BrickTube

We had this crow statue sitting around for years with no place to go and a big pile of unused bricks, the remains of a failed parkway path project. Last week I finally got around to putting the two problems together by building a plinth out of brick.

To do this I had to review the ancient and challenging art of brickwork. Lacking an actual living person to learn brickwork from, always the best option, I resorted to YouTube.

Most of the brick how-to videos I found were far too short, leaving more questions than answers about a task that seems simple at first but is actually quite difficult. After much searching I discovered the work of a British stonemason who goes by the name Rodian Builds. Rodian’s videos are much more detailed than the other bricktubers out there.

What I like about Rodian is that he goes through every gesture in the process of laying a brick: how to get the mortar on the trowel, how to dump it off, how to hold the bricks etc. For a beginner these details are the difference between a far from perfect but acceptable project (my plinth) and a complete disaster (my past attempts at brickwork).

Some basics I learned from Rodian and from building my slightly wonky plinth:

  • Getting the first two rows as perfectly square and plumb is crucial. Mistakes accumulate as the rows of bricks go up.
  • I made a square out of scrap wood to the exact dimensions of the plinth so that I wouldn’t have to keep pulling out a tape measure. I could just hold my square up to the bricks to know that the plinth was square and exactly one foot on each side. This is a form of a storey pole, something that I’m familiar with from woodworking.
  • You can practice brick laying with wet sand. I’d recommend doing this before tackling a project.
  • Get all your bricks as close as possible to what you are building.

In terms of tools, all you really need is a level, a trowel and a ruler. I also have a pair of brick tongs for carrying bricks (we live on a hill so this tool is almost essential), a tub for mixing mortar and a chisel and mallet for cutting bricks.

Bricklayer, August Sander, 1929.

I like the idea of making small garden follies with bricks and can imagine other uses for brick structures in gardens. Could I build a wall or something structural? No way–not without a lot more practice. Brick work is intellectually challenging and hard physical labor. I have much respect for the people who do this for a living. I mean, just think about the man in that Sander photo above and ask yourself if you could do this while balancing on scaffolding many feet up in the air.

If you’d like to try your hand at a simple brick project I highly recommend two introductory videos by Rodian: one in which he makes a small brick pyramid, which he said is the first thing he was taught as an apprentice. If you’d like to make a plinth he has a video on that too. He also has videos on how to mix mortar and just about any brick project you can think of.

Leave a comment

2 Comments

  1. That’s a handsome plinth and a great reuse of the owl!

    I’ve watched a few of Rodian’s videos recently to teach myself how brickmasons build arches and he’s an exacting mason. I’m grateful that I’ll be using adobe bricks which, as a whole, don’t require the same precision as fired clay bricks. Still it’s great to watch a master plying at his craft.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. It seems that you always do beautiful work. I love that you made this out of items you already had. Since I am a crow/raven lover, I am quite jealous that you have this in your yard. NICE!
    Hope you and your wife are doing well. I would love to hear what projects she is working on.
    Blessings from the CA High Desert.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.