A brick wall is one of the sturdiest, most durable construction elements there is, which can offer some challenges if you find it necessary to remove a single brick from that wall. For example, a cracked or damaged brick in a fireplace or exterior wall may need to be removed in order to replace it. Or perhaps you need to remove single bricks in order to install a vent cover for a kitchen or bathroom vent fan.
Options for Brick Removal
There are a number of ways that bricks can be removed from a wall. One method involves drilling a series of holes in the relatively soft clay of the brick, then chiseling the brick out in pieces. However, this method leaves the harder cementitious mortar in place around the brick, which can be rather difficult to chisel away once the field brick is removed.
Another method, most suitable for when you are removing a large area of brick such as when installing a new window or door opening, is to use a specialty masonry saw to carefully cut the outline of the opening through the brick and mortar, then using brute demolition to remove all the brick inside the cutout area. But this makes sense only when the opening includes a large number of bricks.
The project described below will remove individual bricks, intact. This can be an advantage if you want to reuse the bricks for other purposes. It also has the advantage of removing the mortar surrounding the brick, leaving you with a relatively clean opening.
Removing a brick is not complicated, but it requires patience and time. It is messy and the flying debris can be annoying and possibly dangerous. But as long as you wear safety glasses and a particle mask, it is perfectly safe.
There is no structural danger to removing a single brick. The whole wall or fireplace will not come crashing down, and you will not compromise the structural integrity, provided the wall or fireplace is in good shape. If you have serious cracks or bulging in the wall, call in a professional mason to evaluate the wall and make necessary repairs.
The chisel required for this project is a true masonry chisel, not a wood chisel (made only for shaping wood) or a cold chisel (designed for use on metal). Masonry chisels have hardened steel that will not chip, and some types of a rubber guard to shield your hand. Masonry chisels come in various sizes; a narrow chisel is best for this work.
Likewise, the drill bit you use should be a specialty masonry bit designed for drilling concrete.
The ideal hammer for this work is a ball-peen hammer or mason's hammer, which are designed for striking metal chisels. If you don't own one, an ordinary claw hammer or framing hammer works just fine.
Equipment / Tools
- Tarp (if working indoors)
- Safety glasses
- Work gloves
- Particle mask
- Narrow masonry chisel
- Drill with a 3/8-inch masonry bit
- Old screwdriver
Protect Surfaces and Yourself
The drilling and chiseling involved will raise dust and may throw shards of mortar and brick around, so if you are working indoors, make sure to move any furniture or other objects you want to protect, and cover floors with a heavy tarp. Also make sure to wear work gloves, safety glasses, and a particle mask while drilling and chiseling.
Remove Loose Mortar
Begin by prying or knocking out any loose mortar from the joint around the brick you are removing. You need to remove any loose pieces that could be thrown when you start to drill out the mortar joints. An old screwdriver works well for this task.
Drill Holes in the Mortar Joints
Using a 3/8-inch masonry bit, drill a series of closely-spaced holes in the mortar all around the brick. Drilling masonry requires a slow drilling speed and plenty of patience. You may wear out one or two drill bits during this process.
Make sure you are drilling full through the full thickness of the mortar joint. You will feel the drill bit break through when you have fully penetrated the mortar.
A hammer drill will make the drilling much easier and save wear on the masonry bits. Most newer drills have a hammer setting.
Break Mortar Joints
Once you have drilled a series of parallel holes in the mortar all around the brick, use a masonry chisel and hammer to strike along the mortar, cracking the joints. You likely will feel the brick loosen once the mortar joints have all been cracked.
Extract the Brick
Once the brick is loosened, carefully extract it from the opening. Begin by prying from both sides with a screwdriver and masonry chisel, then wiggle it by hand once it is extracted far enough to grip it by the sides.
Remove Remaining Mortar
With the brick removed, use a hammer and an old screwdriver or masonry chisel, to chip and scrape out the remaining remnants of mortar along the inside face of the opening. Work carefully to avoid cracking the surrounding brick.