Putting Up Adobe Walls

Adobe is an economical building material to use in almost any climate. Here's how to put up adobe walls.

| May/June 1981


Diagram shows two methods of setting string guides.


The following article is an excerpt from chapter 5 of The Owner-Built Adobe House by Duane Newcomb, copyright 1980 by the author. Reprinted with the permission of the author. 

There are several systems utilized today in constructing adobe walls. Which system you use depends primarily on whether or not you are building in earthquake country. In New Mexico, for instance, the code allows the builder to lay bricks into a self-supporting wall without reinforcement. In California, where you must consider earthquakes, you are required to use either steel reinforcing rods or a wooden post-frame support. Each of these systems will be explained later in this chapter.

Getting Your Equipment Together

No matter where you build, the equipment needed to lay bricks is about the same. My own list includes the following: wheelbarrow, mason's trowel, joint tool, wire brush, shovel, hone brick splitter or wide chisel, a long level (or mason's level), nylon cord, gloves, nails, and a story pole.

Mixing Mortar

The best formula for mortar that is to be used in laying up exposed adobe bricks is 1 part cement to 2 1/2 parts sand. This mortar is waterproofed by adding 1 1/2 gallons (5.7 L.) of emulsified asphalt to each sack of cement.

In New Mexico, where the adobe bricks are covered with plaster, most builders utilize adobe mud mortar, which is adobe dirt that is first screened to remove rocks and then mixed with water to form a stiff paste.

The rule is: If the bricks are to be exposed, use a waterproof cement mortar. If the building department allows, and your walls are to be plastered, use adobe mud as mortar.

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