Any builder, be they a professional or a DIY enthusiast, will need to know their way around mixing mortar. A hugely popular product in the building trade (hence the term bricks and mortar being used to describe many buildings), mixing the appropriate amount of mortar for your use can be something of a precise science.
What is Cement?
What is Mortar?
Mortar is traditionally used as a binding material for bricks. It can be used as an adhesive when constructing a wall for a house of garden, or as a form of filler between bricks and stones that have been laid down on a garden path.
What is the Difference Between Mortar, Cement and Concrete?
Individuals unfamiliar with the intricacies of the building trade often use the terms cement and concrete interchangeably. These materials are actually very different and serve different purposes – as well as the fact that it is actually impossible to mix mortar without the aid of cement.
- Cement is a binding element that is used in concrete and mortar, devised by grinding up a number of source materials and heated until it makes a fine powder.
- Concrete requires the mixing of cement, sand and gravel in a cement mixer and left to harden in order to make a sturdy material. Check out our guide to Mixing Concrete for more information on this.
- Mortar, meanwhile, is a combination of cement and sand. Adding water to this combination makes for a firm, sticky substance that can be used to ‘glue’ different materials together.
How to Mix Cement
Prepare yourself by picking up a bag of the appropriate cement for your job (Portland Cement is the most popular all-round choice), sand and gravel or another source of aggregates.
Load these items into a large container such as a wheelbarrow (typically the ratio of this would be one part cement, two parts sand and six parts aggregates, but you may want to consult a cement mix ratio to get the precise amounts required for different projects) and mix them up with a spade.
Next, pour a little water into your wheelbarrow – there is no real magic formula here, so consult the instructions on your pre-purchased cement. Just be aware that the more water you use in your mix, the thinner the cement will be once it is ready for use.
Keep stirring, possibly switching from a spade to a rake, until the cement begins to set. Once this is done, pour it into the area that you intend to use the cement and apply before it becomes rigid.
How to Mix Mortar
If you have purchased dry cement, you are ready to mix mortar. To do so, you’ll need to find your ratio again – in this case, aim for one part cement and three parts sand as a baseline, but never be shy about consulting an online ratio calculator to ensure that you are precise.
You’ll need to apply water once more, but again, how much varies depending on your project and how strong you require your mortar to be; consult instructions to a further idea.
In order to create mortar you’ll need the use of a cement mixer so make sure you have easy access to such machinery (you can hire one from a DIY shop if you do not already own a mixer, or purchase one outright if you have the appropriate storage space and feel confident that you will use it with some degree of regularity).
Wet all the vessels you’ll be using to carry your mixed mortar such as buckets or wheelbarrows to prevent the adhesive from sticking to the sides, then load up your dry ingredients into your cement mixture and let the machine do its work.
Once the full mixture is one consistent colour, you’ll be ready to hollow out your mortar mix using a rake and pour in a little water, which will make the mortar adhesive.
One final note when it comes to mixing mortar; if you are looking for something particularly hard-wearing, consider adding some lime, which is available from any reputable DIY shop. This will make the mortar even stronger, and thus is particularly ideal if you are planning on building a perimeter wall or using mortar for brickwork on a home.
Different Types of Mortar and Their Uses
Mortar comes in four main types, with the key effectiveness of each differing from project to project.
- Type N Mortar is an all-rounder that remains hugely popular with homeowners, ideal for general use with DIY projects around the house and garden.
- Type O Mortar is a little weaker and offers less load-bearing capacity, and thus should not be used outdoors where it could be exposed to bad weather.
- Type S Mortar is extremely strong, and thus is perfect for masonry or at a ground level.
- Type M Mortar is the strongest of all, and thus ideal for use on driveways or anywhere else with anticipated heavy loads, but has poor tensile strength and thus should never be used for a wall.
How Long Does Mortar Take to Dry?
That depends on environmental factors in the vicinity, such as temperature and humidity. In theory, your mortar should be perfectly solid within around 48 hours.
Why Won’t My Mortar Stick?
Most of the time this is a result of an incorrect ratio between cement and sand – if you have too much of the latter and not enough of the former, the adhesive effectiveness will be greatly reduced. One other potential cause could be foreign intrusion onto your bricks, as even a fine layer of dust can cause issues.
How Long Does Mortar Last?
If you use lime with your mortar mix, it should last indefinitely. This is why lime is highly recommended, especially if you live in a cold climate.
Is Mortar Fireproof?
To an extent yes, but if you plan on building a fire pit or hearth for a wood burning stove you should look into applying some specialist fireproof cement.
Can I Mix Mortar Without a Cement Mixer?
Not really – you won’t gain any kind of consistency with your mix, and it will take a month of Sundays.
Can I Build a Brick Wall Without Mortar?
You can, but it’s an extremely long and tedious process without the insurance and protection that sturdy, lime-enforced mortar has to offer. You can try using grout on stacked bricks, but the result will be brittle and more than likely uneven.
Does it Matter What Kind of Sand I Use When Mixing Mortar?
Yes – always aim for builder’s sand. You will also have the choice of sharp or soft sand; soft should always be the majority of what you use when mixing mortar.