Techniques > Briefs > Repointing Mortar Joints > Execution of the Work >


• illustrate with section fo brick & mortar joints
• hand chisels and mash hammers
• power saws or grinders
• pneumatic tools
• clean out: jet of water, or compressed air.
• Philip and Michael's article from JLC.
• pre-wetting

Joint Preparation

Old mortar should be removed to a minimum depth of 2 to 2-1/2 times the width of the joint to ensure an adequate bond and to prevent mortar "popouts." For most brick joints, this will require removal of the mortar to a depth of approximately 12 to 1 inch; for stone masonry with wide joints, mortar may need to be removed to a depth of several inches. Any loose or disintegrated mortar beyond this minimum depth also should be removed.

Although some damage may be inevitable, careful joint preparation can help limit damage to masonry units. The traditional manner of removing old mortar is through the use of hand chisels and mash hammers. Though labor-intensive, in most instances this method poses the least threat for damage to historic masonry units and produces the best final product.

The most common method of removing mortar, however, is through the use of power saws or grinders. The use of power tools by unskilled masons can be disastrous for historic masonry, particularly soft brick. Using power saws on walls with thin joints, such as most brick walls, almost always will result in damage to the masonry units by breaking the edges and by overcutting on the head, or vertical joints.

However, small pneumatically-powered chisels generally can be used safely and effectively to remove mortar on historic buildings as long as the masons maintain appropriate control over the equipment.

Under certain circumstances, thin diamond-bladed grinders may be used to cut out horizontal joints only on hard portland cement mortar common to most early-20th century masonry buildings.

Usually, automatic tools most successfully remove old mortar without damaging the masonry units when they are used in combination with hand tools in preparation for repointing. Where horizontal joints are uniform and fairly wide, it may be possible to use a power masonry saw to assist the removal of mortar, such as by cutting along the middle of the joint; final mortar removal from the sides of the joints still should be done with a hand chisel and hammer.

Caulking cutters with diamond blades can sometimes be used successfully to cut out joints without damaging the masonry. Caulking cutters are slow; they do not rotate, but vibrate at very high speeds, thus minimizing the possibility of damage to masonry units. Although out horizontal joints in preparation for repointing, they should never be used on vertical joints because of the danger of slipping and cutting into the brick above or below the vertical joint. Using power tools to remove mortar without damaging the surrounding masonry units also necessitates highly skilled masons experienced in working on historic masonry buildings. Contractors should demonstrate proficiency with power tools before their use is approved.

Using any of these power tools may also be more acceptable on hard stone, such as quartzite or granite, than on terra cotta with its glass-like glaze, or on soft brick or stone. The test panel should determine the acceptability of power tools. If power tools are to be permitted, the contractor should establish a quality- control program to account for worker fatigue and similar variables.

Mortar should be removed cleanly from the masonry units, leaving square corners at the back of the cut. Before filling, the joints should be rinsed with a jet of water to remove all loose particles and dust. At the time of filling, the joints should be damp, but with no standing water present.

For masonry walls — limestone, sandstone and common brick — that are extremely absorbent, it is recommended that a continual mist of water be applied for a few hours before repointing begins.