Using a Brick Trowel

A Brick Trowel, also know as a Mason’s Trowel, is used to apply mortar in working with bricks. It is a traditional tool available in many shapes and sizes. In the most common form, it consists of a flat steel blade, which is triangular in shape. The blade, from 6 to 12 inches long, angles back at the heel where it meets the shank. The angled shank is attached to a wooden handle.

Blades are made handed, for right and left handed masons. The reason for this is that the blade has a flat edge on one side and a curved edge on the other. The flat side is for lifting mortar from a mortar board, while the curved side is for cutting bricks and sectioning off lumps of mortar to work with when building a brick wall.

Picking Up your Mortar

After the mortar is mixed on a flat wooden board, it is lifted from the board with the trowel, for spreading on to the course of bricks, one trowel load at a time. Each trowel load should be enough for about three or four bricks.

    Hold the trowel, your thumb resting on the handle’s top. Brick trowels are designed to balance most comfortably in this position.

    Slice off a trowel load of mortar, pulling it toward you

    With the back surface of the trowel, shape the load into a triangle shaped flat mound.

    Slide the trowel under the mound of mortar, keeping the blade surface on the board. Settle the mortar mound firmly on the trowel with a slight flick of the wrist.

    Lift the mortar over to the brick course to be worked on, and continue as below

Using the Brick Trowel on a Brick Wall

Holding the edge of the blade over the centerline of the wall, move the trowel backwards. Tilt the trowel as you move it such that the mortar slides from the blade gradually and leaves an even mortar bed on the surface around 1 inch of thickness.

Cut off the excess mortar overhanging the wall as follows. Hold the trowel blade flat against the top of wall, angled slightly outward. Along the length of the wall, slice and lift the mortar cleanly off from the bricks. You can either use the excess mortar for filling uneven gaps in the mortar bed, or put it back on the mortar board.

Furrow the mortar bed by running the trowel’s toe backwards along the bed, shaping a shallow depression in its center. This step helps in positioning the bricks.

Now use your trowel to butter the end of the brick with mortar prior to laying it next to the neighboring brick. Do this by evenly smoothing a ½ inch thick mortar layer with the point of the trowel. Cut off any excess mortar.
Now lay the brick in line with the rest of the course. Press the brick into the mortar bed and tap it into line with the curved side edge of the trowel. Use the handle end of the trowel to tap the side of the bricks into alignment.

Repointing Brick

Repointing means making repairs to a crumbling brick joint or corner. A trowel called a pointing trowel is used, along with mortar. The pointing trowel is just like regular brick trowel, but has a much smaller blade. It is also used for finishing mortar joints on new brick walls and surfaces.

How to Repoint

To repoint, first mix your mortar in a small amount. Chisel out the loose crumbling mortar with a steel mallet and cold chisel, going to a depth of about ½ inch.

Brush out any remaining loose material, then dampen the wall.

Using the back of the pointing trowel, pick up a mound of fresh mortar from the mortar board.

Press the mortar into the joints using the trowel tip. Fill the vertical joints first, then fill the top and bottom joints.

When mortar is dried so that it is just hard enough to take a thumb impression without it sticking to your thumb, it is ready for shaping work.

Shaping the Joints

Mortar between bricks is shaped to different forms in order to improve it’s appearance and to make the joints weatherproof. The mortar is pressed into shape, when it is nearly dry, by working special jointer tools along the mortar. The vertical joints are worked first, followed by the top and bottom joints.

A rough flush joint can be made by rubbing the brickwork with a piece of burlap. A better way to produce finished flush joints is to use a flat bladed jointer tool called a slicker.

To make a concave joint, a convex jointer tool is available. It has a pointed handle and a long blade shaped like a ski, with a curved tip. V shaped concave joints can be made with a V jointer which give a more precisely defined appearance to the brickwork.

One popular decorative joint is the grapevine joint. This has a deep groove in it’s center which produces a sharply defined show line. The grapevine jointer tool makes this joint; it has a blade with a central rib on it.