This section is from the "Henley's Twentieth Century Formulas Recipes Processes" encyclopedia, by Norman W. Henley and others.
In the making of building blocks the spaces to be filled with concrete are generally too narrow to permit the use of very coarse material, and the block-maker is limited to gravel or stone not exceeding 0.5 or 0.75 inch in size. A considerable proportion of coarse material is, however, just as necessary as in other kinds of concrete work, and gravel cr screenings should be chosen which will give the greatest possible density. For good results, at least one-third of the material, by weight, should be coarser than J inch. Blocks made from such gravel or screenings, 1 to 5, will be found as good as 1 to 3 with sand only. It is a mistake to suppose that the coarse fragments will show on the surface; if the mixing is thorough this will not be the case. A moderate degree of roughness or variety in the surface of blocks is, in fact, desirable, and would go far to overcome the prejudice which many architects hold against the smooth, lifeless surface of cement work. Sand and gravel are, in most cases, the cheapest material to use for block work. The presence of a few per cent of clay or loam is not harmful provided the mixing is thorough. Stone screenings, if . of good quality, give fully as strong concrete as sand and gravel, and usually yield blocks of somewhat lighter color. Screenings from soft stone should be avoided, also such as contain too much dust. This can be determined from the weight per cubic foot, and by a sifting test. If more than two-thirds pass 1/8 inch, and the weight (well jarred down) is less than 120 pounds, the material is not the best. Cinders are sometimes used for block work; they vary greatly in quality, but if clean and of medium coarseness will give fair results. Cinder concrete never develops great strength, owing to the porous character and crushability of the cinders themselves. Cinder blocks may, however, be strong enough for many purposes, and suitable for work in which great strength is not required.
It is well known that slaked lime is a valuable addition to cement mortar, especially for use in air. In sand mixtures, 1 to 4 or 1 to 5, at least one-third of the cement may be replaced by slaked lime without loss of strength. The most convenient form of lime for use in block-making is the dry-slaked or hydrate lime, now a common article of commerce. This is, however, about as expensive as Portland cement, and there is no great saving in its use. Added to block concrete, in the proportion of 1/4 to 1/2 the cement used, it will be found to make the blocks lighter in color, denser, and decidedly less permeable by water.
Portland cement is the only hydraulic material to be seriously considered by the blockmaker. Natural and slag cements and hydraulic lime are useful for work which remains constantly wet, but greatly inferior in strength and durability when exposed to dry air. A further advantage of Portland cement is the promptness with which it hardens and develops its full strength; this quality alone is sufficient to put all other cements out of consideration for block work.