Reclaimed bricks are old bricks which have been salvaged from demolition jobs and carefully cleaned to remove all the old mortar so that they can be reused on new projects. There’s a huge range of bricks ranging in colour texture and size – from old Victorian bricks to hand made bricks and old London Stocks
Whether you’re building an extension or patching in a damaged area, using reclaimed bricks will help with blending and matching the new work. There are two possibilities for sourcing reclaimed bricks – buying them in or salvaging your own. A good example of the latter might be where you are building an extension at the back of the house and will be demolishing the wall between. This wall could be a good source of reclaimed bricks. Of course, you may not have anything like as many as you need but, mixing these with a bought in load will give a well blended appearance.
Where the old bricks are bedded in lime mortar, the job will be relatively easy. It is a labour intensive job and, cleaning hundreds of bricks will take some time but the results can be well worthwhile.
Reclaiming the Bricks
Wear suitable protective gear when cutting out and cleaning the bricks. Use a club hammer and bolster chisel to cut into the mortar bed between the bricks. On lime mortar this will be reasonably easy but on sand and cement mortar it’ll be a lot harder. As you cut into the mortar, the brick will be prised away from the others and can be lifted out. Cut out one brick at a time and put aside ready for cleaning.
A good set up for doing this is something similar to a plasterer’s spot board. Set up a board on trestles at a comfortable height and you’ll avoid a lot of back ache later.
Large remnants of mortar can be cut away quite easily. Using your bolster lined up almost flat on the brick edge, tap it sharply with the hammer and the mortar will often come off in one chunk. Smaller remnants take a little more effort as they need to be chipped away carefully so as to avoid damaging the brick face. A brick hammer is the best tool for this job. Using the square flat end, tap away gently on the mortar residues till the brick is clean.
Remember only one (or two at corners) of the brick faces will show so provided one face is clean enough, the others are less important. They need to be sufficiently clean that they will sit square with the next brick and allow for a full mortar joint, but they don’t need to be perfect. Any final cleaning off can be done with a wire brush but don’t overdo it. Some old bricks are fairly soft and you could damage the face. You can also use a carborundum or rubbing store to clean off stubborn bits.
Cleaning and Storing the Reclaimed Bricks
Finally, if needs be, bricks can be washed in a weak solution of muriatic acid. This is very caustic so follow the manufactures instructions carefully and wear suitable protective gear. Once the bricks have been washed they should be thoroughly rinsed.
Stack the cleaned bricks somewhere out of the way and ready for reuse. Stack them in ‘towers’ laying two bricks one way then two the other for stability. Some bricks will inevitably break as the wall is being taken apart. Half bricks can be stacked in a separate heap. On a good job where lime mortar has been used you’ll probably be able to reclaim around 80% - 90% of the bricks.
Sand and Cement Mortar
Where sand and cement mortar has been used it can be far more difficult to reclaim any bricks. The mortar is harder and can be difficult to clean off successfully. If they are not salvageable then the wall can simply be broken up a section at a time. It can actually depend on the time of year when the bricks were laid. In hot summer, everything dries out more quickly. The moisture in the mortar is sucked into the bricks and this can weaken the bond. If that’s the case, you may find the mortar comes away more cleanly. On the other hand, bricks laid in colder wetter months are more likely to have a stronger bond making them unlikely to be suitable for reclaiming.
Trying to reclaim previously reclaimed bricks bedded in sand and cement mortar is unlikely to be successful. The bricks have already been knocked about a bit the first time and, the mortar will have bonded into any cracks. This results in the bricks breaking rather than the mortar when you try to salvage them. Remember that any remaining unsalvageable bricks makes good hardcore so stack this to one side of the job to use as a sub base for oversite concrete and the like
Buying Reclaimed Bricks
There are plenty of companies specialising in reclaimed bricks. Many of them offer a matching service so they will source the best match they can for your project. Many also provide samples of the bricks they hold in stock allowing you to assess them on site before ordering.