Paving with bricks

The basic form, composition, and fabrication of brick have undergone little change over 5,000 years. Heavy clay and soil and water are mixed, molded, or cut into blocks, and then baked in a kiln. Properly fired brick is hard enough to last for centuries and shows only minor wear.

There are two basic kinds of bricks: common and face. Most garden paving is done with common bricks. People like their familiar color and texture, and also their lower price. Face bricks (more uniform in size and color) are not as widely available as common, and only recently have they been used to any degree in garden paving.

The exact dimensions of a standard brick (both common and face) vary from region to region and manufacturer to manufacturer. In the West, standard dimensions are about 2 ½ by 3% by 8 inches.

Brick looks well almost anywhere you want to put it, but there are two important considerations before you start paving: (1) Water must drain away from the area you pave, since shifting and efflorescence can result if water is allowed to stand under brick paving. (2) In choosing a bond or pattern for your bricks, consider the degree of potential difficulty in laying that pattern. Some bonds demand a good bit of accuracy and brick cutting; others are relatively simple.


Start by setting up wood edgings (a framework usually made of 1 by 4’s or 2 by 4’s) around the entire area you intend to pave. Once this area is framed, divide it with a temporary edging into a smaller section (the sections can run the length of the area). After you pave a small section, move the edging over. For example, an area 20 feet by 20 feet can be divided every 5 feet with temporary edgings to make sections 20 feet long and 5 feet wide. Once you begin to set the bricks, it’s easier to keep them even in a small area.

When edgings are in place, turn over the soil and pulverize it, then screed it smooth. So that you will have adequate drainage, grade the area to slope at least 1 inch every 6 feet, then tamp or roll it until the surface is hard and flat.


Setting bricks on sand is the easiest method for the beginner. After compacting the soil, spread sand to a depth of 1 to 2 inches between the edgings. Wet the sand moderately to help it settle. Using a screed (a 2 by 4 that rides on the edgings with an extension that reaches down to the level of the sand), level the sand for about 3 feet between the edgings. Lay the bricks on the sand (being careful not to disturb it so that it becomes uneven) in the pattern you have chosen, so that they butt up tightly against one another. Tap any high brick into the sand with a rubber mallet or a hammer handle. Use a spirit level often to make sure the bricks are on the level you want. Then screed the next 3 feet, and repeat the process until all the bricks are in place.

Throw handfuls of fine sand out across the bricks and let it dry completely in the sun for a few hours. Then sweep it into the cracks. Using a hose nozzle that gives a fine spray, wet the area to settle the sand between the cracks.


It’s an easy matter to pave over a concrete path or patio with brick. First set up edgings around the concrete. Then spread ½ inch of mortar (3 parts plastering sand, 1 part cement, Vb part fire clay or lime) over an area of about 3 feet, and screed it. Have the bricks moistened slightly before setting them. Set the bricks firmly in place, butting them up against each other and leveling them, but don’t tap them down. Let them set for about 24 hours, then sweep fine sand into the cracks.


Brick on dry mortar is not as stable as brick on concrete, but it will make a good solid surface where the subsoil is sound, and where heavy freezing is not a problem. The mortar keeps weeds from coming up between the brick and also keeps water from draining down through.

Start by spreading the area with a 2-inch base of sand. Then place the bricks on the sand, leaving at least a 1/2-inch opening between each one. The dry mixture to go between the bricks is made of 1 part cement and 4 parts sand. Throw it out across the bricks and then sweep it into the cracks. Make sure that the bricks are dry when you throw on the mix or it will stick to the tops. Use a hand brush to push the dry mortar between the bricks, then a broom to sweep away the excess. Sprinkle the area with a fine spray.

Let the mortar set for about 2 hours, then use a wet burlap sack to scrub the top of each brick as clean as you can get it.


Setting bricks in wet mortar is the best procedure if you want a clean, tooled, or shaped mortar joint between the bricks and if you want a more durable paving where winters are severe. The bricks can be laid on any properly prepared base, including existing concrete.

First wet the bricks, otherwise they will suck the water out of the wet mortar mix and it won’t bind. A good procedure is to spray them with a hose in the morning for setting in the afternoon.

Lay the damp bricks in a ½-inch mortar base leaving a 1/2-inch joint between them, and let them set for about 4 hours. For the mortar between the joints, use 4 parts plastering sand, 1 part cement, but no fire clay as is used for setting bricks over concrete. (Fire clay helps make the mixture stick and this quality is not needed here.) Using a flat, pointed trowel, push the mortar into the joints, and let it set about ½ hour or until the joints are thumbprint hard. Then point the joints with the edge of a steel rod, pipe, or other rounded tool.


Caring for brick once it’s in is not a big job, but it is important if you want to keep your paving handsome.

Cleaning up spilled mortar while you are working is the first safeguard. Try to work as cleanly as possible; if you drop ex-cess mortar on the bricks, you can save time and effort by wiping it up immediately with a wet piece of burlap.

To remove mortar that has dried on brick, use a solution of 1 part muriatic acid to 9 parts water. Begin by soaking the area to be cleaned with a fine spray of water to saturate it and cut down the capillary action of the bricks. Let the water settle in, then brush the area with the acid solution (wear gloves and use a plastic bucket). Rinse thoroughly with a hose to prevent acid stains from remaining on the bricks.

The white deposit that sometimes appears on brick paving after it’s wetted by rain or hosing is called efflorescence and is caused by water-sokible salts in the bricks or in the setting bed rising to the surface through capillary action. When the water dries, the salts crystallize into a white crust. In most cases where common brick has been used, it will be a matter of years before the salts have all come to the surface and efflorescence ceases. Efflorescence is not harmful, but it can be unsightly.

Muriatic acid or a stiff brush will remove the dried salts. Brush them loose and sweep them away. Don’t try to hose them off, as the water will only drive them back down into the bricks and the process will begin all over again the next time the bricks get wet.


Almost everyone who has tackled the job of laying bricks has some opinions on ways to make the job easier. If you are a beginning bricklayer, it is a good idea to talk to friends and neighbors who have worked with brick and who may have some helpful suggestions. Don’t be in too big a hurry to start laying the brick.

Take time to experiment with various patterns and grid sizes before you begin. As a helpful guide, the six sketches below offer a step-by-step procedure for laying bricks in dry mortar. Most of the operations also apply to laying bricks over existing concrete, in sand, and in wet mortar.

Spread sand between edgings to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Then wet the sand with a fine spray to help it settle.

Screed sand about 3 feet at a time. Once bricks are in place, screed next 3 feet; set bricks even with those already laid.

Work forward from bricks already laid. Here bricks laid running bond are tamped into place with the handle of a mallet.

Cut bricks for fit by setting brick on sand, holding wide chisel in place, and using heavy mallet to give chisel a firm tap.

Use hand brush to sweep dry mortar into ft -inch separation between bricks; sweep away excess with hand or push broom.

Use fine spray to wet area, being careful not to wash mortar out of joints. Let mortar set 2 hours before scrubbing bricks clean.