This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
Bricks should not be merely laid. Every brick should be rubbed and pressed down in such a manner as to force the slimy matter of the mortar into the pores of the bricks, and so produce a perfect adhesion. Moreover, to make brickwork as good and perfect as it may be, every brick should be made damp or even wet before it is laid, otherwise it immediately absorbs the moisture of the mortar; and its surface being covered with dry dust, and its pores full of air, no adhesion can take place; but if the brick be damp and the mortar moist, the dust is enveloped in the cementitious matter of the mortar, which also enters the pores of the brick, so that when the water evaporates their attachment is complete, the retention and access of air being altogether precluded. To wet the bricks before they were carried on to the scaffold would, by making them heavier, add materially to the labour of carrying; in dry weather they would, moreover, become dry again before they could be used; and for the bricklayer to wet every brick himself would be an unnecessary waste of time. Boys might then be advantageously employed to dip the bricks on the scaffold, and supply them in a damp state to the bricklayer's hand.
A watering pot with a fine rose to it should also be used to moisten the upper surface of the last laid course of bricks, preparatory to strewing the mortar over it. In bricklaying with quick-setting cements, these things are even of more importance; indeed, unless bricks are quite wet to be set with cement, it will not attach itself at all.
A matter of importance in connection with face-brickwork is " finishing," commonly called " striking," the joints, a matter which has undergone during the last 20 years, more or less, a complete transformation of character, in style of work, skill displayed, and mode of execution. Various causes have brought about this change, foremost amongst them being the prevailing fashion of forcing the progress of brickwork in a manner entirely out of keeping with the time necessary for its natural growth. This has given rise to the now almost invariable practice of leaving the joints " rough," to be afterwards " pointed down," as it is termed, when the building is being completed, and the scaffolds removed; whilst a bricklayer facing his joints " off the trowel," must of necessity exercise a certain amount of care in selecting his bricks, so as to secure the best face outwards, because, the more they are free from defects, the less difficulty is found in " striking " the joints.
Nor would this pointing business be so bad if the joints were raked out effectually, so as to give a sufficient "key," and the material of a proper description and quality, judiciously mixed, and beaten to the necessary state of consistency, used by an efficient workman with handy tools, and a reasonable allowance of time for execution; for then there would be some guarantee of future stability, and also some possibility of mitigating the evil effects of slovenly bricklaying.
There are doubtless some cogent reasons why, during the winter months, face-brickwork should be left rough for after-pointing. We all know what even one night's hard frost will do in the way of injury to the finished joints which have not had time to get sufficiently hard or dry to resist it. But why should not this be avoided ?
To safeguard brickwork from injury by frost, in the first place, the bricks, previous to using, should be kept dry, the mortar made up under cover, with fresh lime (kept fresh in a weather-tight shed), which, if not ground in a mill, should be dry-slaked, and only just sufficient water used in the mixing to bring it into a fit state of consistency; the top and face of all walls, so soon as built, completely and effectually covered up, and during building to be covered every night; the covering to remain until the danger is past, or only uncovered to meet the exigencies of the work.
Another specially noticeable change has also taken place in the form of the joints, whether struck in the first instance or pointed afterwards. This is brought about by the almost universal adoption of what is called the " weather joint," commonly known amongst bricklayers in and about London as the "School Board joint" - presumably so because it was on the Board School buildings that this system became more generally adopted. Now it is one of the conditions of the weather joint (so called) that the face shall be bevelled inwards, thus leaving the bottom arris of the bricks above bare and square undercut; and that the lower edge of the joint may have some pretence to a straight line, it is usual for the bricklayers to cut it, in which case the top arris of the bricks beneath is to a certain extent undercut also. So there are in reality 2 open "furrows"or channels to every joint laid open to receive any amount of moisture. With the old and legitimate system of pointing it would not be so, because (always providing the work is skilfully done) the whole surface of the joint would be struck flush to the face of the bricks, and completely scaled at both edges to the arrises of the course above and below, with no undercutting whatever.
But supposing, for the sake of argument, that the new style has an advantage over the old in respect to the weather, so much cannot by any means be said in regard to the general appearance. And moreover the new system is exceedingly distasteful to all practical bricklayers for one especial reason, if for no other - the "awkward handling of the tools" involved in its "manipulation." For instance, when commencing to build from off the ground or scaffold, it is extremely difficult to get the trowel to the required angle for striking it, and it is only when the courses are raised 6 or 8 high that it can be accomplished with any degree of convenience, leaving accuracy out of the question.
Another style is commonly known as " tuck-pointing." It is only of late years that this system of pointing has been applied, except in very rare instances, to new brickwork, although common enough in renovating or dressing up the face of old buildings, to give them a smart appearance - by the bye, a short-lived one - for which purpose only it may be, to a certain extent, excusable. But the only possible excuse for its application to new work, is for the purpose of covering a multitude of sins, in the shape of inferior bricks, unskilfully laid in execrably bad mortar, the walls "shoved" up (the correct scaffold definition) with but little regard either to perfect face-bond or correct perpends. Another contingency will surely follow - that once brickwork has been subjected to this kind of pointing, a very few years will have elapsed ere it will require a similar treatment, and never be fit to receive any other. This tuck-pointing is the least of all adapted to resist the action of the weather, easily explained by the character of the materials, the system of manipulation, and form of the joints.
In the first place the "stopping" or groundwork of the pointing is mixed with large proportions of vegetable colouring-matter to produce the necessary tint - such, for instance, as lampblack, umber," Venetian red," " Spanish," or " purple brown," etc.; neither of which contains a particle of "grit," and when softened with water all are like so much mud, will never set hard, and when dry are little or no better than dust, having no cohesion in themselves or their surroundings.