A fireplace saves homeowners money on heating costs, particularly if it is a wood burning fireplace. Even gas burning fireplaces are desirable features in homes because they provide ambience for relaxation. All fireplaces should have a hearth, which is an area under and in front of the fireplace that is made of a fire-resistant material. Brick is a widely popular choice for hearths because of its appearance, affordability and low-maintenance requirements.
The pattern in which the bricks are laid depends entirely on homeowner preference. Perhaps the most common is the running bond pattern, in which all bricks run and face the same direction, but the bricks on top are centred on the joints of two bricks below. In a stack bond pattern, bricks are lined up in vertical columns. In a basket weave pattern, two bricks are laid vertically and two bricks beside it are laid horizontally in an alternating pattern. Bricks are arranged in L-shapes to create a zigzag effect in the herringbone pattern. Try a variation of any of these styles, such as a running bond pattern that consists of squares of bricks laid around a centre square. Builders also have the option of creating a hearth that is elevated off the floor level; bricks are laid to cover an elevated, wooden frame.
Framing and Layout
Before laying bricks in place permanently, the builder must build a frame and lay out the bricks. Wooden frames are temporary and put in place to help keep the bricks tight and the pattern square. Run a string line across the frames to keep the brick heights level. After building the temporary frame, arrange the bricks inside it to make sure the design fits. Cut bricks with a hammer and brick chisel as needed to fit into corners and ends.This is also the ideal opportunity to see how a pattern looks before installing it. Make notes of how the bricks are arranged before removing them to begin installation. You will have to remove the laid out bricks from the hearth area in order to install them, but keep them near the work area for easy access.
Mortar is a mixture of lime, cement, sand and water, and is the substance that binds bricks together. Mix the mortar to a consistency similar to soft clay so that it is firm enough to support the bricks. Only mix a small amount of mortar at a time -- about as much as you could use in one to two hours time. This is especially important for inexperienced bricklayers so the mortar does not harden if the job takes longer than expected. The colour of the mortar depends on the type of sand used in the mix, so choose a light-coloured sand if you want light-coloured mortar joints.
Scoop up a pear of mortar with the trowel and place it on the foundation or floor surface. Hold the first brick in one hand and pick up another pear of mortar. Smear the mortar on the bottom and inward-facing sides of the brick and then place it into the mortar; tap it into the mortar with a mallet. Repeat this with each brick, ensuring you only put mortar on the sides that will touch another brick. When placing a brick beside another brick, tap the side to ensure a tight fit. Check the top of the bricks with a level as you work to ensure a level hearth. Use more or less mortar under bricks to compensate for uneven areas.
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