20th Feb 2023 -

A brick wall in your garden or home can become an attractive feature. But learning how to build a brick wall is more difficult than you might think - there is more to the project than laying bricks on top of each other. You need to follow specific instructions to prevent catastrophic issues that could arise later down the line.

Should your DIY skills need some fine-tuning, we think you should rely on the expertise of building professionals. But if you feel up to the task of building your own brick wall, be sure to follow our comprehensive step-by-step guide. 

Tools and materials

Before you begin, be sure to gather all the materials and tools you will need for building brick walls.

1. Bricks2. Trowel
3. Mask, gloves and goggles4. Spirit level
5. Dry bristle brush6. Hammer
7. Bolster8. Shovel
9. String10. Nails
11. Caulk12. Sand
13. Cement14. Timber
15. Plywood16. Brick jointer


Once you have all the tools and materials you need, it is time to start building your brick wall. Here are the steps you should follow, one row at a time.

1. Prepare the foundation

You will need to prepare a wall foundation before laying any bricks. For the wall foundation, dig out a ‘footer’ at an estimated 1ft deep and the same width and length as the wall. If the height of your proposed wall exceeds 2ft, it is best to dig down a bit more to avoid the wall collapsing. Be sure that the footer can easily drain water away from the wall to avoid spalling brickwork.

2. Install wooden stakes

To provide added strength, you will need to install several wooden stakes into the soil and make sure that the tops of them are level with each other. You will need to drive the posts below ground level at the same nominal height as the wall, which is the height of the brick with ½” for mortar. A spirit level will determine the level of the stake tops. Depending on how long the wall is, be sure to space each stake at around 2-4 ft apart. 

3. Mix and pour the concrete

The full footer (foundation) will need to be filled with concrete, and the concrete will need approximately 2-3 days to properly set and dry. Before preparing anything else for the wall construction to begin, use a trowel to smooth the top layer of concrete. This should be level before it starts to dry. 

4. Build guideposts

Use the drying time to make guideposts for either side of the wall at the same height. With nails, mark out where the bricks on each row will sit. String lines (also known as Mason lines) will be tied to the nails, which will act as a level guide throughout. The posts will need to be inserted into the ground so they can stand on their own without assistance. Guideposts act as a ruler for the wall construction - you can use a spirit level and tape measure to make sure everything is in line. 

Building the wall

Once you have completed all the preparation steps, it is time to start building your brick wall. Here are the stages you should go through, one row of bricks at a time.

1. Lay down plywood

To capture any excess mortar, it is a good idea to lay down some plywood at the foot of the wall base. Be sure to keep the plywood clean and tidy as you are working - if any mortar does spill, it can be reused for other bricks. 

2. Mix the mortar

When you mix the mortar, it is best to use the ratio of 4 parts soft sand and 1 part cement, adding either lime or plasticiser with 1 part of water. It is important to make sure you have the right consistency of mortar - adding too much water will make the mix too weak. However, too much cement can make the mortar dry too quickly, leading to cracking and shrinking.

3. Soak the bricks

Another step before moving to the second row is to soak the bricks in a bucket. This will help the mortar to stick to the brick. Allow the bricks to drip dry on the plywood before cracking on with the first row.

4. A practice run

On the foundation, lay the first row of bricks and space them equally apart. A tape measure will help to make sure there is an equal distance between each one. All bricks should comfortably fit within the footer.

5. Lay the bricks and mortar

Now is the time to lay approximately ½ inch of mortar on the foundation - it is probably worth using a tad extra so you can easily press down on the bricks. Then, you can push the first brick onto the mortar. To see if it is level, use a spirit level. Once you are happy with the first brick, move on to the next 2 or 3 - it is recommended to lay mortar for 2 or 3 bricks at a time. Do not forget to trowel an estimated ½ inch of mortar on the brick ends before moving on with the rest of the wall. 

6. Use string lines before the second row

Before moving on to the second row of bricks, you should run a string line from the nails on one guidepost to the other. String lines act as a level guide for when you lay each row. It is important that the string is tight and not sagging - this helps you to work along a uniform, straight line. 

7. Cut a brick in half

With a hammer and bolster, which should provide a clean line, cut an end brick in half. Use both halves on either end of the second row. This allows the bricks to be staggered alternately - if the joints are all aligned, this will decrease the brick wall’s stability and potentially lead to vertical cracking. After the half brick is in place, you can then place a full brick next to it. You should follow this process until the wall is complete. 

Finishing the brick wall

At the top of the wall, think about finishing it off with a unique pattern. For example, you could use the header technique, where the short side of a brick is pointed outwards and the longer side is vertical. Alternatively, the soldiering technique is where you stand the brick upwards, placing the short brick side on the mortar. 

Before closing a chapter on building your brick wall, use a trowel to go over any patches or gaps in the brick joints with mortar. Be sure to check that the mortar looks even, and a brick jointer will help to curve the joints for a professional appearance. You could also add copings to the top of the wall. Copings are flat stones which sit on top of brick walls and provide an extra layer of protection against harsh weather elements. 

For a fully finished look, you may want to paint over the brickwork. But before you dig out the paint tray and roller frame, you should wait approximately 28 days for the mortar to completely set. Use an angled brush for painting any difficult corners and use a roller for the rest. A second coat should be applied after 2 or 3 hours.

Final touches

If any efflorescence (white specks caused by dissolved salts in water brought to the brick surface and left after the water evaporates) does appear, this will need to be removed before painting. This can be rectified with white vinegar and water -excess moisture, leaks and damp rising will also need to be remedied before painting. If any of these issues arise, you can repoint the joints by removing existing mortar of around 1.6cm in depth, using an angle grinder.

Remove any dust and dirt from the joints and bricks with water. Then, re-mortar the joints while the wall is still damp but water is not visible. The wall should be kept damp for approximately 2-3 days. Grouting could be used as a substitute instead of mortar, but it is not as effective and durable.

When building your brick wall, you could either build it as a single brick width or as a double-brick wall. A double-brick wall is more common, where you would alternate horizontal and vertical laying bricks instead of using half bricks on each end. Also, if you are feeling particularly adventurous with your design, you could add pillars to the wall. The pillars look aesthetically pleasing and provide additional structure - they will need to be constructed to reach 1-2 rows above the brick wall itself.

Start planning your brick wall with the right materials 

If you feel inspired to build your own brick wall after reading this guide, Building Materials Nationwide is your one-stop shop for everything you will need to complete the job. We supply a wide range of different bricks and we also provide a Brick Matching Service to help you find the same bricks already used for your other walls. 

Our team is on hand to provide friendly and knowledgeable advice - be sure to call us if you have any questions. For trade customers, Building Materials Nationwide offers credit and cash trade accounts. You get access to a personal trade account manager who can organise your product deliveries and payments, as well as find the materials and tools you need from our 25,000+ products. Sign up for a trade account now via our website.