7th Feb 2024 -

Brickwork and masonry have been fundamental elements across countless buildings and structures for centuries. Beyond just structural properties, the appearance of creative brickwork can transform buildings into visually interesting structures. Masons are increasingly focused on enhancing the artistic potential of brickwork through innovative techniques and materials.

One key method for elevating brickwork aesthetics is the use of sharp sand. This angular-grained sand creates textural, patterned finishes that make brickwork stand out. Properly worked by skilled hands, bricks and sharp sand mould to create attractive patterns. This article explores the role of aesthetics in masonry work and best practices for achieving artistic effects.

What is the role of sharp sand in brickwork?

​​Also commonly known as grit sand or concrete sand, using it to make mortar boosts the appearance of brick structures. The coarse, angular grains produce a textured surface and diverse mortar joints. Sharp sand mortar also provides key structural advantages. 

  • Durability: The irregular, sharp edges of the particles create a strong mechanical bond between the mortar and bricks. This produces extremely durable mortar joints, which work well for waterproofing brickwork. 
  • Bonding: Its rough texture and absorbent nature enable excellent bonding brickwork. It prevents slippage and damaged bricks. Each mortar joint locks tightly against the brick.
  • Strength: It achieves high compressive strength, giving brickwork the ability to bear heavy loads and pressures.
  • Breathability: The permeability allows historic brick walls to retain natural moisture balance, reducing damage.

While more labour-intensive than off-the-shelf pre-mixed mortars, sharp sand offers resilience for load-bearing walls. Its unique textural finish and bonding performance make it an ideal choice for both new construction and restoration jobs.

How to incorporate sharp sand with brickwork

The key to achieving the aesthetic benefits is proper mixing and preparation of the mortar. The right ratio of lime, sharp sand and cement should be mixed. Here are 5 top tips for mixing masonry mortar with sharp sand.

  • Use a level ratio of 1 part cement, 1 part lime, and 5 to 7 parts sharp sand. The high proportion of sand provides texture and strength.
  • Add clean water until the mixture reaches the ideal sticky, workable consistency. Too little water can weaken the mortar mix.
  • Thoroughly mix all ingredients in a mortar pan, cement mixer or wheelbarrow using a hoe or shovel.
  • Let the mortar sit for 10-15 minutes after initial mixing, then remix before use. This allows chemicals to blend and activate.
  • Test sample batches of mortar on a non-visible part of the wall to ensure proper curing and colour match.

With the right mortar mixture, you can lay brickwork that showcases the rough-textured appearance and durability. Paying close attention to mortar techniques will allow the aesthetic qualities of the brickwork to shine through.

Sharp sand vs building sand: Which is best?

While both types are used for mortar, sharp sand and building sand vary in composition and purpose. The differences become visible when the sands are used for brickwork.

Building sand

Creates uniform appearance: The smooth, rounded grains of builder sand produce flush and equal mortar joints. This can give brickwork a tidy and consistent look.Weaker durability: The smoothness of the sand particles reduces gripping power and adhesion strength compared to sharp sand. Mortar is more prone to cracking over time.
Simpler to work with: The fine particles and smooth texture make building sand mortar easier to mix and apply.Mortar can be slippery: Building sand lacks the coarse texture needed to hold mortar in place on vertical surfaces. As a result, you should regularly repoint bricks.
Readily available and affordable: Building sand is abundant and is generally available at a low cost. This makes it a budget-friendly option.Does not highlight each brick: Its uniform appearance tends to visually blend the bricks rather than accentuating each one.

Sharp sand

Excellent bonding properties: Sharp edges mechanically grip bricks, while absorbency provides outstanding adhesion. As a result, this creates a durable bond.Damage tools and hands: The rough texture can damage paddles, hoes and skin over time. You must take precautions such as wearing protective gloves.
Rugged, durable mortar joints: The texture resists water penetration and withstands weathering. You can also use it as concrete block paving sand.Unsuitable for soft bricks: The coarse sand can cut into and erode softer, substandard bricks rather than build a protective joint.
Creates distinctive visual texture: The roughness of the mortar adds highlights and shadows that showcase the brickwork patterns.Expensive and labour-intensive: Sharp sand usually costs more than building sand. It also requires more effort to mix and apply.

Overall, building sand is the quicker and cheaper option that works for basic residential bricklaying. However, sharp sand is best for professional masonry construction. The advantages of enhanced aesthetics, durability and structural integrity make it the superior material choice.

How does sharp sand influence brick colour?

In addition to creating textural appeal, the sand used in mortar can also impact the overall brickwork colour. Sharp sand contains high amounts of iron oxide, which gives the sand grains their tan and rusty shade. 

The coarse particles and absorbent nature of sharp sand mortar provide a deeper, richer colour. When wet, the iron oxide-rich sand produces a bold reddish or brownish mortar that accentuates the brick tones. As mortar cures, the colour lightens but remains warm because of the iron content. In contrast, building sand produces a pale grey or beige mortar unless pigments are added. 

This can create a flat appearance next to light bricks. The smooth texture also reduces shadow lines that add visual interest. Sharp sand is the best choice for brick projects where terra cotta is desired. The naturally occurring iron oxide particles interlock with the clay brick to boost earthy red tones. 

Top tips for achieving different brick patterns

The angular grains of sharp sand produce a texture and finish that makes brick patterns stand out visually. Below are some top tips for achieving 4 different brick patterns using sharp sand.

1. Herringbone pattern

  • Use bricks of a uniform size, thickness and colour for best results in maintaining the pattern. You should keep mortar joints thin, between 10mm to 13mm inches for the classic herringbone look.
  • Maintain precision in alternating the direction of each row of bricks to form a distinct zig-zag appearance. Use a guideline to keep the rows straight and evenly angled.
  • A brick hammer and standard jointer tool will help to create straight, consistent mortar joints. Keep joints well-aligned between rows to highlight the geometric pattern.

2. Basketweave pattern

  • Alternate between bricks either vertically or horizontally in an interlocking pattern which resembles a woven basket.
  • Make sure to work in small sections, less than a few sq ft at a time for easier handling. The basketweave pattern can prove difficult and intricate.
  • Use brick or tile spacer tabs between the brick edges to keep horizontal spacing consistent and level across each row.

3. Stack bond pattern

  • Stack each row of bricks directly over the one below it for a straight appearance.
  • Be sure to use a level tool on top of the bricks and a plumb line on the vertical edge. This keeps rows perfectly straight and vertical. 
  • Mortar joints should be uniform in colour, depth, thickness and tooling across each row to maintain clean stacked lines.

4. Diagonal pattern

  • Lightly mark diagonal guidelines on the wall with a straight edge to follow for the diagonal pattern.
  • Use a jointer tool angled at 20 or 45 degrees to match the diagonal angle of the mortar joints as you finish them.
  • Choose bricks and mortar colours that complement each other to help the diagonal lines stand out boldly. Natural red bricks with white mortar provide high contrast.

Can you maintain the appearance of brickwork?

You can retain the appearance for many years with proper maintenance. Here are some tips for keeping sharp sand brickwork looking its best.

Protect mortar from weathering

Add water-repellent brickwork sealer to mortar joints to prevent rainfall erosion. Repointing brickwork over any cracked or missing mortar will avoid damage.

Clean the façade carefully

Use gentle, low-pressure water washing and mild detergents to clean brickwork. Avoid abrasive cleaning methods that will wear down the distinctive mortar.

Watch for vegetation

Clear any plants, moss or algae growing in mortar lines, which can worsen and discolour the joints.

Repair spalling brickwork

Remove bricks damaged by freeze-thaw cycles. Replace and repoint bricks to maintain the structural integrity of the wall. Try to match aged bricks to maintain their appearance.

Check for structural issues

Address settlement cracks or leaning garden walls to prevent further brickwork damage.

Shop high-quality sharp sand for all brickwork jobs

At Building Materials Nationwide, we understand the important role that sharp sand plays in enhancing brickwork aesthetics. Our premium-grade sharp sand bulk bag and small bag options are a cornerstone for superior results. Renowned for its fine and angular particles, our sharp sand is easy to work with. It also contributes to a refined finish, adding texture and depth to brick surfaces. 

To elevate your projects, be sure to open a trade account with us. Opening a trade account with Building Materials Nationwide comes with superb benefits for construction materials. Gain access to a reliable supply of sharp sand for paving or brickwork jobs with fast UK delivery. 

Dedicated trade account managers offer one-on-one assistance and recommendations to meet the needs of your construction projects. Open a trade account with us today. If you have any questions, contact us for a chat. 

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