Brick walls and paths offer that sturdy, old-fashioned, classic quality that will never go out of style or look dated. But it looks so simple that it seems like something you want to do yourself -- especially after the shock of seeing an estimate from a professional bricklayer. If you're curious as to whether you can lay your own brick, the short answer is yes. It's certainly possible to lay brick paths or even walls without needing to hire a professional. But depending on the scope of the project, it may be time-intensive, or require some heavy-duty equipment and materials -- as well as a bit of masonry skills. It's not a project for the casual homeowner without handyman skills.
A brick wall, which will require mortar, is a difficult project. Experts say that you shouldn't even try to build a brick wall over 4 feet high (1.2 meters) on your own unless you are an experienced bricklayer [source: Hessayon]. A short wall, on the other hand, might be a manageable task. However, it would be hard to teach yourself bricklaying simply by reading a book. It's best to watch an experienced bricklayer firsthand. If that's not possible, at the very least you should try to find and study tutorial videos on the process. It will take about 40 to 50 hours of practicing brickwork on a sample wall before you can produce a good-looking and structurally sound wall [source: LearntoLayBrick].
The major materials are bricks and mortar. Although bricks generally come in standard sizes, they vary greatly in the selection of texture, weather-resistance and color. Mortar is made of about four parts sand to one part cement, plus some plasticizer to make it more workable. You'll also need special tools, especially a trowel for laying and smoothing the mortar. A spirit level and a string line held down with pins will help keep your wall level and straight. A hammer and chisel will be necessary for splitting some bricks in half for the ends of the wall.
Another factor in brickwork is the pattern of laying them, also called the bond. Running bond is a common pattern, where the bricks are laid lengthwise in a staggered pattern. This is effective at maximizing the strength of the wall -- both by distributing the load and helping to resist lateral forces on the wall.
If you do decide to lay brick yourself, what else should you know going into it?
Tips to Laying Your Own Brick Path
If a brick wall is too monumental a task for you, perhaps you won't be so intimidated by laying your own brick path (or patio). Paths don't require mortar, which is challenging to work with. Consider laying a path 3 to 4 feet wide (0.9 to 1.2 meters) -- large enough for two people to walk side-by-side. Brick choice is important, too: Get pavers graded as "severe weather" so they'll withstand the elements and years of foot traffic. To keep everything in place while you work, use stakes to hammer plastic guide rails along the edges.
To avoid damage in the long term, place the path a good distance away from trees with big roots. Also, plan water runoff with a slight slope (about an eighth of an inch per foot) [source: Stimpson]. It's not just to avoid puddles: In cold climates, the water will settle, freeze and unfreeze, causing bricks to pop up and make the path uneven.
The most difficult part of laying a brick path is arguably setting the foundation, which consists of digging into the topsoil, and then laying a base of gravel and sand. Exact recommendations vary, but according to professional Dustin Carrier, you'll need to dig a 10- to 12-inch (25.4- to 30.5-centimeter) trench into the ground where the path will lie. Dig and cut out any tree roots you come across. Using a compactor machine (which you can rent), pack the soil down flat.
Next, lay landscape fabric down over the soil, which allows water to fall through but keeps soil separate from base. Pour a 3- to 4-inch (7.6- to 10.2-centimeter) layer of gravel base onto the fabric, compact it, and repeat the process for a solid base. Finish the base with a 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) layer of sand. Smooth the sand out with a 2 x 4 board cut to the proper length. Drag the board along guide rails for a level surface. You might consider hiring a professional to do the grunt work of the foundation for you, and you can choose to lay the bricks yourself afterward.
Working from the sides, lay the bricks in your desired pattern. Use the compactor again to level the bricks into the sand underneath for a smooth surface. Finally, pour sand over the walkway and use a push broom to fill it into the cracks. Wet the path to settle the sand, and repeat with more sand until the joints are tightly filled.
For lots more information on DIY projects, see the links on the next page.
- Carrier, Dustin. "How to Lay a Paver Walkway." Video. The Farmers Almanac. YouTube. Uploaded July 24, 2011. (May 31, 2012) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzqGh18EpCE
- Hessayon, D.G. "The Garden Expert." Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 1990. (May 31, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=sFpQHYIi9zAC
- LearntoLayBrick. "The Art of Laying Brick." Video. LearntoLayBrick.com. YouTube. Uploaded Dec. 3, 2009. (May 31, 2011) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lORIZ1shRIM
- Stimpson, Jennifer. "How to Lay a Brick Path." This Old House Magazine. (May 31, 2012) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how-to/overview/0,,20200448,00.html