With today's easy-to-manage materials, such as laminates, engineered wood, and engineered stone, brick can seem like a positively archaic material. In fact, as fewer brick fireplaces and chimneys are being built, working with brick can feel like a lost art, and efforts to cut brick or drill into it might feel intimidating. But working with brick does not have to be difficult. With determination and only a few basic tools, you can cut into installed brick with flawless results.
Excising a single brick while leaving surrounding brick intact and in good shape is often required when a single brick is damaged or stained, a fireplace needs to be refurbished, or a portion of a brick wall or the brick itself needs to be removed to install mechanicals, such as a vent, an electrical outlet, or a plumbing pipe.
5 Methods of Cutting Bricks
There are several methods of cutting out a brick for removal. Each has pros and cons.
- A circular saw fitted with a masonry blade will cut both brick and mortar, producing clean lines, but with a great amount of debris.
- An angle grinder with a masonry wheel also will cut through both the brick and the mortar and allows for tighter angles. However, debris blow-back is significant.
- A reciprocating saw with a masonry cutting blade can cut relatively straight lines when the saw is held firmly. But while reciprocating saws allow for plunge cuts in materials like drywall, they don't work so well for masonry walls.
- A high-quality multi-tool equipped with a masonry attachment does allow for plunge cuts and can be a good way to get the cut started.
- Cutting out the brick manually with a masonry chisel and a drill takes patience but offers finer control of the process.
Manually Cutting Installed Brick
The secret to removing a complete brick from a brick wall or brick fireplace is in cutting the surrounding mortar. Dried and set mortar is softer than brick and it cuts away in a predictable fashion. Once the mortar is removed, the entire brick extracts quite easily. However, if your goal is to remove only a portion of the brick, you must remove the mortar as well as sever the brick in a clean line, all without causing the brick to crumble into little pieces.
Make sure to use a genuine masonry chisel. Neither a wood chisel nor a cold chisel (designed for metal) is appropriate for this job. Using either runs the risk of shattering the tool and potentially sending metal fragments flying. A masonry chisel is typically a heavier chisel with a more blunt cutting edge designed for breaking mortar, stone, and brick.
When manually cutting out a brick or into a brick, take safety precautions by wearing safety glasses, hearing protection, and thick gloves. Drilling or cutting into brick produces a lot of dust, so also wear a dust mask. Be patient and go slowly.
Equipment / Tools
- Narrow masonry chisel
- 1/4-inch masonry drill bit
- Wire brush
- Safety glasses
- Hearing protection
- Thick work gloves
- Dust mask
- Carpenter's pencil
- Shop vacuum
Drill Holes in the Brick
Sculptors often cut large sections of stone by drilling holes in lines and placing explosive charges in the holes. The simultaneous explosion of all of the charges creates a cutting plane. Manually cutting a portion of a brick works in much the same way. Rather than explosive charges, the force of the hammer and chisel blows break the brick along the line of drilled holes
Begin by drawing a line across the surface of the brick where you want to cut. Then draw another line about 1/4 inch from the first line in the portion of the brick you'll be removing. You will be drilling into this second line, preserving the first line as a reference.
Drill a series of holes along this second line, spaced no more than 1/4 inch apart. Unless you are using a hammer drill, you will need to push hard on the drill and even wiggle it around just a bit, but take care not to break off the drill bit.
Frequently vacuum out the holes to remove brick dust.
Cut out the Brick With a Chisel
Ideally, the drilled holes will have penetrated through the entire thickness of the brick. But you can still complete the removal even if some of the holes don't fully penetrate the full thickness.
With a masonry chisel and hammer, lightly break out the brick between the holes, completing the cut line. Slightly angle the chisel toward the waste brick (the portion of the brick to be removed) so that you do not risk damaging the portion of the brick that will remain. Hammer blows to the chisel will usually sever the brick all the way through its thickness.
Chip out the Mortar to Free the Brick
Once you have chiseled through the brick, you still need to loosen the surrounding mortar. Mortar is usually crumbly, so it should loosen by drilling random holes into it or by chipping it out with the chisel. Be patient and lightly chip away, or use your chisel as a lever to pry the brick. A small pry bar can also be a good tool to pull out loosened mortar.
Remove the Brick by Hand
With all of the obstructions gone, you should be able to remove the brick by hand. Some wiggling may be necessary.
Smooth out the Edges of the Hole
Use your chisel to smooth out the rough faces of the hole to an acceptable point. After about 10 minutes of careful chipping, you should have a hole with reasonably clean sides. It also helps to brush lightly with a wire brush.