Author’s Note: Here is a video I found to be useful. The text, which follows includes my own experience, learned while working with my father (the bricklayer in the family).
How to Mix Mortar
Do you have a small stone or brick project in mind at home? The following is a discussion on how to mix mortar for stone, brick or tuckpointing. For small projects, a bag of ‘Ready Mix mortar’* is the way to go. Ready Mix mortar, for our purposes today is a bag of cement and sand already mixed in the proper proportions. It’s simple. It’s quick. It’s clean. It can be mixed in a wheel barrow in a matter of minutes.
All that is needed is to add water and mix it up with a shovel and/or hoe. Ready mix can be purchased at your local mason supply house or someplace like Lowe’s, Home Depot or Menard’s. (I like to deal with the locally owned businesses whenever I can). Just ask for a bag of pre-mixed brick mortar, or for stone, pre-mixed ‘portland’ cement.
*Note: The term ‘ready-mix’ is usually reserved to describe ready-mix concrete -the stuff you see being delivered by the big trucks with the rotating drums.
For larger projects, however, it is more cost effective to mix the ingredients on site. A cement mortar mixer (we always called it a ‘cement mixer’) is used for mixing on site for larger quantities. Delivery of a load of mortar sand is required. That would create quite a clean-up chore -too much for a smaller project.
The formula for mixing a good mortar for most projects is a solid three parts sand to one part cement. The mortar mixers on experienced masonry crews measure their sand by the shovelful. Non-professionals should opt for the ‘bucket’ method. That is 3-1/2 five (5) gallon buckets of sand to one bucket of cement.
For Ready Mix, simply empty the bag in a wheelbarrow, add a little water and mix away. Always add water sparingly. Start out with a stiff mix and add a just a little water at a time to reach the desired consistency.
For most stone and brick projects the consistency of the mortar is kind of like whipped cream (except for the obvious difference in weight). You don’t want it too dry of too soupy. A good test is to get some on your trowel, give it a couple taps on the side of the wheelbarrow and turn the trowel upside down. If the mortar sticks to the trowel while it is upside down, it is good mortar.
For tuckpointing , it can be a little stiffer.
Understand that it’s better in every instance to have it a little drier. If too wet, it is difficult, if not impossible to use in some cases. If too dry, a splash of water can be added and mixed up for the proper consistency.
Typically, the mortar is not used up fast enough to avoid it beginning to ‘set-up’ in the pan. When necessary, it can be ‘tempered’ as described above by adding water. You should expect to have to temper the mortar from time to time -more frequently on a hot day.
The bag that packages the ready mix will give a guideline on the water to cement ratio and is a good guideline. Start out with less and add as necessary. If you do get too much water into the mix (everybody does from time to time), you can ‘dry it up’ by adding a small amount of cement and sand in the proper proportions (approx. 3:1 sand cement).
Bear in mind, if you are trying to stiffen up the mix, the sand should be dry, as is the cement. You won’t achieve the desired result if you add sand that was just rained on by that passing cloud.
Another point that cannot go unsaid. Brick mortar contains a mixture of sand and cement as stated above. Cement can cause harm to your eyes and skin. Cement dust should not be inhaled. The bag that packages the ready mix will list all the precautions that should be heeded to protect one’s health. Always wear proper PPE, whether mixing cement or for any number of other home projects.
The hands and eyes top the list of most common injuries. Hopefully, you will learn from others’ mistakes and wear your gloves and safety glasses.
These guidelines regarding how to mix mortar are flexible, as you may have noticed. The main points are the proper ratio of sand: cement, and not to get it too wet. If you screw it up, set it aside and mix another batch. You’ll be in good company, as we’ve all been there.
If you have found some of this information to be useful, please ‘Share’ it, or ‘Like’ it so others can find it, as well. Social buttons found on each page, in the left margin. As always, thank you for spending some time here.
The following are some additional resources: