5 Tips for Completing Home Masonry Projects Like a Pro

Masonry is hard, but repairing or repainting it doesn’t have to be. These insights can save time, money and aggravation.

When working with brick, tile or concrete, these tips will help weekend warriors master basic techniques and avoid masonry missteps.

Repairing brick walls: Choosing a repointing technique

Crumbling mortar in brick walls can cause structural damage and water leakage. Repointing, or replacing the outer part of the mortar between the bricks, can fix this problem.

The first step is removing approximately ¾ inch of mortar. Practice several methods of doing this to see which way works best for you. (For practice trials, pick out an inconspicuous area.) If you aren’t comfortable with the method, it’s easy to cut into and disfigure the brick.

One technique uses an angle grinder to cut out the existing mortar. Another calls for a hammer drill outfitted with a chisel bit to pound the mortar from the joints. If after several practice attempts you can’t master either technique, you might opt to use a cold chisel and engineer’s hammer. Once the layer of old mortar is removed, you are ready to clean the joints and add new mortar.

Replacing cracked floor tile: A tap will tell you the cause

Long cracks on a tile floor are typically caused by either a failed adhesive bond or a crack in the material below the tile. The failed adhesive bond is a much easier fix and can be tackled easily by an average DIYer.

To know if a faulty bond is the problem before you pull up any tile, tap a cracked tile with a metal object such as a wrench. A hollow sound will tell you that the adhesive bond is the culprit, and you just need to replace the tile, making sure its bonded properly. A ringing sound means there are probably bigger problems below, and you may want to call in reinforcements.

Painting a brick wall: How to clean it first

Brick needs to perfectly clean for paint to adhere. First, try scrubbing the wall with a stiff-bristled brush and soapy water. If this doesn’t cut it, try a half cup of trisodium phosphate (TSP) mixed with a gallon of water. Afterward, wash the area with a heavy-duty cleaner. Once the brick is dry, tape off any areas you don’t want to paint, and start brushing.

Cutting bricks: Score them first

Most brick projects involve cutting bricks to fit a particular space or to round a corner. This is a simple process if done correctly.

First, make a pencil line where you want the cut. Then, score a cutting line by tapping a brick chisel lightly with a two-pound hammer along the pencil line and continuing across each side of the brick. Once scored, lay the brick on a sand surface, place the chisel on the cutting line, and strike it with the hammer. The brick should split evenly along the scored cutting line.

Filling concrete cracks: The “key” to a successful patch

To repair cracks in concrete up to 1½ inches wide, use a cold chisel and hammer to first chisel out the crack. Hold the chisel at an angle when striking with the hammer so the inside of the crack will be bigger than it is at the surface. (The profile of the new crack will look like a woodworker’s dovetail joint.) This is called “under cutting” or “keying” the hole, and it helps the new patching material bond with the old crack. Clean the crack after chiseling and apply a concrete adhesive to help the patching material bond with the old crack.

One last tip: Always wear gloves and safety goggles when working with masonry to protect yourself from cleaning solutions, mortar and bonding agents as well as flying chips from brick, tile and cement.