The Home Builder's Manual of Mud Brick Design and Construction, Rendering


Author: Alistair Knox

There are many diversified opinions as to how mud brick rendering should best be finished. The traditional approach of the mud brick revival has to my mind been by far the best method. It first involves pointing up the raw brickwork. The best time to do this is during the last half hour's work of the day when the mortar is still flexible. Some use a pointing or gauging trowel for this activity, others believe that the palm of the hand is better. Begin by scraping back any excess mortar and then take a handful of fairly dry mud and apply it to pit holes and irregularities in the wall and press it into any cracks and crevices with the hand or the trowel, whichever is preferred, until there is a general overall texture that is neither too smooth nor too rough. The vague outline of the bricks and mortar should be retained but not emphasized or raked out as is often done in exposed standard brickwork. The idea of expressing the mortar joints is strongly discouraged.

Earth wall building is not involved in superficial effects and features. It should emphasise a sense of inevitability, of having always been there like the sea and the sky or the Anaki landscape. A good way of thinking about the character of a mud brick wall is to finish it like the back of your hand where the skin covers the bones and flesh formation in an overall way without destroying its subtle sense of individuality. This permits each wall to convey something of the personality of the bricklayer to come through. As one becomes experienced it is possible to identify individual tradesmen in the walls they have laid. This is the unique quality of the material which separates it from all others. Mud brick are not hard to lay in themselves, but there is an unmistakeable difference between a good and a bad wall even though that may both be equally plumb and true. One difference that can be observed is the balance of the bricks in the wall that either gives a sense of rhythm or appears static and uncouth, in just the same way as one wall of stone can vary from another in the matter of stone selection and tradesmanship. But these considerations should not deter beginners, Mud bricks are large and somewhat uneven in shape so that they go together in a non-mechanical manner and retain a human rather than a technical spirit. They are best when they express an emotional spirit in the same way as English cottages and northern Italian houses do in their enduring landscapes. Robyn had to serve her apprenticeship on her own. The person she supposed to assist on her first job suddenly left after I had just got them started and gone overseas. I was amazed on my return three months later to see what an excellent job she had made of it. It was quite a difficult job which involved a series of curving walls of varying heights, but she toiled with unremitting persistence until every detail was complete - a rare achievement in a mud brick house. She had avoided the mistake of making the bricks so flush that they lacked character which can tend to make them look a little like concrete blocks. It is the subtle variation that the hand-made brick gives that appears right. The bricks themselves also vary here and there so that the end result is the producing of walls that have a 'living' quality.

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