Crumbling masonry joints start out
ugly, and then things get uglier
fast—bricks come loose, water seeps
behind the wall and bees make their
homes in the mortar holes. Let it go and
the problem won't go away. In fact, the
deterioration will accelerate and you'll
have a much bigger fix on your hands.
But you can mend the joints yourself
with a process called tuckpointing.
Tuckpointing isn't difficult or expensive—the only real investment is your
time. But you can pick away at it in
your free time, area by area.
The steps we show here will work on
any brick walls, chimneys and retaining
walls. Tuckpointing won't fix
cracking or crumbling bricks, or cracks
in walls caused by a shifting foundation.
Those problems call for more
drastic fixes that we won't cover here.
Pick up tools and materials
First and foremost, you'll need an angle
grinder with a 4- or 4-1/4-in. diamond
blade. Don't bother renting one unless
you only have several feet of bad joints.
You can buy an inexpensive model for a few dollars more than the cost of a one-day rental, and
even a fairly cheap one will do the trick
(unless you're a serious tool junkie or
you have an entire house that needs
You'll also need a few simple, inexpensive
specialty hand tools that are available
at masonry suppliers and some
home centers. You'll need a brick trowel and a tuck pointer. If you
have concave mortar joints, you'll need
a masonry jointer that's the width
of your joints. For flat joints, you'll
need a joint raker. If you have just
a few areas that need work, use a hammer
and cold chisel to knock out the
old mortar, but for more extensive
work, plan on getting a rotary hammer
drill fitted with a flat chisel to make the
job go a heck of a lot quicker. You can
rent one for a half-day or day. If you have days' worth of work, rental costs can
break the bank. In that case, spend the
money to own one.
You'll also need mortar mix. A 60-lb.
bag costs a few dollars at home centers. If you
need colored mortar, take a small piece
of the old mortar to a masonry supplier
and ask for help finding a mortar dye to
match. But be aware of this—fresh
tuckpointing always stands out against
older mortar. However, it will eventually
weather to match.
If you only have a few joints to tuckpoint,
dive right in. But if you have a
large wall to tackle, start in a small area
to get a feel for the operation before you
start hogging out entire walls. You'll
hone your skills and get a good idea of
how much you can tuckpoint at one
time. You'll have 30 to 60 minutes of
working time once you mix the mortar.
Get ready for the dust
Tuckpointing is a dirty business.
Grinding the joints creates a dust
storm, with chunks of mortar covering
the ground. Spread a drop cloth on the
ground to catch the mortar so cleanup
will take minutes instead of hours.
Close your house windows to keep
out the dust, and tell your neighbors
who might be affected to do the same.
Grind out the joints
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Photo 1: Grind the horizontal joints first
Grind along the top and bottom of the horizontal joints. Get as close to the bricks as you
can. If you accidentally grind against the bricks, the dust will turn the color of the brick.
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Photo 2: Plunge-cut the vertical joints
Grind both sides of the vertical joints. Plunge the grinder into the joint and work it up and down to make the cuts. But be careful not to grind the bricks above and below the joints.
Before you can put new mortar in the
joints, you have to cut out the damaged
material. Start by grinding the top and
bottom of the horizontal (bed) joints
with an angle grinder (Photo 1). Hold the
grinder with both hands to keep it
steady and avoid grinding into the
bricks. You only need to grind 3/4 in.
into the mortar.
Start at outside corners and work
inward. That keeps you from putting
extra pressure on the corner bricks,
which could knock them out of the
wall. After you've finished the horizontal
joints, do the vertical (head) joints
Knock out the mortar
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Photo 3: Hammer out the mortar
Keep moving the rotary hammer drill along the joints as you chisel out the mortar. Be sure to keep the chisel off the bricks so you don't knock them out of place.
Use the rotary hammer drill to pound
the mortar out of the joints. Set the drill
on the rotating mode (it puts less pressure on the bricks). Again, work from
the outside corners inward (Photo 3).
Keep the chisel point in the mortar
joint and keep moving the hammer.
The drill makes quick work of removing
mortar, but be careful. The powerful
tool can also knock out bricks. If
that happens, take them all the way
out, chisel off all the mortar, then reset
them when you fill the joints.
There's really no secret to knocking
out the mortar. Just hold the drill at
about a 45-degree angle to the wall,
squeeze the trigger and watch the mortar
Caution: Wear eye protection—mortar pieces can go flying!
Clean out the joints
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Photo 4: Sweep out the joints
Use a small broom to sweep debris and dust out of the joints. Inspect the joints for any
remaining stubborn mortar and knock it out with the drill.
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Photo 5: Give joints a bath
Stick a brush into a bucket of water and rinse out the joints. Your goal here isn't to make
surfaces pristine, just to get rid of chunks and dust.
Once you've chipped out the damaged
mortar, use a hand broom to sweep the
joints. Sweep away mortar clumps and
the dust (Photo 4). Use the rotary hammer
drill to bust out stubborn chunks.
Then wash out the joints with water.
But don't hose down the wall or you'll
soak everything, including the ground
where you'll be standing or kneeling.
Instead, fill a bucket with water and
brush the water into the joints (Photo 5).
Don't worry about slopping water onto
the bricks—you want them damp
before you fill the joints anyway.
Mix the new mortar
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Photo 6: Whip up the mortar batch
Mix the mortar to the consistency of peanut butter with no dry spots or clumps. You'll
know the mix is right when it sticks to your trowel when you hold it at a 45-degree angle. Let the mortar sit for 10 minutes before using it.
If you're tinting the mortar, stir the dye
and the mortar mix in a bucket before
adding the water. Dye is typically sold
in 1-1/2-lb. bags. Mix one-quarter of the
dye with one-quarter of a 60-lb. bag of
mortar mix. Stir in water until the mix
is the consistency of peanut butter
The mortar will last 30 to 60 minutes,
but you may need to add water to
keep it workable. After one hour, throw
out what's left and mix a new batch.
Work the mortar into the joints
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Photo 7: Fill the joints
Load your brick trowel and hold it next to the joint. Work the mortar into the joint with
your tuck pointer. Pack the joint full before moving on to the next one.
Use a brick trowel and a tuck pointer to
pack the mortar into the joints. Most pros prefer this method to using a
grout/mortar bag. Mortar that is hand
packed is more durable.
Scoop mortar onto the trowel. Hold
the trowel next to the joint, then press
the mortar into the joint with the tuck
pointer (Photo 7). Pack the joint until it's
flush with the front of the bricks.
Tool the joints
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Photo 8: Strike the mortar joints
Drag the jointer along the vertical joints and the horizontal joints. Apply gentle pressure to tool out the ridges where the joints intersect. Finish one joint before moving on to the next.
Let the mortar in the filled joints set for
about 30 minutes. If you're tuckpointing
a large area, continually check the
first joints you filled to see if they're
ready to tool (finish). Check by pressing
the filled joint with your thumb. If your
thumb leaves only a slight impression,
it's ready to tool. If it goes in deeper,
wait five minutes and try again. But
don't let the mortar get too stiff—it can
start to harden after just 30 minutes,
making it difficult to tool the joints.
If you want rounded joints, press a
masonry jointer into the top of vertical
joints and pull the tool downward. The
jointer will push out some of the mortar
and leave a concave shape. For horizontal
joints, start at a corner (Photo 8).
Run the tool about halfway across the
joint, then stop and finish tooling from
the other side.
For flat joints, place a joint raker over
an old joint to set the depth. Then run
the raker along the new joints to make
Clean the bricks
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Photo 9: Wipe down the bricks
Scrub the mortar off the bricks with a stiff brush. This also knocks down and smooths out any high spots along the joint edges.
Once the joints have set up (about 30
minutes after tooling), use a stiff-bristle
brush to clean dried mortar off the bricks
If the mortar refuses to come off, wait
three days, then use muriatic acid (sold at home centers). Use 10
parts water to 1 part acid (add the acid
to the water, not the other way around).
Caution: Be sure to wear eye protection
and rubber gloves when working with
acid. Brush the acid onto the bricks
with a stiff-bristle brush, scrub the
bricks and let the acid fizz. Then rinse
the acid off with water. If there's still a
little mortar residue left, treat it again.
The acid can slightly alter the bricks'
appearance, so test it on a small area
first. If it does alter the appearance,
increase the ratio of water to acid.