Repointing is easy! Yes, that's right, easy peasy!

I know, I said it was an exercise in futility, doubted the beauty of our initial attempts, and potentially even swore under my breath a few times when I was somewhat frustrated during my initial batch of mortar, but I think I've got the hang of it. The secret seems to be in using the right tools for the job, and in having some experience under my belt to get the hang of things. Go figure.

After my first go-round of chiseling and repointing, I identified some things that helped me be far more effective in the second phase of my project. These were simple adjustments that resulted in a far better end result.

The first thing I decided was no more start and stop. I had wanted to try my hand at the actual repointing part of the project so badly that I only cleared away a small amount of mortar before moving forward with the first mix batch. (How incredibly lame does that sentence make me sound? Good thing I'm not single. "Hey ladies, I can't wait to try my hand at mortaring a brick joint.")

As I learned, this is a bad move. For this second phase of mortar chiseling, I decided I needed to just power through and chip away all of the mortar that needed to be removed from the area in which I planned to work. This took far longer (several hours longer) but it would allow me to clean my space properly before the next phase, as well as removing the need to worry about where to stop while applying the mortar or how much mortar to mix for the area I had cleared.

The second thing I realized was just how much the loose dust left from chiseling got in my way. I had previously brushed the dust away, but that only worked so well. This time I used our Shop-Vac to suck away all of the loose sand and dust from the waiting joints. This helped the new mortar to go into the joints and stick, rather than just slide away on a bed of crumbling sand.

With these two realizations/decisions I was able to move forward with the project. Oh, I also went ahead and resolved my "right tools for the job" issue by ordering the two tuck pointing trowels I mentioned in our last repointing post. Like I've said before, Amazon Prime, I <3 thee.

I worked my way down the chimney chiseling away the loose mortar. Some areas fell away with ease, while other areas needed more encouragement, but ultimately it all gave way to my brick hammer and plugging chisel.

I previously referenced two odd areas I had to deal with on this project, and i'd be lying if I said they didn't cause me some emotional strife at the onset. This room was the house's second bedroom in the past, and like the other two bedrooms of the original home, there was a stove (probably coal burning) that provided the room's heat during cold winter nights. This stove had two connections to the wall, one about waist height and one a few inches off of the floor. When the previous owners decided there was no need for this stove they bricked up one hole with an odd looking patch of mismatched bricks and Portland cement...

...and filled the second with cement, but left it protruding from the wall by a good inch.

I needed to make this look a little better, if only because I felt like it was needed and would give me some good masonry patching practice.

I chiseled out the upper circle by chipping away the plaster that had been mashed in around it. I really don't understand why someone would have just caked it full of plaster, it seems less than ideal for a stove connection. After a few minutes of smacking the wall I had myself a dusty mess laying on the floor of the bathroom, but a successful removal at that.

Removal of the oddly patched lower area proved a bit more difficult. The Portland cement had really been caked on, not just placed I in the brick's joints. I had to chisel away the cement for quite some time.

As I did this is became increasingly clear why you don't want to use Portland cement in these applications, and how the brick actually becomes more fragile when it sits against the harder cement. After a little effort I had myself...well...a giant mess.

Removal of the lower bricks allowed a collection of black soot to pour out of the chimney. It seems it's collected in the void behind these smaller bricks for years, trapped between the clay tile and the bricks, just waiting to eventually be freed.

To patch the hole left by the patch removal I grabbed a few spare bricks from the basement. These bricks are original bricks to the house that were removed at some point from some wall by some owner. Not sure from where or why, but they constitute bricks we can use for projects like this. Who knows, maybe they're extra parts leftover like you see with IKEA furniture?

I didn't want to go overboard with this patch by removing bricks that were solidly in place. Since this will ultimately be covered, I just wanted to patch in the holes and call it a day. I got to work with the old bricks and cutting them down to size for the opening.

If you're not familiar with how to trim a brick to size, it's super easy! You start by determining the size of the brick and make a mark on the line where it needs to be cut. Then, using a brick chisel, you score the brick by giving the chisel a few smacks with the mason's hammer along the line.

Once you make the line all the way around, use the hammer to really whack the chisel. If you've scored the brick properly, it will break pretty cleanly along the score line. Pretty awesome if you ask me!

When I had all of the various pieces of brick necessary for the holes in the chimney I dry fit everything to make sure it would all fit together properly.

Once happy with the fit, I moved onto my mortar mixture. I mixed the mortar in a far looser manner with additional water. This works much better for the patch given that I need the mortar to ooze out once I place the bricks in the opening.

After I placed the patching bricks with their loose mortar I was feeling pretty good about my progress. I added a little more mortar to the mix to thicken it up a bit so I could move onto repointing. Now that I had my tuck pointing trowel in hand I was able to get the hang of repointing in a much neater manner.

Using a technique I learned from several online sources and a commenter I grabbed a bit of mortar on my trowel and treated it as my hawk.

I then used the tuck pointing trowel to push lines of mortar into the open joints until the joints were full of mortar.

Then, still using the tuck pointing trowel, I sort of packed the mortar into the joint and worked to raise the cream of the mortar and shave off any excess that was overfilled.

Working from the lower bed joints on up toward the top of the chimney I slowly packed the joints and smoothed them out, in a slow, methodical manner. Using the tuck pointing trowel left me with joints that were full, even, and neat. No longer did I have a sloppy joint left by a jointer, I had a collection of nicely filled joints.

I also worked to fill the remaining joints around the patches I had made. I kept working at this until I used up all of the mortar in the first bag we hard purchased. It was starting to look pretty great, if I must say so myself, especially for just my second attempt.

The end result of this second go-round of repointing was much smoother than the first. I made a great deal of progress and got myself to a point where I was out of mortar but still have the majority of the face of the chimney left to finish up the job. I've ordered another bag from in a color that's closer matched to our original mortar, and I'm excited to give it a try. 

So now's the moment of truth. What do you think of my second try at this initially difficult task that's starting to get a little bit easier? I should be wrapped up with it after the weekend, then I'll have a nice chimney and some peace of mind for when we get the chimney officially relined...whenever that happens to be.

Comments 11


4/12/2013 at 11:47 AM
Thanks, JC!
4/12/2013 at 4:21 PM
Looks great I'll be using your post when it comes time to repoint my basement.
This is exactly why I've gone ahead and documented this otherwise boring process. I'll do one more wrapup post on it that talks about specific tools and such.
4/12/2013 at 5:39 PM
Wow. I'm so impressed. We inquired about how much it would cost to do this to an unused chimney at our old house and it was THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS.
I'll tell you one thing for sure. If I were doing this for someone else, I would absolutely charge thousands of dollars! It was a long and boring process. I can handle doing it once, but I can't imagine if it was what I did every day. I think we'll still need to pay a pretty penny to have the chimney professionally re-lined, but this is a good first step.
4/15/2013 at 4:49 PM
Alex - You don't need my affirmation of your pointing prowess, but in any case it looks great. Just think of all the repointing that awaits you on your house's brick facade!
Thanks, Larry. It looks even better when I started using the right color mortar after this bag. I don't think I could handle doing the whole side or facade, especially since the facade has rather tight joints. I'd probably have to use a grout saw to get all of those joints clear.
10/12/2013 at 7:30 PM
Looks excellent, so much better than what a licensed "mason" would do for your chimney. I've given up with the prospect of finding a mason who knows how to restore/repoint old brickwork, and am taking the DIY plunge! Thanks for posting this info, it's a great help.
Awesome, so glad you found these posts and are going at it DIY style. I've got a much bigger project coming up in a few months, and the experience I had on the chimney has me completely prepared to take it on. Good luck with your work!
10/14/2013 at 9:09 PM
Your bricks look very similar to the soft orange brick in my old chimney (house is from 1876). I started replacing brick yesterday with similar results to your post. There are about 15 completely crumbled spalled bricks in one section. I am replacing a few brick per day so the whole thing won't collapse on me!

Your blog was key for me. I had been putting it off thinking it was damn near impossible for a DIYer but it is coming along surprisingly well. Only info/advice that I dare add that was recommended to me is to wet the brick (dunk in water for 20secs is what I read) beforehand and to mist the mortar to keep it wet for a few days afterward. It was recommended to use burlap wrapped around the brick and keep the burlap wet for a few days to a week. I read that it was particularly important with pure lime based mortars to achieve strength in the mortar. Not sure how necessary all that is but I did see it mentioned a few places. I ended up using a very small amount of Portland cement in a 1:3:10 cement-lime-sand ratio just to yield some initial strength to the chimney while I remove and replace the spalled brick. I couldn't find white Portland cement so the color ended up a little on the grey side.

Thanks again,
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