Cement mortar is an intimate mixture of cement and sand mixed with sufficient water to produce a plastic mass. The amount of water will vary according to the proportion and condition of the sand, and had best be determined independently in each case. Sand is used both for the sake of economy and to avoid cracks due to shrinkage of cement in setting. Where great strength is required, there should be at least sufficient cement to fill the voids or air spaces in the sand, and a slight excess is preferable in order to compensate for any uneven distribution in the mixing. Common proportions for Portland cement mortar are 3 parts sand to 1 of cement, and for natural cement mortar, 2 parts sand to 1 of cement. Unless otherwise stated, materials for mortar or concrete are considered to be proportioned by volume, the cement being lightly shaken in the measure used.

A " lean" mortar is one having only a small proportion of cement, while a "rich " mixture is one with a large proportion of cement. "Neat" cement is pure cement, or that with no admixture of sand. The term "aggregate" is used to designate the coarse materials entering into concrete - usually gravel or crushed rock. The proportion in which the three elements enter into the mixture is usually expressed by three figures separated by dashes - as, for instance, 1-3-5-meaning 1 part cement, 3 parts sand, and 5 parts aggregate.

In the great majority of cases cement mortar is subjected only to compression, and for this reason it would seem natural, in testing it, to determine its compressive strength. The tensile strength of cement mortar, however, is usually determined, and from this its resistance to compression may be assumed to be from eight to twelve times greater. A direct determination of the compressive strength is a less simple operation, for which reason the tensile test is in most cases accepted as indicating the strength of the cement.

In mixing cement mortar it is best to use a platform of convenient size or a shallow box. First, deposit the requisite amount of sand in a uniform layer, and on top of this spread the cement. These should be mixed dry with shovels or hoes, until the whole mass exhibits a uniform color. Next, form a crater of the dry mixture, and into this pour nearly the entire quantity of water required for the batch. Work the dry material from the outside toward the center until all the water is taken up, then turn rapidly with shovels, adding water at the same time by sprinkling until the desired consistency is attained. It is frequently specified that the mortar shall be turned a certain number of times, but a better practice for securing a uniform mixture is to watch the operation and judge by the eye when the mixing has been carried far enough. In brick masonry the mistake is frequently made of mixing the mortar very wet and relying upon the bricks to absorb the excess of water. It is better, however, to wet the bricks thoroughly and use a stiff mortar.

The term "grout" is applied to mortar mixed with an excess of water, which gives it about the consistency of cream. This material is often used to fill the voids in stone masonry, and in brick work the inner portions of walls are frequently laid dry and grouted. The practice in either case is to be condemned, except where the conditions are unusual, as cement used in this way will never develop its full strength.

L. C. Sabin finds that in a Portland cement mortar containing three parts sand to one of cement, 10 per cent of the cement may be replaced by lime in the form of paste without diminishing the strength of the mortar, and at the same time rendering it more plastic. In the case of natural cement mortar, lime may be added to the extent of 20 to 25 per cent of the cement with good results. The increased plasticity due to the addition of lime much facilitates the operation of laying bricks, and has caused lime and cement mortar to become largely used.

In plastering with cement, a few precautions must be observed to insure good and permanent results. The surface to receive the plaster should be rough, perfectly clean and well saturated with water. A mortar very rich in cement is rather a drawback than otherwise on account of shrinkage cracks, which frequently appear. The mortar, consisting of two or three parts sand to one of cement, should be mixed with as little water as possible and well worked to produce plasticity. It is essential that the plaster be kept moist u»til it has thoroughly hardened.