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Masonry and its uses in construction

You’re maybe familiar with the term masonry, and maybe even that it’s used in construction.  But many of us aren’t much more familiar that, so let’s dive in and find out more!

What is masonry?

The materials covered by the term masonry include natural stone, manufactured forms made of clay brick, concrete block, cast stone, structural clay tile, terra cotta, and glass brick.  The most commonly used are brick, concrete block, and stone.

Brick and concrete blocks are typically laid using something called mortar. However if the units have an interlocking shape, some blocks can be “dry-stacked” without mortar. 

Natural stone is also often put in mortar, although it can also be dry stacked to create modestly tall walls for landscaping purposes.

Most masonry projects will also include supplementary materials like anchors, ties, flashing, or joint reinforcement in addition to the units and mortar. The units, mortar, and workmanship are just as crucial to excellent structural and functional performance as these accessories.

Masonry wall types 

In most residential construction projects in the USA, metal or wood stud framing is covered with a veneer of brickwork. Veneers distribute wind loads to the supporting wall while being non-structural and merely supporting their own weight.

Masonry is durable enough to act as a load-bearing structural wall that supports a building’s floors and roof. By the turn of the century, concrete, steel, and wood frame overtook load bearing masonry in popularity in construction. New structural masonry solutions are becoming popular among home builders because they are stronger and more cost-effective than historic load bearing masonry.

Masonry is strong in compression, but needs to have reinforcing steel added to increase resistance to tension and flexural loads. Masonry won’t burn, so it can be used to build fire walls between multifamily housing units. It is also used between closely spaced single-family homes or townhouses. It can withstand wear and tear to be used as paving, and the majority resists weather well without any form of protective covering. When correctly designed and built in accordance with modern building requirements, masonry can offer effective thermal, acoustical, and earthquake resistance.

tension and load of masonry

Almost any masonry material or combination of materials can be used to fulfil a wide range of needs. However, individual masonry materials are typically chosen based on aesthetic factors like scale, colour, and texture.

Masonry expands and contracts with temperature changes, yet it is more stable than metals and polymers. Wood, masonry, and concrete all experience expansion and contraction when the moisture level varies. To handle the combined effects of heat and moisture movements and prevent the masonry from cracking, flexible anchorage, reinforcing, control joints, and expansion joints are used.

Brick masonry

Brick can be created from a variety of materials, but the most popular kind is formed from regular clay soil. The world’s oldest manufactured building material, clay brick, is still one of the most popular. It is thought that burnt bricks have been used since about 3,000 B.C., and sun-dried mud bricks for roughly 10,000 years.

an image of piles of bricks

In dry climes, sun-dried bricks are a classic building material still used today in many nations. The diagram shows moulded bricks. Modern clay brick is often burnt at temperatures above 1000 °C in a sizeable kiln to create bricks that are incredibly dense, hard, and long-lasting.

Concrete masonry

Large block and smaller brick size units both fall under the category of concrete masonry units (CMUs). Cement, sand, and crushed stone or gravel aggregate are combined and moulded to create concrete masonry units.

Concrete block is widely used in commercial buildings. Although conventional grey concrete blocks are quite basic, they can be coated to enhance their appearance and prevent them from absorbing moisture.  Despite having similar sizes and dimensions to clay bricks, concrete bricks are not as popular.

types of concrete bricks

Concrete blocks come in a variety of sizes depending on the region. For instance, concrete blocks in the UK often have a substantially bigger surface area to accommodate weight carrying. Blocks typically measure 440mm in length, 215mm in height, and can vary in width based on requirements. While several manufacturers offer odd sizes for particular project kinds, the majority stick to normal sizes.

Stone masonry

In constructions, stone is utilised in a variety of ways. Stone masonry is a technique for building that involves laying stone in mortar to create structures like walls, arches, and vaults. Also known as stone cladding, it can be mechanically fastened to a building’s walls or structural frame as a facing. Yet here, the emphasis is on stone masonry that has been mortared.

The word “stone” can be used in a variety of contexts. It can be recognised by the form in which it is applied, such as flagstone, ashlar, or rubble.

an image of stone masonry

The size and shape of a rubble stone are erratic. Rubble made of fieldstone is taken from fields in its unaltered, uneven, and smooth natural state.

When big slabs of stone are cut and removed from stone quarries, leftover stone bits are called quarried rubble. Fieldstone rubble has all of its surfaces weathered, whereas quarry rubble has recently fractured faces that may be angular and sharp. Working with rounded fieldstone and river-washed stone can be challenging due to their unstable stacking due to their smooth, curving surfaces. Rubbish that is rounded or oddly shaped can be roughly squared using a hammer to make it more easily fit together. More angular quarried debris might need to be trimmed with a mason’s hammer for better fit. Depending on its size, shape, and desired aesthetic, sandstone can be put out in a variety of ways.

There is obviously a lot more to each of these types of masonry – enough to fill a library!  We’re not going to go any further into them for now, but we’ll be diving in a bit deeper in some further articles so keep an eye out.  In the meantime you can read an interesting article on the advantages and disadvantage of masonry construction here.

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