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Repointing brickwork is a labour-intensive process that most DIYers can do themselves. What’s more, you don’t need many tools and the ones you do need are relatively cheap to buy if you don’t already own them.
The biggest cost for taking the DIY approach to repointing a house or large two-storey wall is scaffolding, which you can hire for around £1,000 per week in the UK.
The average cost to hire someone to repoint a typical three-bedroom semi-detached house in the UK is around £2,500 to £3,000 (source). That works out at £20 – £30 per square metre. The price includes all materials, scaffolding and labour.
So, if you need to repoint a large area and want to save some cash by doing the job yourself, keep reading to find out more.
What kind of mortar should you use?
Before you start repointing brickwork it’s important to think about the mortar you’re going to use, how it will look when it’s dry and how it works with the original mortar.
For example, older properties were built with lime mortar. So, if you’re repointing an older property, built prior to the 1930s to 1940s, you should use lime mortar for the repointing.
Lime mortar is much softer than the cement equivalent and can sometimes be determined by eye. Take a quick look at the video below for ways to test if the mortar is lime-based.
How to match the colour of your repointing mortar to the original
Have you ever noticed a patch of repointing that stands out from the rest of the mortar? I’m sure you have and will likely agree that it looks terrible.
The reason for the mismatch is down to the new mix not matching the original. It’s an easy and common mistake that people make. Instead of first creating a test mix and letting it dry out, they’ll make the mix and crack on with the job. Only realising when it’s too late that the colouring is all wrong.
To prevent this from happening to you, experiment with different mixes and colouring agents (such as mortar tone or cement dye) before you do any repointing. You don’t need to create a large mix, just equal amounts of sand, cement and whatever colouring agent you use (if any).
The important thing is to leave the mix to completely dry out because the wet colour is different to the dry colour.
So you could use as little as a cup of each material (3 cups sand to 1 cup cement to 1 cup colouring agent). You really don’t want to be using bucketloads of materials when testing for a colour match.
When you’ve got a decent colour match, scale up the measurements when you’re creating the mix.
Watch the video below by DIY Doctor for a demonstration of how to do this.
What tools do you need to remove mortar from brickwork?
Before you start repointing, you’ll need to remove the old mortar. There are several tools to help you do this:
- Lump hammer and bolster chisel
- Hand grinder and diamond-tipped disc
- Hand grinder and mortar rake system
- Brick joint raking tool
Each of these tools has pros and cons and can be used at different stages of the mortar removal process.
How to remove the old mortar before you start repointing the brickwork
Removing mortar is a messy job so always wear a suitable mask, safety glasses and old clothes.
Earlier in the article, I mentioned lime-based mortar. This is a softer mortar used in older buildings and tends to crumble fairly easily. For this reason, a hand tool such as a brick joint raker is usually strong enough to do the job.
This is a simple tool with a long handle and two wheels that you push back and forth along the bricks. Between the two stake wheels, there’s an adjustable pin/nail so you can go as deep into the mortar as you want.
If you don’t want to buy a joint raker, a hammer and bolster chisel will do.
When working with harder mortar, a hand grinder with a raking bit or diamond-tipped disc attached is a better choice.
Whichever tool you decide to use, you’ll need to remove the mortar to a depth of around 3/4″ (20mm). This should be sufficient for most repointing work but sometimes you may need to go deeper.
Work your way across the area you want to repoint and brush away the debris and dust from the seams as you go.
Spraying the joints with water creates less dust.
How to insert the new mortar into the joints
To insert the new mortar into the joints, ‘knock up’ the mix and use a tool called a brick jointer, or the edge of a small pointing trowel, to force it between the bricks.
Start with the upright (called a ‘perp’ (perpendicular)), then the adjacent horizontals.
You want to pack it in as tight as possible so there are no air gaps. Also, start at the top of the wall or area you’re repointing and work your way down.
When the mortar is in the joints, you’ll need to remove the excess. Go back over the area you’ve repointed and use the same tool to scrape away the excess mortar.
Once the mortar starts going off, it’s time to create the final finish. The way to test this is to press your thumb into the mortar so it leaves a print but doesn’t sink into it.
Now you can finish off the new mortar so it matches the rest of the wall.
There are four common finishes:
You can even use a bit of hose pipe to create a concave finish.
The final step in the process is cleaning up – go over the newly pointed brickwork with a soft brush to remove all the excess mortar and clean up the other tools you’ve used and you’re done.
You’ll need specialist equipment to work at height
Small and low areas of brickwork can be repaired by crouching, standing on your feet or using a ladder to reach the work area.
But if most or all of the wall requires attention and you live in a typical two-storey house, you’re going to need scaffolding to work from. Scaffolding provides a stable platform to stand on so you can move around freely and safely.
This is where your expenses start creeping up a little. If you need to hire scaffolding for the side of your house, you can expect to pay around £1,000 for a week. And you’ll need a permit if you’re in the UK.
As an alternative, you could consider hiring a high-access tower. I’ve done some research on the cost of hiring a high-access tower and prices vary quite a lot but HSS do weekly hire for £75.
The tower can be assembled in around 10 minutes and although you don’t need specialist knowledge or qualifications to build and use the tower, the person I chatted with online recommended taking a one-day course (half theory, half practical) for around £150 to learn how to use it correctly.
Which is still cheaper than hiring somebody to do the job for you.
Video: How to Point a Brickwork Wall or Repoint a Chimney
Tools required to repoint brickwork*
- Small spade/shovel
- Spot board
- Bricklaying trowel
- Pointing trowel
- A piece of metal or rubber tube 20 – 25mm diameter
- Lump hammer
- Bolster chisel
- Soft hand brush
- Power hand grinder
- Extension lead
- Ladder or scaffold tower
*You may not need all of these tools
Take care when working at height, especially on ladders, if possible only use a hand grinder at height working from a scaffold tower, wear a face mask that covers both your mouth and nose, and wear safety goggles. Use an extension lead fitted with an RCCD plug top.
Questions and Answers
Why do I need to repoint brickwork?
Over time, due to weather conditions, ageing and sometimes the quality of the original mix, the mortar between bricks crumbles away leaving gaps and holes, which allows water to penetrate the brickwork. When this occurs it’s best to replace the mortar to avoid potentially harmful damp problems within the property.