All About Bricks, Blocks and Wall Ties

Compare the different types of bricks, blocks and natural stone to find the right materials for your next home improvement project.
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Bricks, blocks and stone are the main components of masonry construction, whether inside the home or outside it. A wall (a cavity wall, for instance) may contain several of these materials, or just one (as in a brick garden wall). There are several materials to choose from, including eco-friendly options.

Determine how many to buy

When estimating quantities, remember that the measurement of a brick or block does not usually take into account mortar joints, which will influence the eventual dimensions of your wall. However, some suppliers do quote block sizes in nominal figures including mortar joints. For brickwork, an average joint is 3/8 inch; it is sometimes a little larger for blockwork — 1/2 inch. To get a rough idea of how many bricks or blocks to buy, calculate the surface area of your planned structure and divide this by the nominal size of your chosen brick or block.

Many kinds of bricks are available, in terms of composition, color and texture. The main types are shown here. Bricks are also categorized in terms of quality, referring to their resistance to such things as frost attack. This is not instantly apparent in the brick's appearance, so seek advice from your supplier.

Common
Common bricks are clay-based and general-purpose. Today they tend to be used for garden walls, and patching masonry.

Common Bricks are Clay Based and General Purpose

Common Bricks are Clay Based and General Purpose

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Facing/faced
Facing bricks have good faces on all sides. Faced bricks have one good face and one or both good ends.

Faced and Facing Bricks are Intended to Be Visible

Faced and Facing Bricks are Intended to Be Visible

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Engineering
Engineering bricks are very dense and are made of clay. They are used for extra strength and resistance to weather conditions.

Engineered Bricks are Toughest Bricks Available

Engineered Bricks are Toughest Bricks Available

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Calcium silicate
Made from lime and sand, these bricks come in a vast range of colors. They are also relatively smooth to the touch, and provide a very uniform finish.

Calcium Silicate Bricks Can Be Custom Ordered

Calcium Silicate Bricks Can Be Custom Ordered

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Fire
Made from a special form of clay that can withstand particularly high temperatures, these bricks are commonly used in fireplaces.

Fire Bricks Commonly Used in Fireplaces

Fire Bricks Commonly Used in Fireplaces

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Concrete
These bricks are composed of concrete and made in a large range of colors and textures.

Concrete Bricks Molded in Large Range of Colors

Concrete Bricks Molded in Large Range of Colors

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Air
Used in a wall's structure to allow ventilation, airbricks are often used around the base of a house, ventilating the area beneath a suspended ground floor.

Air Bricks are Perforated and Used for Ventilation

Air Bricks are Perforated and Used for Ventilation

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Bricks are made in different sizes, although 8-1/2" x 4" x 2-5/8" is a common size. There are also other aspects of brick design that vary, such as whether they are solid, cored or indented. These are the three most common brick designs, although many others exist, often designed for specific purposes.

Solid Bricks are Solid Throughout with Flat Sides

Solid Bricks are Solid Throughout with Flat Sides

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Solid
Solid throughout the structure, with flat surfaces on all sides. Both fire bricks and concrete bricks are commonly solid in structure.

Indented Bricks Have Wedge Shaped Indentation

Indented Bricks Have Wedge Shaped Indentation

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Cored
Have holes that extend from their upper to their lower faces, and so are not suitable for capping on top of a wall. They are laid in exactly the same way as other bricks.

Specialty Bricks Available for Variety of Uses

Specialty Bricks Available for Variety of Uses

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Faced/indented (Image 3)
Indented bricks have a wedge-shaped indentation (a "frog") in the upper face (some also have this in the bottom face). Bricks can be laid frog up or frog down. Laying them frog up is stronger, but requires more mortar.

Specialty bricks
Less angular bricks are available for certain tasks such as capping a garden wall, creating a curved wall, turning a corner (as shown) or creating specific sill designs. Most manufacturers and suppliers will have catalogs to display their full range of specialty bricks.

Blocks are a modern development, and are generally larger than bricks. Unless they are faced, blocks are normally covered over for decorative purposes — usually with stucco on an exterior wall, or drywall on an internal wall. Sizes vary, but blocks are often 18 x 9 inches. Depths also vary.

Rectangular Concrete Blocks Used in Construction

Rectangular Concrete Blocks Used in Construction

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Glass
Decorative glass blocks are usually square and may be used inside or outside, often for small features.

Glass Blocks Offer Both Light and Privacy

Glass Blocks Offer Both Light and Privacy

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Cored Bricks Have Holes that Reduce Their Weight

Cored Bricks Have Holes that Reduce Their Weight

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Thermal Insulation Blocks are Energy Efficient

Thermal Insulation Blocks are Energy Efficient

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Rectangular concrete
Heavy, solid concrete-based block that is used for general construction work.

Concrete Blocks With Cavity Alternative to Brick

Concrete Blocks With Cavity Alternative to Brick

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Thermal insulation
A lightweight concrete block that is thermally efficient and easy to handle. Used in loadbearing and non-loadbearing walls, depending on specification.

Faced Building Blocks are Decorative and Colorful

Faced Building Blocks are Decorative and Colorful

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Concrete with cavity
Continuous cavities allow for strengthening rods through retaining walls. Cellular blocks have discontinuous cavities.

Natural Stone Used Inside and Out for Building

Natural Stone Used Inside and Out for Building

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Faced Building Block
Concrete blocks are sometimes available with a decorative face and in various colors.

Natural stone varies widely in appearance and properties depending on its origin. Different stones are therefore suitable for different projects. When buying natural stone, quality is important. A load of unfinished stone may produce a lot of waste, while finished stone is more expensive.

Cut Natural Stone Into Finished Blocks

Cut Natural Stone Into Finished Blocks

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Natural stone
Unfinished natural stone generally requires finishing before use. Bear in mind that finished stone needs to have a usable face, as well as the correct dimensions.

Pitched Face Stone has Rough Face and Smooth Sides

Pitched Face Stone has Rough Face and Smooth Sides

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Cut Stone
Natural stone that has been cut into a block, usually with all faces finished. Cut stone is therefore very expensive and seldom used extensively.

Reconstituted Stone Man Made from Natural Stone

Reconstituted Stone Man Made from Natural Stone

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Pitched faced
Stone cut to provide smooth sides for neat mortar joints, but with a rough face.

Reconstituted stone
Made from crushed stone, sand and cement, these are molded to mimic natural stone.

Angle grinder
To cut a block diagonally from corner to corner, for a gable end, use an angle grinder along a guide line.

Angle Grinders Used to Cut Stone Materials

Angle Grinders Used to Cut Stone Materials

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Stone saw
Use a stone saw to cut lightweight blocks by hand, following a clearly marked guide line.

Use Stone Saw to Cut Lightweight Blocks by Hand

Use Stone Saw to Cut Lightweight Blocks by Hand

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Wall ties are used in cavity walls to connect the outer and inner walls, or to connect a new masonry wall to an existing one. Designs vary according to whether a tie is for use with masonry or timber. Some common examples are shown below.

Timber Frame Ties Used With Cavity Walls

Timber Frame Ties Used With Cavity Walls

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Screw tie
For joining masonry to masonry, or masonry to timber.

RX-DK-DIY082034_wall-tie-profil_s3x4

RX-DK-DIY082034_wall-tie-profil_s3x4

©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Timber-frame tie
For use with timber-frame cavity walls.

Lightweight Wall Ties Secure Insulation Sheets

Lightweight Wall Ties Secure Insulation Sheets

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Wall profile
Used to secure a block wall to an existing wall. Ties slot into metal profile

Use Brick Trowel to Pick up and Spread Mortar

Use Brick Trowel to Pick up and Spread Mortar

Used to pick up and spread mortar, brick trowels are the largest of the trowel family. They normally measure 10 to 11 inches in length. The two long edges of the trowel can be straight or have a slight curve, known as a Philadelphia pattern.

Photo by: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Used to pick up and spread mortar, brick trowels are the largest of the trowel family. They normally measure 10 to 11 inches in length. The two long edges of the trowel can be straight or have a slight curve, known as a Philadelphia pattern.

Lightweight wall tie
Stainless steel with a plastic retaining clip designed to hold insulation sheets in place.

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