Techniques > Briefs > Repointing Mortar Joints >


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Finding an Appropriate Mortar Match

Preliminary research is necessary to ensure that the proposed repointing work is both physically and visually appropriate to the building.

Analysis of unweathered portions of the historic mortar to which the new mortar will be matched can suggest appropriate mixes for the repointing mortar so that it will not damage the building because it is excessively strong or vapor impermeable. Examination and analysis of the masonry units — brick, stone or terra cotta — and the techniques used in the original construction will assist in maintaining the building's historic appearance.

A simple, non- technical, evaluation of the masonry units and mortar can provide information concerning the relative strength and permeability of each — critical factors in selecting the repointing mortar — while a visual analysis of the historic mortar can provide the information necessary for developing the new mortar mix and application techniques.

Although not crucial to a successful repointing project, for projects involving properties of special historic significance, a mortar analysis by a qualified laboratory can be useful by providing information on the original ingredients. However, there are limitations with such an analysis, and replacement mortar specifications should not be based solely on laboratory analysis.

Analysis requires interpretation, and there are important factors which affect the condition and performance of the mortar that cannot be established through laboratory analysis. These may include:

  • the original water content,
  • rate of curing,
  • weather conditions during original construction,
  • the method of mixing and placing the mortar, and
  • the cleanliness and condition of the sand.

The most useful information that can come out of laboratory analysis is the identification of sand by gradation and color. This allows the color and the texture of the mortar to be matched with some accuracy because sand is the largest ingredient by volume.

In creating a repointing mortar that is compatible with the masonry units, the objective is to achieve one that matches the historic mortar as closely as possible, so that the new material can coexist with the old in a sympathetic, supportive and, if necessary, sacrificial capacity. The exact physical and chemical properties of the historic mortar are not of major significance as long as the new mortar conforms to the following criteria:

  • The new mortar must match the historic mortar in color, texture and tooling. (If a laboratory analysis is undertaken, it may be possible to match the binder components and their proportions with the historic mortar, if those materials are available.)
  • The sand must match the sand in the historic mortar. (The color and texture of the new mortar will usually fall into place if the sand is matched successfully.)
  • The new mortar must have greater vapor permeability and be softer (measured in compressive strength) than the masonry units.
  • The new mortar must be as vapor permeable and as soft or softer (measured in compressive strength) than the historic mortar. (Softness or hardness is not necessarily an indication of permeability; old, hard lime mortars can still retain high permeability.)