A Guide to Masonry Skills: Mixing and Using Cement

MOTHER's Handbook shares a homeowner's lesson in masonry and the art of mixing and using cement. Includes a trial cement mix, knowing how to mix cement and the power of using mortar.

| July/August 1988


The best way to learn about any skill is to do it, and working mud is no exception.


MOTHER's Handbook: A homeowner's lesson in masonry provides a helpful guide to mixing and using cement. (See the cement illustrations in the image gallery.)

A Guide to Masonry Skills: Mixing and Using Cement

The world's strongest foundations, footings and masonry walls are made with concrete or mortar—mud as it's called here in MOTHER's neck of the woods. But many newcomers to country life shy away from working the stuff, perhaps because the chemistry of it seems alien to the more natural lifestyle they're seeking.

It isn't, really. The cement that is the heart of all mudwork comes from good and natural things like limestone, oyster shells and iron ore, which are fused in a kiln, then ground from hard clinkers into a fine powder. Mixed with varying amounts of sand, gravel or crushed stone aggregate, this forms the dry base for concrete, the plastic mix that hardens into bridges and garden walks, or—with the addition of lime—mortar that's used to bond brick, stone and precast concrete blocks.

When water is added to the dry base, it combines chemically with the cement in a process called hydration. The resulting paste solidifies within the hour, binding in the aggregates for now and always. Over a period of three days it cures and hardens to nearly half its finished strength, and in a month or more returns to rock.

A Trial Cement Mix 

The best way to learn about any skill is to do it, and working mud is no exception. Buy an 80-pound bag of packaged concrete mix, and with it get a 9 inch or 10 inch brick or pointing trowel (Figure 1), a hoe and a pair of leather work gloves. For what it's worth, a real mortar hoe has a pair of holes in the blade to make mixing easier; my old garden hoe has no holes, but carries a rind of dry cement on the shaft anyway. As for the gloves, masons rarely use them, but wet concrete and mortar are somewhat caustic and can dry the skin and burn the eyes. Cement also makes a great bleaching agent, so don't work mud wearing your best jeans.

3/4/2015 7:53:37 AM

You should have some information in this article warning about using newer mortars with pre 1940 brickwork. The newer mortars contain cement, and dry very stiff. This makes the mortar join harder than the original brick. When the building moves, and flexes, as all buildings do, this can cause the brick work to spauld, or just break destroying the wall.

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