Basic Masonry Tools and Materials

Masonry work, unlike other trades, is a skill that very few homeowners can master. While most homeowners are familiar with electrical, plumbing, painting, and drywall, masonry is usually left to skilled masons.

Do-it-yourself masonry can be very satisfying and creative. Apart from the satisfaction of a job well done and the joy of knowing that the tools and materials used in masonry work are simple, affordable, and easy to understand, there are many other great aspects to masonry work.

Basic Tools for Masonry

Masonry work is a trade that has existed since ancient Egypt. It uses simple tools and common materials like limestone and crushed stone from the earth. You will need a basic set for do-it-yourself masonry.

Margin Trowel

Margin trowels are long, thin trowels with handles that can be used to spread mortar onto the stone. Margin trowels can be used with narrow masonry units, such as a manufactured stone veneer to prevent mortar from leaking over the sides.

Margin trowels are not suitable for all masonry projects, but they’re as close as you can get to a universal trowel.

Square-Notch Trowel or V-

The v-, or square-notch trowel, is the most important tool in masonry. It has two sides that can be straightened and two sides that can be notched.

These notches are square or V-shaped and serve as a metering system to distribute the right amount of mortar on a flat surface like a cement board.

It would be almost impossible to control the right amount of mortar if you tried to evenly disperse it with the trowel’s flat edge. It’s hard to hold the trowel at the correct height above the surface.

Press the trowel’s notches against the surface to release the mortar evenly.

Cold Chisel

A cold chisel is a tool that cuts bricks and veneer stone in half. It has a flat, wide head.

The cold chisel can also be used to remove excess mortar, one brick from a brick wall, or chip away bricks.

Cold chisels usually have plastic handles that absorb the shock of the hammer blow. Flared guards are also placed on the handles to protect against missed hammer strikes.

Brick Hammer or Mason’s Hammer

The brick hammer features a blunt side that can be used for cutting bricks or stones in half. It is ideal for quick and decisive tasks such as chopping bricks. The smaller side is used to score lines for precise breaks.

For masonry work, don’t use your regular carpenter hammer. You could damage the carpenter’s hammer and it won’t be able to do the job in masonry. Masonry demands a larger hammer face and a heavier hammer.

Wire Brush

Some masonry tools can be used for cleaving, hammering, and chopping. For removing concrete crumbs or rock chips that have accumulated in your work area, a wire brush is essential for masonry work.

A stiff wire brush and a vacuum can be used to clean out any debris that may have built up in concrete cracks.

Masonry Tools

Masonry Materials

The entire collection of masonry material does not have to be bought before you start your masonry project. Instead, you can buy masonry materials as needed shortly before you start your project.

Moisture damage can occur when materials are kept for long periods of time. The materials that are exposed to moisture such as grout, mortar, veneer mortar, or concrete will become hardened and must be disposed of. You can reduce moisture damage by sealing sealed plastic bags for all mortar and concrete bags, even those that have not been opened.

Veneer Mortar

Veneer mortar, a special type of mortar, is enriched in polymers to allow the veneer mortar units to stick to vertical surfaces. This mortar is very expensive so only use it for manufactured veneer stone. Make sure you mix it in small quantities.

Veneer Mortar joints are an important part of any home’s structure and stability. Over time, though, these Mortar Joints can become worn down and even start to crumble. This not only weakens the support your home needs but also makes it look shabby and unkempt. Tuckpointing is a process of repairing Mortar Joints so that they’re once again strong and visually appealing.

Portland Cement

Portland cement is made from a combination of silica and iron. Portland cement is available in 50- and 100-pound bags. Cement does not contain the same material like concrete. Concrete has aggregate, cement doesn’t.


Aggregate, a mixture of sand and gravel, is used to fill in the concrete bulk. The aggregate should be a clean, graded material. The most common size used for Mortar joints is 3/4-inch.


Mortar is a mixture that helps masonry units stick together. Mortar joints are the spaces between bricks, stones, or cinder blocks. Mortar can be made from a variety of materials, but it is most commonly made from Portland cement, water, and sand. Mortar joints can be either flush or recessed.

Flush mortar joints are when the mortar is level with the face of the brick. This type of joint is best for protection against weather and forces acting on the wall from the outside. Recessed mortar joints are when the mortar is set back from the face of the brick. This type of joint allows for expansion and contraction of the masonry units caused by changes in temperature.

Masonry Tools

Conventional Grout

Grout is a mix of Portland cement and some other sand. Grout is used to fill the spaces between masonry units. It is also a part of the mortar mix. The main function of grout is to provide support and reinforcement to masonry construction. It also acts as a waterproofing agent.

Portland cement is the main ingredient in the grout. Other ingredients include water, sand, and sometimes lime. The ratio of these ingredients varies depending on the type of grout being mixed.

Grout can be mixed by hand or with a mixer. The amount of water added to the mix should be just enough to make the mix workable. Too much water will make the grout weak and susceptible to cracking.

Ready-Mix Concrete

Ready-mix concrete is a mix of Portland cement, gravel, and sand that only requires water to harden. Ready-mix concrete can be used when fencing posts or deck supports are needed.


Reinforcing bars or rebar are steel bars that can be added to masonry and then embedded into it to increase its strength. For larger projects, such as concrete sidewalks, rebar can be used.

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Ryan Seraphin
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