Masonry work is one of those home improvement skills that few homeowners attempt to master. Drywall, electrical, plumbing, and painting get most of the do-it-yourself attention, while masonry is often hired out to skilled masons.
Yet do-it-yourself masonry work can be highly satisfying and creative. And aside from the pleasure of seeing a job well done, one of the great things about doing masonry work is that its tools and materials are basic, inexpensive, and easy to comprehend.
As befits a trade that has been in existence since the days of ancient Egypt, masonry work uses common items like crushed stone and limestone from the earth and simple metal shaping tools. If you are interested in do-it-yourself masonry for fireplaces, walls, planters, or just about anything that uses brick or stone, you'll want to invest in a basic set of masonry tools and materials.
Basic Masonry Tools You Should Own
A margin trowel is a long, thin trowel used for heaping small amounts of mortar on stone and spreading it. Margin trowels are used with narrow masonry units such as a manufactured stone veneer in order to avoid spilling excess mortar over the sides of the veneer units. Margin trowels, while not appropriate for every masonry project, are as close to a universal trowel as you can get.
V- or Square-Notch Trowel
The workhorse of masonry jobs, the v- or square-notch trowel is large and has two sides that are straight and another two sides that are notched. These notches can either be square or V-shaped, and they act essentially as a metered system for dispensing mortar across a flat surface such as cement board. If you were to try to dispense the mortar evenly with the flat edge of a trowel, it would be nearly impossible to disperse the mortar at even rates. By pressing the trowel's notches flat against the surface, the mortar extrudes from the notches evenly.
A cold chisel has a wide, flat head that is perfectly designed for slicing bricks or veneer stone in half with a blow from a hammer. A cold chisel also has a myriad of other uses, such as chipping away excess mortar or removing a single brick from a brick wall. Usually cold chisels have plastic handles to absorb the shock from the hammer blow.
Brick Hammer or Mason's Hammer
You need a hammer for masonry work, and you should never use a carpenter's hammer. Not only might you ruin your nice, expensive carpenter's hammer, it simply doesn't do the job for masonry work. What you need is a specialized tool called a brick hammer or a mason's hammer.
A brick hammer has a blunt side for tasks like chopping bricks or stones in half with a quick, decisive blow. The other side is smaller and is used for scoring lines for more precise breaks.
Not all masonry tools are devoted to hammering, chopping, and cleaving. A wire brush is indispensable with masonry work for brushing away rock chips or concrete crumbs that accumulate in your work zone. For example, when you chip open a crack in concrete prior to repairing it, a stiff wire brush and a shop vacuum are just about the only way to remove all of that debris from the crack.
Masonry Materials Your Should Buy
This entire collection of masonry materials does not need to be purchased prior to starting your masonry projects. Rather, buy masonry materials on an as-needed basis shortly before starting your project. Materials stored for a long time are subject to moisture damage. When moisture penetrates bags of veneer mortar, conventional mortar, grout, or concrete, the materials will harden, become useless, and need to be disposed.
Veneer mortar is a specialized type of mortar that is enriched with polymers to help the veneer masonry units stick to vertical surfaces. As this mortar can be quite expensive, use this material only for manufactured veneer stones and be sure to mix it sparingly in small batches.
Portland cement is a mixture of lime, silica, alumina, iron, and gypsum. Portland cement comes in 50 and 100-pound bags.
Aggregate is a material composed of sand or sometimes gravel that fills out and forms the bulk of concrete.
Mortar is the mixture used to get the masonry units to stick together.
Grout is a mixture of Portland cement and some sand. Grout fills the seams between the masonry units.
Ready-mix concrete is a pre-made mixture of Portland cement, sand, and gravel that requires only water to harden and cure. This type of concrete is invaluable for setting fence posts and deck supports.
Reinforcing bars, or rebar, are steel bars that are added and embedded throughout masonry to increase its strength. Rebar is used for larger projects like concrete sidewalks.