you should do the following:
First of all les 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.
To see how much it is out you can do the following, put your level against the wall look at the bubble, let us say that it seems that the wall is leaning away from you, because for the bubble to be in the centre you have to move the top of your level away from the wall, say 10 mm. In this case by turning your level around 180 degrees you are going to have an opposite reading, and you need to move the bottom of the level away from the wall 10 mm for the bubble to be in the centre, so if you are still going to use this level to do the job, you need to mark which bubble is right and which is not. Okay we have checked the plumb bubbles and we know what we have to do to keep our brickwork plumb, we have to use the good bubble only.
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, if you don’t know how to fix it and you don’t want to make costly mistakes.
You can also check how far out it is and sometimes you could find a way how to adjust the bubble, but if you have to do a lot of work buy a new level.
What we have written above is common knowledge to real tradesman, and any tradesman knows that spirit levels are perhaps the most important tool that they should have. Anyhow now that we have done that we can go back to work on our brick base.
House plan and profiles
Getting ready to lay bricks
As we have already said in our previous hubs, 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 should already be there and if it is not, then one should be erected prior to commencing to lay bricks. Now just to make things a bit easier let us assume that the profile are already in place, and also that there are no other previous works done on the house, therefore there is no set or fixed height of the finished brickwork take or leave one brick thickness.
So now let us explain the procedure when we start working on this brick base of the house; first of all, we bricklayers go to the profiles and tie the end of the brickies line where it says it should be, and this is the outside alignment of the house, then walk to the opposite side while unrolling the line and tie it again where it should be on the marked profile; 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 perhaps 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 just 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 would help. 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 could be done together.
A typical surveyors' levels and water levels
How to start the brickwork level
Now that we have marked all the corners and everywhere else, so that we can start building this brick base on the right alignment we need to start also thinking 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 and this reason must be well understood, before we start laying bricks for this special sort of job and we have to say that this does not happen when we build houses.
Anyhow, in order to start the brickwork level, we need to know if the two opposite corner are exactly level, and if not what is the difference between them, so that we will be able to 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 already so 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 most simple and cheap level, as it is only a clear hose filled up with water and it is very 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 (and this is the way to check it out if it is working properly) 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, and 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 also 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 already 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. I hope that I have explained it clear enough. 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 could be made.
Bricklaying and gauge rods
Laying bricks on a sloping site
Laying bricks on a sloping site
As we have already said before, 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, we will be coming back to discuss this issue soon, as for the time being we want to start building a brick base for houses, beginning from the first course of bricks that we lay on the foundations, therefore it would be better to concentrate on this single issue, as it is very important to start the brickwork right from the beginning.
Now, to lay bricks on a level site it is easy, as you can see from this picture beside here; also to lay bricks on a level foundation is also 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 now 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 also what would be the best thickness of the joints for this sort of brickwork. I know that the gauge rod sounds like a strange devise for those that are not used to work for 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 course of bricks have to be laid in the space that you are measuring. Now in order 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. As you can see there are many jargon words in this trade, and there are also many other strange devises or tools that help the bricklayers do his job, which I would like to talk about some of them, as we go on building this house brick base, or other brickwork in general.
Anyhow, I believe that this hub is becoming too long and perhaps a bit difficult to understand for DIY for the first time, as there are too many things to keep in mind all at the same time, and since there is a lot more that could be said about bricklaying, I think that it would be better to write another hub 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 should be done and how to avoid to make mistakes.
Please note; these DIY building articles should really 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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