Summary: Learn how to build a garden wall, build a stretcher bond wall, lay the first course, rack the wall ends, fill in between piers, point the joints, construct a corner and build a stretcher bond corner.
Bricklaying is a skill that requires a long time to master. However, there is no reason why the DIY enthusiast should not attempt to build garden walls. You must remember that planning permission may be required for walls that reach above a specified height, usually 2m (6ft).
Planning is the key to any garden construction. There are all kinds of brick, but for most projects medium density facing bricks will do. Steer clear of really soft bricks which can break down if open to the elements. All walls must be built upon firm foundations. How high and wide the wall is going to be will determine the depth of the foundations. Also, there are different ways of laying the bricks called brick bonds. Below we explain in more detail many of the terms and techniques related to bricklaying.
One factor that influences the number of bricks needed for the job is how the courses (rows of bricks) will be laid, so you first need to decide on the brick bond.
Bricks laid end to end with their long side facing out are called stretchers. Bricks laid with their short side facing out are called headers. The formation of headers and stretchers is known as the brick bond. There are three main bonds:
- Stretcher bond consists of a single ‘skin’ of bricks laid end to end. Looking at the wall side on, you will only see the short side of the bricks, which is equal to half a brick, hence the expression half-brick thick.
- English bond walls are made up from two skins (‘double skin’) of alternating courses – a course of stretchers, followed by a course of headers. From side on, you will see two half bricks side by side, hence the term full-brick or whole-brick.
- Flemish bond is created by alternately laying headers and stretchers in each course. If the first course begins with a header, the course above will begin with a stretcher and so on. Again, this type of wall is double-skin and a full-brick thick.
Marking out, excavating and laying strip footings
Before you can start laying bricks, you will need to dig foundations for the wall. These consist of trenches filled with concrete and are called strip footings (see How to build strip foundations).
Building a stretcher bond wall
The technique for building a wall is the same for all bond types – simply change the pattern of bricks accordingly. Building a simple single skin stretcher bond wall, as described here, is probably the best starting point for the beginner.
Laying the first course
It is essential that the first course of bricks is completely level; otherwise the rest of the wall will be out of true.
- Position the profile boards at either end of the footings. Attach two strings to the top of profile boards with the space between then the same as the width of the bricks. Make sure that both string lines are pulled taut.
- To maintain staggered courses, every other course will begin with a half brick. To find out how to cut bricks, see cutting bricks.
- Lay the bricks without mortar to check for positioning. Leave a 10mm (½ in) gap between each brick to allow for mortar.
- To build simple reinforcing piers at each end of the wall, you will need to begin with a header brick placed at right angles to the stretchers. In the angle between header and the first stretcher, place a half brick.
- Using a brick trowel lift a dollop of mortar and lay it at one end of the footings. Add more mortar until you have a bed of mortar 10mm (½ in) deep and enough to lay the first three bricks. Use the edge of the brick trowel’s blade to make furrows (indentations) in the mortar.
- If the bricks you are using have a frog, this must be facing upwards when you lay it. Using only a little pressure bed the first brick in the mortar.
- Use a spirit level to check it is it level with the string lines. When laying bricks, it is essential to check frequently they are level using a spirit level and the strings of the profile boards.
- Spread some mortar onto the end of the next brick. This is known as buttering.
- Position the brick next to the first one, bed it in and use the spirit level across the top of both bricks to make sure they are level. If the bricks are not level apply more pressure to the top or add more mortar.
- Continue laying the brick, two or three bricks at a time. Scrape away excess mortar from around the base and the joints of the bricks. Keep checking with a spirit level that the top is level and the front is vertical.
- When the first course is complete, remove the profile boards and string.
Racking the wall ends
The process of racking involves building up the piers and the ends of the wall, creating a series of steps leading up from the first course of bricks. Racking at either end of the wall makes laying bricks in the space between easier.
- Build up the pier at one end of the wall by a further 3 courses, alternating the bricks so that a course of headers face outwards followed by a course of stretchers.
- Check the joints between the bricks are even by checking them with a gauge rod.
- The first brick of each course beginning at the pier will now alternate between a whole brick and a half brick. So to create a stepped lead, butt the first brick against the pier on top of your first course. This will start off the second brick course.
- Lay several more bricks along the second course checking with a spirit level that the developing wall is vertical and level.
- Return to the pier and start laying the third course. Remember that to create the stepped lead the third course and all subsequent courses should end a half brick distance from the end of the course below it.
- Build the pier up by another 2 courses and add more steps, extending existing steps to maintain the stepped structure. Check with a spirit level that the pier and wall is vertical and level. And keep using the gauge rod to check the joint are even.
- Position the spirit level against the steps to check the gradient is even.
- Move to the pier at the other end of the wall and repeat the process to build a second stepped lead.
Filling in between piers
Now fill in the brick courses started off by the stepped lead.
- Insert line pins into the mortar joint above the first course of bricks at either end of the wall, and run a taut line between them. Use this as your guide for laying the second course. Move this line higher as you work on each course.
- If the wall is only to be built up to the top of the racked ends then fill in between the two stepped leads until you have reached the level you have racked up to.
- If you intend to build the wall higher than the height of the racking, infill two or three courses and then return to building up the racking.
- When laying the final course lay the bricks with the frog facing downwards. Alternatively, you can cap the wall with coping stones.
Pointing the joints
- Any areas between the brick short of mortar can be filled in at this stage.
- The mortar now needs to be left for a while to firm slightly. Drying time will vary so start checking after an hour.
- When the mortar is firm, you can create neat, uniform joint joints – this is called pointing. Pointing techniques and tools will vary according to the type of joint you are creating. For more information on pointing see pointing brick and block work joints.
Constructing a corner
The method for building a corner depends upon the brick bond you are using. Stretcher bond corners use whole bricks laid at right angles. English and Flemish bond walls use a brick cut in half lengthways, known as a queen closer, to fill in the gap and maintain the pattern of the bond. Whatever method you employ it is critical that angle at the corner is exactly 90°.
Building a stretcher bond corner
When building walls with corners it is important to start building the corner first.
- With the footings already laid, mark out the wall using a builder’s square and four profile boards with string lines running between them. The string lines will cross over where adjacent walls meet at the corner.
- Apply enough mortar along one footing to lay three bricks. Lay the first brick in the corner. Use the spirit level to make sure the brick at the corner is exactly in-line with the strings where they cross.
- Lay four or five more bricks next to the first brick to make the edge of one wall.
- To start building the second wall, lay a brick at right angles to the end brick the first wall, butting the header against the stretcher. Check with a spirit level that the bricks are in line with the strings.
- Continue laying more bricks along the footings of the second wall. Position the spirit level diagonally across the tops of both walls to check they are level.
- To ensure the bond is continued lay the first brick of the second course over the corner joint on the first course. Continue building up the corner in this fashion, using a gauge rod to check the mortar courses are even.
- With one corner built (or partially built) continue the first course in both directions to where the walls will end or come to the position of the next corner.
- If the wall needs to change direction again, repeat the method above for building a corner.
- With two corners built you can build up the wall between them following the instructions for building a straight wall.
Building a garden wall video
Summary: DIY video showing you how to construct a garden wall.