Like an interview or a welcome party, first impressions are everything. Give your home curb appeal with beautifully laid mortared brick steps. Your neighbors will be impressed with the classic design and even more surprised when you tell them you installed the steps yourself. Check out our step-by-step instructions for finishing steps with mortared brick below.
The method you use to finish concrete steps with mortared brick depends on whether you're pouring new steps or finishing existing steps. In both cases, the surface of the top step must be lower than the doorsill. If the surface will end up too high, you'll have to change the doorway or redesign the steps.
If you're pouring new steps, allow for the thickness of the brick and the mortar bed when you compute the unit rise. A computed unit rise of 6-1/2 inches, for example, finished with 2-1/4-inch-thick brick, would leave room for a 3-7/8-inch-thick concrete base. This thickness is probably strong enough for mortared steps but may not satisfy local building codes. You may have to change the number of steps to provide a thick enough base. If you're adding brick to existing steps, and they won't interfere with the door opening, use the technique illustrated here. The forms provide edges that will keep the brick in line.
Mortaring bricks to steps requires a poured concrete foundation that is solid and has a surface in good repair. Bricks set in a rowlock (shown) make a strong and durable surface, but you can experiment with other patterns. Bricks set on the treads can overlap risers by 1 to 2 inches, as long as the overlap is equal on each step.
To reface existing poured concrete steps, cut forms for the mortar bed from 3/4-inch plywood and drive 2x4 stakes next to them. Level the forms with the top edges 1/2 inch above the top of the steps. To mortar brick to newly poured steps, leave the forms in place and add a 1/2-inch extension to them. Cut 1/2-inch strips of plywood to the same length as the tread of each step. Fasten each strip to two 6-inch lengths of 1x4 with the top edges flush. Lay the strips on the top edge of the forms and fasten the 1x4s to the forms. These strips serve as a screeding surface for the mortar bed and don't have to contain the side stresses exerted by concrete.
Mix a small amount of premix mortar in a mortar box, following the instructions on the bag. Using a mason's trowel, spread about 1/2 inch of mortar along the bottom and on the face of the first riser.
Set the first riser brick in place. The joints on both the landing and the riser are 3/8 inch thick. Make sure the top of the brick is flush with the top of the step. Butter the end of the second and subsequent bricks and set them in place. When you have laid the riser brick, set a level across them to make sure they are level and flush.
Apply a layer of mortar about 1/2 inch deep to the surface of the first tread. Spread mortar on the top edges of the riser bricks you have already laid. Cut a 1x or 2x screed to the outside width of the forms and pull the screed across the mortar, working the screed from side to side as you go.
Set the bricks on the tread, starting at the rear of the step tread. Keep the bottom joint about 3/8 inch thick, and space the brick on the surface with 1/2- or 3/8-inch plywood spacers. Bed the brick in the mortar by tapping it with the end of the trowel handle. Remove the spacers as you go, and level the brick with a straightedge.
Using the same techniques, continue laying riser brick and tread brick, spacing and leveling each step. Let the mortar set thoroughly. Then mix up mortar for the joints. Squeeze the mortar into the joints with a mortar bag. Fill the joints completely.
When the mortar in the joints begins to firm up, tool them with a jointing tool. Smooth the horizontal joints first, then the vertical joints. That way rainwater will have a free path to flow off the front face of the steps. Let the mortar set up, then scrub off the excess with a piece of wet burlap. Allow the mortar to cure for five to seven days before you use the steps.
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