While it does not come directly under the heading of Masonry and Repairs, something should be said at this point about discoloration of brickwork. You often see a good-looking brick house, the walls of which are badly discolored with patches of a white salty-looking stain. This is known as effluorescence and is brought about by the fact that soluble salts which are found in cement and mortar are dissolved by dampness and work to the surface, where they dry and thus show the salt-like patch. A sure cure for this is to wash off the wall with a mixture of water and tri-sodium phosphate. It is best to do this after the wall has been dry for several days. If patches of effluorescence continue to appear after this treatment, it will be necessary to clean the wall as above and then, in addition, give it a coat of penetrating, colorless waterproofing compound. This is an amber-colored emulsion which will sink into the pores of the brick and seal them so that no further effluorescence can work to the surface.
The average person will undertake to cut a board in half or to paint a door, but they will invariably shy away from anything that involves brick-work, concrete or masonry, because they think that it involves a lot of knowledge and considerable skill. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All masonry work consists simply of the ability to bond together bricks or stones with mortar or cement, or to pour concrete into a mold and level it off. We naturally are not referring to the building of arches or of intricate brick work, or to the building of forms for heavy structural jobs. We refer simply to the every-day patching and repairing of masonry as it may be encountered in the average small home.
When there is a loose brick, a crack in a concrete wall, an open fissure in a cement floor, or a leaking joint in a stone wall, we insist that the average homeowner can take care of the difficulty if he will just study the defect, remember what he has been told, and take his time in making the repair.
Always remember that dry masonry is absorbent, and that no repair will be worthwhile unless the area around the patch or the new work has been wetted.
Around every house, there are probably a dozen places where a clean-cut job of masonry could be done which would eliminate repeated repairs to woodwork. There are many porch steps, many back-entrances and many wood platforms which could well be replaced by a neat mat of concrete. There is nothing which would prevent a homeowner from making a simple wooden form, three inches high, at the bottom of his steps, and filling it with concrete so that he had a permanent landing. There is nothing so complicated about setting up a form composed of three or four steps, which he could fill with concrete, and thus have a permanent set of steps. As a matter of fact, if he were to remove the treads, he would already have a form ready to fill with very little alteration. He might have to allow for a change in levels of course, but beyond that there would be little to worry about.
There is a permanence about cement and masonry work which is very satisfying. We have seen people start by laying a patch of cement under the down-spouts from the roof, where they emptied on the lawn, and cut away the grass; and who ended up by making wood forms with which they edged their driveway and paths, and so produced a permanent labor-saving edge. We have also seen field stone walls erected by amateur mechanics, which were as good as any to be found in New England. It may be true that when they finished a fifty or sixty foot run, that they liked the last half of the wall so well that they went back and tore down the first half, but the net result was a good workmanlike job which will stand up.
There is nothing about masonry or concrete repair work that should bother anyone of average intelligence, and there is always the saving thought that if it does not work out, you can do it over again. If you adhere to the formulas for mixing which have been given, and follow the procedures recommended, you cannot help but produce at least a decent repair job. There is also the thought, that practice makes perfect; and it applies particularly to masonry. With every job you attempt, your technique will improve.
The present trend toward living in the country has created quite a demand for many of the small advantages which are not found in the ready built house, and there is no place where home-made jobs of concrete could be used to better advantage. As an example of what the homeowner can do for himself and his house we would suggest the following.
Forms for concrete flags, bases, steps or platforms are easy to construct and fill. Forms should be braced to avoid distortion.
Take a piece of three by one inch finishing strip, and cut it up into four sections, each one two feet long. Nail these together so as to form a square box without either top or bottom; and tack another piece across the top diagonally so as to prevent the box from warping out of square. Mix up a batch of concrete using three parts of crushed stone or gravel, two parts of sand and one part of portland cement. With just enough water to make a good stiff mixture. Fill the form and allow it to set for five days. At the end of that time you can knock off the form and you will have a heavy concrete unit which may be used to advantage as a base for a sun-dial or other lawn ornaments. If you manage to get through this simple operation, you will be well under way to knowing how to handle concrete.
Masonry strikes the amateur with far greater force than it does the professional builder. At the same time, the person who knows nothing about masonry, is quick to detect the difference between good and bad masonry work. The job above is a masterpiece of the stone-masons art. Fine joining and fitting will make repairs unnecessary for many years. (See Chapter IX.)