There are some basic bricklaying tips and techniques to remember if you're about to tackle even a small job like a low garden wall.


For most small garden projects such as a barbecue or a low wall or garden border, medium density facing bricks will do the job. Bricks that won't be seen (such as for the footings) can be common (non-face) bricks. Also use commons if you intend to render.



For most jobs the mix should be one part cement to five parts clean soft sand, plus a plasticiser. Note that not all sand is suitable for the job.Tell the merchant what the sand is for to get the right guidance. The plasticiser makes the mortar easier to handle and helps adhesion. Add water gradually because if you make the mix too wet you'll have problems. When the mortar is mixed you have a limited time to use it, about 90 minutes to two hours maximum. Once it starts to dry it should be discarded.


Laying basics

The following guide should enable you to tackle simple bricklaying projects such as a low garden wall or a BBQ.
  • To keep mortar off your hands it's best to wear a pair of gloves, but not so thick that they make things hard to hold.
  • The bricks should be stacked no more than 600mm away from the job in a two-by-two stack to provide sufficient working space and ease of handling. The mortar board (to carry the mortar to the job) should be at least 600mm square. On hot days it is important to keep the bricks moist. This will prevent the mortar drying to quickly, ensuring easier placement and a strong bond.
  • Place the mortar in the centre of the pre-moistened mortar board to give you plenty of room to pick up the mortar with your trowel. The best way to pick up the mortar is as follows:

-Angle the blade so it's vertical then press it firmly down through the side of  the mortar pile. Draw the mortar that you have cut off to the side of the board.

 - Lay the trowel flat and slide it under the mortar and pick it up. Make sure you have enough to lay a couple of bricks.

 - To get the mortar on to the structure put the right amount on the trowel and then flick it onto the job where you need it. Spread the mortar by using the  point of the trowel and dragging it along the wall forming a  groove.

 - If there is any surplus mortar overhanging the edge of the wall cut it off with the straight edge of the trowel angled away from the wall so as not to smear  the face of the other bricks. Put this back on to the board for re-use.


Cutting bricks

Bricks can be cut using a bolster (a large metal chisel designed for the job). The bolster is pressed on the brick where you want to make the cut and tapped firmly with a lump hammer. Grooves are nicked in all sides of the brick. A good sharp tap will split the brick along the cuts.

Try this out on a few old bricks before you move on to the more expensive face bricks.


The most important part of any wall is the footing and if it's not straight you'll have a hard job building a straight wall. Footings should always be level.  On sloping ground this involves stepping them to accommodate the slope. To make it stronger and avoid cutting bricks make each step equivalent to a whole number of bricks.

The depth of the footing is important as it must be capable of carrying the weight of the wall. For a light garden wall 30cm deep should be sufficient. On unstable or weak ground make the depth 46cm and use trench mesh, with the trench twice the width of the intended wall.


Laying stretchers

A 'stretcher' is the length of a brick run along a wall. We suggest you follow these steps:

 - Pick up a brick holding it with your thumb on the stretcher face and your four  fingers on the rear of the brick. Lay the brick on the mortar bed, gently pushing the brick back and forth. If the mortar is fairly stiff, tap the top of the brick with the blade of the trowel.

- If you have a line set up, push the brick down until it is level with the top of the line and parallel with the line. If you are not using a line push the brick down and then use a steel tape measure to check from the top of the brick to the underside of the joint. This should be 8.5cm high (the height of the brick plus a 1cm mortar joint) for a metric brick.

- When the brick is in position cut away the surplus mortar from the bed joint and either wipe it onto the brick you have just laid or wipe it onto the end of the next brick you will lay.


Laying headers

The 'header' is created with the narrow end of the brick facing the front of the wall, i.e. to cap off the top of a double brick wall. The process here is the same as above except that the brick is laid at right angles to the stretched bricks.

When building a wall in any bond you must always keep the vertical joints of the various alternate courses in line.

When you've laid a number of bricks, you'll need to check and adjust them. The four checks are (in order):
  • Gauge - make sure that the corner brick is the correct height.
  • Level - use the spirit level to check that the row of bricks is horizontal.
  • Plumb - use the spirit level to make sure the wall is vertical.
  • Straight - use a straight edge horizontally along the face of the wall and adjust so that they are all in line.

When the bricklaying work is finished, use water to clean away any spots of mortar around the base of your new structure. And always be sure to clean your tools before the mortar sets on them.