Exposure to the elements can take their toll and you may need to re-mortar brick steps. Instead of hiring a pro to replace crumbling mortar, you can easily re-mortar brick steps and do it yourself over the course of a weekend. Known in the trade as tuck pointing, the process of re-mortar involves grinding out old mortar and troweling in new mortar. The result is a set of brick steps that look brand new.
Here’s what you’ll need for this inexpensive intermediate level project:
- Pump Sprayer
- Scrub Brush
- ¼” Cold Chisel
- 4 ½” Angle Grinder
- 4 ½” Diamond Blade
- Shop Vacuum
- Mortar Tub
- 5 ½” Masonry Trowel
- Tuck-Pointing Trowel
- Masonry Brush (1/4-3/8”)
- Mortar Mix
- Muriatic Acid
When taking on this DIY task, be sure to equip yourself with the proper safety gear.
Prep the grinder. Start by equipping your angle grinder with a four-and-a-half-inch segmented diamond blade. Adjust the guard so it’s comfortable to hold the grinder at an angle to the steps.
Grind out the mortar. Put on eye protection, a dust mask, and work gloves, and begin grinding out the old mortar, being careful not to damage the brick. Grind about three fourths of an inch to one inch into each joint. You may have to readjust the blade guard as you work on the front of each step. Have a helper, also equipped with safety glasses, gloves, and a dust mask, hold the shop vac next to each joint as you work to remove dust and debris.
Chisel out the mortar in awkward spots. Some areas, like along the bottom of each riser, will be impossible to reach with a grinder. Use a hand chisel for these spots.
Brush out the joints. Remove bits of old mortar with a masonry brush and shop vac.
Mix the mortar. Pour your mortar mix into a masonry tub. Then, add the appropriate amount of sand, using a ratio of one part mortar mix to three parts sand. Mix the mortar and sand together. Make a bowl-like indentation and pour in the recommended amount of water. Thoroughly mix the mortar with a hoe until there are no dry pockets. When your mortar briefly sticks to your trowel as you flip it over, you’re ready to go.
Apply mortar. Take a small scoop of mortar with the top of your trowel and use it as mortar board to load your joints. Cut a long slice of mortar and push it into the joint with a one fourth to three eights inch top pointing trowel. Work the mortar in, filling the joint completely.
Smooth the step joints. Use the tub pointing trowel to smooth the mortar so it’s even with the brick. Remove the excess mortar immediately, as it can stain the brick.
Mortar the riser joints. Filling joints on risers requires a slightly different technique. Hold the trowel sideways to scoop the mortar into the joint, working from the bottom up. Smooth the mortar even with the brick surface, again, being careful to remove all excess.
Smooth mortar. To keep water from the base of the riser, add mortar and use the trowel handle to make smoothly rounded indentations between each step and riser.
Brush any excess. As you complete each step, use a masonry brush to get rid of any bits of mortar. The brush is just stiff enough to do the job but not too stiff that it will mar your joints.
Final cleaning. After your mortar cures per manufacturer instructions, dilute muriatic acid with water, once again following manufacturer instructions. Equip yourself with long sleeves, eye protection, and rubber gloves. Then, stray the stairs with the mixture. Use a concrete broom to remove any remaining bits of mortar and prevent staining. Leave the solution on the steps according to instructions. After cleaning all re-mortared areas, wash off the acid solution with a hose.
Your repair is complete. Step back and admire your newly re-mortared brick steps.