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How To Make Bricks

>3 October 2010
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Here’s something that’s been in my thoughts lately… how do you make homemade bricks? Like, the kind that the pioneers would have made for their chimneys. The kind that make up the old chimney which stands in our woods. I’d love to build some front steps, and boarder flower beds with bricks, but I definitely can’t afford the expense of buying them new! If I could make my own, that would be so cool.

I’ve been reading over countless tutorials, and searching through my books to find more info on how making bricks from clay is done. Here’s what I’ve put together:

1.You need to get the sandy soil-to-clay content right. The mixture should be 1/3rd clay, and 2/3rds sandy soil. Three good soil compositions for making bricks are: loamy sand, sandy loam, and sandy clay loam (if you know how to tell which yours is). One way to test this proportion in your soil is to put a handful of soil in a glass of clean water. Stir it up good, then let it settle overnight. In the morning, you should have separate layers: one of clay, and one of sand. By these layers you will be able to see what percentage of each your soil is made up of, and whether you may need to add more sand. Any organic matter will float. You do not want soil rich in organic matter.

2. Make a wooden mold to form your bricks. Size and shape depends on your preference and what it will be used for, though it does need a thickness of at least 4″. A mold which will hold multiple bricks can also be made.

3. Carry the soil mixture to a flat, sunny spot for processing and drying. It is important that you begin your brick making during a dry season, as it takes several weeks for the bricks to cure completely and the rain will turn them back into mud.

Mix enough water with the clay to form a dough consistency. It should not stick to your hands when handled, it should hold its form when shaped, yet still be liquid enough to fill a mold. It may help to crumble a small amount of dried straw into the wet soil, and mix it in well.

4. Press the loaf of clay into the mold, making sure to fill the corners well. Using a straight board, scrape the excess clay off of the top so as to leave a smooth surface on the brick. Allow the brick to sit for about half an hour, then remove it from the mold to continue drying. It should just slip out easily. It is good to cover the drying area with sand or straw so that the bricks do not stick and harden to the ground they are drying on.

5. Rotate the sun drying bricks every day, for at least three weeks, until thoroughly hardened. When the edges turn white, turn them up on their sides to completely dry. Protect them from any moisture.

*Now, I haven’t tried this yet, and I usually try not to post on things I haven’t done first hand, but I wanted to write this one for my own future reference, and so that you could have the info handy as well.

If any of you have ever made homemade bricks, or have any advice to share or corrections to make, I’d love to know what you think!

Homeschoolers: This would make an excellent project for the kids to do as a lesson!!

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15 Comments »

  • Michelle427 said:

    Kendra,

    While I have never made bricks or ever thought to make bricks (but my grandfather, was a bricklayer)I am constantly amazed by what you come up with. Over the past few months of being a subscriber to your blog I have learned things I never thought about learning. Thanks for not only your curiosity, but sharing with all of us.

    Michelle (a City Dweller, wishing she could be a homesteader)

  • Gardenatrix said:

    This sounds like a great way to make southwestern-style adobe, which will hold up for several decades or even longer. (There are adobe ruins still standing in Arizona that are approaching 100 years old.) I’ve worked in mud and adobe before, and it’s a fun medium to work with.

    Sun-dried bricks like this work very well in extremely dry climates like the desert. But, they aren’t nearly as strong or hard as kiln-fired bricks, which are what most masonry is made of. I can’t recall where you guys are, but that’s something to bear in mind if you’re looking for something more permanent.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    That’s sweet Michelle :) I enjoy encouraging others to begin thinking outside of the box!

  • Megan Jenelle said:

    Kendra!! Making bricks sounds like such a fun project!! A couple summers ago I took a group of students to visit Washington D.C. and Williamsburg, VA. While at Colonial Williamsburg we actually got to stomp on the clay they were using to make bricks. Getting to see this process, and participate was so fun!! I never thought about making them myself, but I think I will now!! Thanks for the great idea!! Have a blessed day!
    AFG
    Megan

  • Bonnie said:

    What a very interesting idea. I think we wil have to try that sometime. Good luck with your adventures.

    Have a great day

  • Mark said:

    In you investigation, did you find a quick way to find out where clay deposits (available to anyone) are located in your area? This seems to be a hold-up for me.

    Thank you for this post!

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Mark,

    I don’t know of any quick way to find clay, other than to dig… close to the creek is what I was planning.

  • max said:

    Hello, I was just fireing my bricks in my kiln today and there desent but not quite good enough. I wasn’t sure what the mixture was supposed to be so thank you for letting me know. It appears that I am using to much clay. I wasn’t even aware that u are supposed to use sand. But I can tell you this mix very very very well when you do make your mold ready mixture. Try to get as little air bubbles as possible they are quite the pain when fireing. And when you let them sun dry you want to turn and rotate them everyday for about three weeks depending on the weather. After three weeks in the sun let them sit under a roof stacked up by layers with hay peferably for about a week or so. I’m still working on getting the fireing down just rite. Good luck and if u got any that u find out please post would be very helpfull thanks -Max

  • paul said:

    as a builder for 35years, have see a few mud brick houses,
    would use conventional bricks for the footings such as besser blocks
    and have verandah all around the house, and on inside surfaces, render with cornice cement, as the mud brick can be flaky…

  • Kelly said:

    Kiko Denzer’s book “Earth Oven” has great information on building from cob and making your own from clay you can dig. I built a pizza oven from cob (you can see the step by step at http://www.primalpotter.com ) but it is not a weather proof material! Cob structures in rainy places have to be protected from rain. Still, most of the brick used in building came from relatively local sources. There used to be gigantic brick kilns all over the midwest. You could probably pit fire locally dug earthenware to get a more sturdy end product! Lots of drying first, though, or they will explode like a bomb.

  • bruce said:

    I’ve been using a home-built kiln for a few years now to make bricks.Mine are a little larger than most(16″x9″)and very heavy.I am eventually going to build my 1 story dream house with them.I didnt like the idea of having straw in my blocks so I have been using a rockwool and basalt combo instead of sand or straw.Makes a very tough block,took 3 wacks with a 10lb sledge to crack one in half.When I started I was told by a pro that the straw was just acting like a fibre to ad strength like in fiberglass/resin,I figured using two types of fire-proof fibres would do the same or better.I’m not a chemist or engineer but I wont be changing my mix anytime soon,it seems to work.Thanks for the info:)

  • Shaheer said:

    Great read ! Just few queries I would like you to answer , I will really appreciate the help.

    Since the brick was sundried for 3 weeks, we dont need furnace at all. Will it affect its strength ?

    Can any other material like sludge , ash can be added ? If yes , in how much proportion ?

    Ty.

  • teody said:

    I’ve seen very good houses built with mud bricks material and is one that will last for hundred years or more. A house in Toro, Bauchi State,Nigeria where we stayed and thought it was cement type, only when drilling the wall for curtain purposes that i realized its made of mud. From outside and inside one will always think its not mud material. I asked the local native people who built the house and said that an Englishman,named Col. Burlow was the one. And it was built sometime less than hundred years ago when tin mining was being done in Jos, Plateau State 50 km. away from this place. Its really amazing you see beautiful house surrounded by trees so breezy cool at the middle of local round mud houses of the native Hausa tribes people. The idea is mud sun dried bricks is so wonderful structural building material that is long lasting and could stand firmly strong very beautiful as any house you could see in modern times.

  • Levi Clayborne said:

    I have made many thousands of bricks in my time. First tip I’ll give you, is, DON’T FIRE YOUR BRICKS! It’s uneconomical, a lot of them will burst and crack for different reasons, and they never fire equally.

    Second tip : Line the inside of your mold with clear tape so that the clay wont stick.

    Third tip : Subsoil clay is the best! It’s unlimited, and works great! Don’t bother with deposits and veins of clay. Clay is EVERYWHERE, just dig it up from under the topsoil.

    Fourth tip : Although it’s not mandatory, I highly recommend you use chicken wire to sift out the massive rocks. Ya never know when you’ll have them in a shovel load.

    Fifth tip : Dig a shallow hole in the ground and place a tarp over it. Then sift your clay into that, along with water. From there, stomp it into a frenzy and make a nice, soft consistency.

    Don’t stack your bricks until they’re 100% dry. If you’re worried about none-fired bricks absorbing water, just remember that I live in Portland Oregon, where it rains like hell, all the time… but my bricks simply DON’T fall apart. Ever. If ya wanna seal em, paint em with used car oil after you’ve built a wall. ;)

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Levi, thank you so much for sharing your experienced advice with us!! I’m grateful for these tips.

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