Any brick structure needs a footing below the frost line. Each brick must rest on, and be joined to its neighbors by, 3/s inch of mortar. All courses, or layers, must be level; corners and faces must be plumb. Vertical joints must be staggered, each supported by a brick.
Before you start work, make a scale drawing of the structure’s elevations and ground plan. Decide on a bond, or pattern, then plan each course, calculating how many bricks you need.
Order 20 to 30 percent more. Like lumber sizes, the standard brick size, 22/s x 4 x 8 inches, is nominal; the real measurements are smaller, allowing for mortar joints. Exact measurements vary with suppliers; find out what they are before planning.
Staggered joints means using half or quarter bricks at times. Cut all the bricks before you start. You can use a circular saw with a masonry blade, or you can score the bricks with a chisel and break them off with a hammer.
When the footing has cured, outline the structure with chalk and lay out the first course without mortar, leaving 3/s-inch spaces between bricks. Mark the position of each brick with a pencil and remove them. Hose down the footing and about 25 bricks.
If the structure has a corner, begin there. Spread a 3/4-inch layer of mortar 3 bricks long and 1 brick wide. Carefully set the first brick 3/8 inch deep in the mortar. Butter another brick as shown, and lay it next to the first; trim off the excess and use it on the third brick. After laying three bricks, check the row with a builder’s level, tapping bricks down gently with the trowel handle as needed. Use the level as a straightedge, too, to align the front of the row. Then lay three bricks at a right angle to the first three to begin the face of the adjoining wall.
For a wall two bricks wide, lay the first three bricks of the back row next, buttering the end and edge of each; level them with the front row. For a running-bond wall, imbed galvanized wall ties at 12-inch intervals atop every third course.
Lay the first brick of the second course along the adjoining wall; if you are building from the end of a wall, use a half brick. Then lay the course in the same way, but make it one-half a brick shorter than the first. Continue, course upon course, until you have built a pyramid with a single brick on top; use a brick rule or a homemade story pole to position the height of each corner brick. Check the faces of both walls to see that they are plumb. Then build a similar pyramid in the other corner of the front wall.
From corner to corner, stretch a mason’s line even with the top of the first course; use it as a guide as you fill in the row. Work toward the middle, laying a few bricks at a time from each end and checking your work with the level. The last brick, or closer, must be buttered on both ends. Fill in the back row, then move the line to the top of the second course and repeat. Continue until the wall is filled in.
As you work, point the joints while the mortar is soft enough to take a thumbprint.