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Remove a Brick By Hand

Get the Right Tools and It's (Almost) Downhill From There

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Full-scale brick removal is needed whenever you want to make a large opening for windows or doors. In that case, you'll be using an electric masonry saw. But what if you want to remove one brick because it's cracked, imperfect, or you just need a space there?

Brick removal isn't rocket science; it's tenacious, gut-level work. It's messy and the flying debris can be dangerous. Manual, single-brick removal is more about assembling the right tools than employing any special techniques.

Tools You Need to Remove a Brick

Except for one or two tools listed below, most will already be in your shop or are easily obtainable at any hardware or home improvement store (no need to go to a store catering to the masonry trade).
  • Mortar Scraper: If you can find it, the mortar hook falls in the nice-to-have-but-not-necessary category. Shaped like a "U", the mortar hook has a pointed end to chip into the mortar, and its unique shape helps you scrape the mortar debris outward. Myself, I use a combination of tools--all of them old and banged-up (remember, anything you use for mortar will quickly get ruined). A blunt flat-head screwdriver works well on mortar for light tapping and scraping. Old drywall or putty knives will help you scrape out loosened mortar debris. The world of tools is your oyster: if it works, it works.
  • Eye Protection: Flying mortar hurts! I recommend eye protection with closed sides.
  • Spray Sock: Another improvised item, a spray sock is used by spray painters to keep overspray off the face. A hat will protect the head, but what about your face? That's why the spray sock is great. Like a ski mask, it covers all of your face except eyes and mouth. Unlike a ski mask, you won't overheat.
  • Cold Chisel: Fat, solid, and blunt, a cold chisel is made for chipping away masonry. It's not the same as a wood chisel. A cold chisel is one-piece and will not break. A wood chisel is two-pieces and most certainly will break with enough stress. Look for a cold chisel with a shock-absorbing handle. (Compare Prices - Cold Chisels)
  • Thick Leather Gloves: Leather gloves are preferable for working with brick. If you have gloves but not leather, you can most likely get away without buying gloves just for this job.
  • Hammer

Single Brick Removal - The Process

It's all about chipping out the mortar. If you remove the mortar, the brick follows. Don't worry about the whole wall or fireplace crashing down if you take out a single brick; removing one brick should not compromise the structural integrity.
  1. Begin chipping the mortar around the brick with the screwdriver or mortar hook. If the mortar is loose enough to scrape, so much the better. Tuckpointing mortar employs the same process of cleaning out mortar joints, though with tuckpointing you do not remove all of the mortar.
  2. Be careful not to chip surrounding brick. It's easy to damage existing brick with an errant swing of the hammer or a slip of the screwdriver.
  3. If you have a clear, accessible area behind the brick, your intention will be to remove all mortar and then knock the brick into this area. If you do not have an accessible space (i.e., if there are more bricks, cinderblocks, or other obstructions), begin to chip away at the side of the brick with your cold chisel. You will be breaking up the brick and removing it in chunks.
  4. Work in this fashion, removing a little mortar and then chipping away at the sides of the brick, until enough small pieces remain that you can pull out by hand.

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