Single Brick Removal: Manual Method, No Special Tools

Drilling Into Brick Mortar To Loosen the Brick
Drilling Into Brick Mortar To Loosen the Brick. © Lee Wallender

When you have an entire field of brick in the form of a wall, it may seem impossible to remove just a single brick.  

Actually, as long as the wall as a whole is in good shape, it's a simple task.  You can remove a single, whole brick using only manual tools--cold chisel, mortar scraper, screwdriver--or with an ordinary drill equipped with a masonry bit.

How Does It Work?

If you remove the mortar, the brick will follow.  The secret is that mortar--the substance between bricks that holds them together--is fairly soft.  Because it is soft it will yield to an ordinary drill and even to hand-chipping.  

Also, because mortar is softer than brick, you can chip away the mortar with relative impunity without fear of destroying the brick.

Is It Difficult?

No.  This is hardly rocket science.  Instead, it is tenacious, gut-level work. It is messy and the flying debris can be mildly annoying.  But as long as you wear safety glasses and a dust mask, it is perfectly safe.

Will the Rest of the Bricks Fail?

Not to worry.  The whole wall or fireplace will not come crashing down if you take out a single brick.  Removing one brick will not compromise the structural integrity, as long as that wall or fireplace is already in good shape.

Can You Remove Just Part of a Brick?

Yes.  For removing half of a brick, consult this partial brick removal step-by-step guide.  The process is much the same, except that you need to drill into the brick you wish to split.

Overview

 Full-scale brick removal is needed whenever you want to make a large opening for windows or doors. In that case, you will be using an electric masonry saw.

But what if you want to remove one brick because it is cracked, imperfect, or you just need a space there?

Manual, single-brick removal is more about assembling the right tools than employing any special techniques.

Process

Begin by fully tarping the floor below the brick, if this is indoors.  If there are delicate surfaces nearby, cover with cardboard to prevent flying debris from chipping those surfaces.

  1. Chip Away:  Begin chipping the mortar around the brick with the screwdriver or mortar hook. If the mortar is loose enough to scrape, so much the better. Tuckpointing mortar employs the same process of cleaning out mortar joints, though with tuckpointing you do not remove all of the mortar.
  2. Drill Holes in Mortar:  One way to hurry up mortar-removal is to drill a series of holes with your masonry bit-equipped drill.  Drill the holes as close together as possible.
  3. Watch Out:  Be careful not to chip surrounding brick. It is easy to damage existing brick with an errant swing of the hammer or a slip of the screwdriver.
  4. Space Issues:  If you have a clear, accessible area behind the brick, your intention will be to remove all mortar and then knock the brick into this area. If you do not have an accessible space (i.e., if there are more bricks, cinder blocks, or other obstructions), begin to chip away at the side of the brick with your cold chisel. You will be breaking up the brick and removing it in chunks.
  1. Keep On Keeping On:  Work in this fashion, removing a little mortar and then chipping away at the sides of the brick, until enough small pieces remain that you can pull out by hand.

Tools

Except for one or two tools listed below, most will already be in your shop or are easily obtainable at any hardware or home improvement store (no need to go to a store catering to the masonry trade).

  • Drill Equipped With Masonry Bit:  Masonry bits are what allow you to drill into mortar (and brick itself, if needed) without killing your ordinary bits.  Also, they are tougher and will not wear down as quickly.  You will not need a corded drill.  Most cordless drills today deliver enough power for this job.
  • Mortar Scraper: If you can find it, the mortar hook falls in the nice-to-have-but-not-necessary category. Shaped like a "U", the mortar hook has a pointed end to chip into the mortar, and its unique shape helps you scrape the mortar debris outward. You can use a combination of tools--all of them old and banged-up (remember, anything you use for mortar will quickly get ruined). A blunt flat-head screwdriver works well on mortar for light tapping and scraping. Old drywall or putty knives will help you scrape out loosened mortar debris. The world of tools is your oyster.  If it works, it works.
  • Cold Chisel: Fat, solid, and blunt, a cold chisel is made for chipping away masonry. It is not the same as a wood chisel. A cold chisel is one-piece and will not break. A wood chisel is two-pieces and most certainly will break with enough stress. Look for a cold chisel with a shock-absorbing handle.
  • Thick Leather Gloves: Leather gloves are preferable for working with brick. If you have gloves but not leather, you can most likely get away without buying gloves just for this job.
  • Hammer:  Use a larger size hammer such as a framing hammer, if you have one.
  • Eye Protection:  Safety glasses are absolutely essential for this job.