Building a Running-bond Brick Wall

Friends, family, and passersby will forever admire your well-laid brick wall. The skills required to lay a wall well come from determination, practice, and patience. If you have not laid brick before, it will pay to practice throwing mortar and setting brick before you start building your wall.

Running-bond Brick Wall

For practice, set a 2x6 or 2x8 between two columns of concrete block, two or three blocks tall, to serve as a practice footing. Review the information about mixing and throwing mortar and setting brick. Then take your trowel and mortar box outside and mix up a small batch.

Practice throwing mortar on two bricks. When you can get it right, try three bricks. You can scrape off the mortar and reuse it for practice until it hardens. Don't use your practice bricks in the actual wall; dried mortar will prevent new mortar from bonding properly.

Brick wall corners (called leads) are built first. Then you work to the center and fill in between. A running bond is the simplest pattern. Each row begins with a half brick, which offsets the joints every other row.

A running-bond wall is laid so each course is offset from the previous one by half a brick. Most walls are built with two sides, or wythes, for strength. Local codes may allow single-wythe construction for low walls. Brick walls are built from the corners, called leads, to the center.

Prestart Checklist

Time
About 12 to 18 hours to lay a 3x10-foot wall

Tools
Tape measure, chalk line, level, mason's trowel, brick set, pencil, small sledgehammer, mason's line, line level, mason's blocks, concave jointer, story pole

Skills
Designing layout, excavating, throwing mortar, setting brick

Materials
2x4 lumber, spacers, bricks, mortar

Step 1

Lay out the brick in a dry run and snap chalk lines on the footing. Take up the bricks and spread a mortar bed 3/4 inch thick and three bricks long on the footing.

Step 2

Line up the first brick with the chalk lines and push it into the mortar. The joint should be about 3/8 inch thick on the mortar bed. Butter the end of the second brick, then push it into the bed against the first brick, creating a 3/8-inch joint between them. Lay the third brick the same way.

Step 3

Check the bricks with a level. Tap them with the end of the trowel handle as necessary to level them and align them on the chalk lines. Lay a second wythe of three bricks parallel to the first along the other chalk line. Check this wythe for level, both along its length and with the first wythe. Scrape off the excess mortar that squeezes from the joints. Using the same techniques, set two three-brick wythes at the other end of the footing, lined up and level.

Step 4

Attach mason's blocks and line at both ends of the first course. Adjust the line until it's about 1/16 inch away from the face of the bricks and even with the top edge of the course. Start the second row with a half brick to offset the joints, and lay two bricks in the second course at both ends, about 1/16 inch from the mason's line. Build up the ends (and any corners) of both wythes to three courses, checking for plumb and level, and moving the mason's blocks up as you go.

Step 5

At the third course (and every third course thereafter) throw mortar on the bricks and push Z-shape or corrugated metal reinforcements into the mortar to tie the wythes together. Place them every 2 to 3 feet, or as your local codes require. Smooth the mortar over the ties and lay the next course of bricks.

Step 6

Continue laying brick at the ends (building up the leads) until you have laid both wythes to five courses, moving the mason's blocks as you go and starting every other course with a half brick. Then begin to lay brick on the remainder of the footing to fill in between the leads. Butter the end of each brick as you did before and push it into place.

Step 7

When the bottom row has space for only one more brick (called the closure brick), dry-fit this brick in the space and make sure it will fit with the proper joints. If you've set the brick correctly, it should fit. Trim both ends evenly if it doesn't. Then butter both ends with pyramids of mortar.

Step 8

Holding the closure brick in the center, push it firmly into place. Tap it with the bottom of the trowel handle until it's level and its faces are lined up with the others. Then finish the first course of the other wythe.

Step 9

Working from the ends of each lead toward the middle, lay the courses, moving the mason's blocks and checking your work with a level and a story pole. Scrape off the excess mortar from the joints. When the wythes complete a lead, build the leads higher, then fill in between them.

Step 10

When the mortar is firm enough that your thumbnail leaves only a slight dent, finish the joints with a concave jointer. Clean excess mortar with wet burlap and after you've laid the last course, cap the wall.

Taking a Dry Run: Lay out the bricks for guidelines, Step 1
  1. Snap two chalk lines on the footing as far apart as the combined width of both wythes of your wall. The lines should be the same distance from the footing edges.
Step 2

Set out bricks on the line for one wythe without mortar, spacing the bricks with a 3/8-inch plywood spacer. Dry-set the other wythe, starting with a half brick so the joints of the wythes will be offset for strength. Mark the ends of the wythes on the footing.

Step 3

If your wall will turn a corner, snap chalk lines and dry-set the other leg on the footing. Mark the ends of this leg also.


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