Ideas from Ed: Bad Joints (Volume 4, Issue 5)

…I mean, the kind of mortar joints in old masonry, or in this case, a stone monument at a local park. I was asked to help repair it, prior to the replacement of the plaque which was attached (until some local low-lifes pilfered it). Time and weather are enemies of practically everything, and this monument has suffered more than its share of damage. The plan did NOT include trying to reposition it, but only to seal up the gaps in the stonework that were highly visible, allowing water to get in. The damage would only continue to worsen if left unrepaired. Here’s a picture of the left side, showing the need for the work.

Did you notice a handful of stones in one of the large gaps? I packed them there to help fill in the area so that less repair mortar would be needed.

I’ve written before about the mortar that I like to use in situations like this. Remember, I don’t endorse a particular brand but only show you what I use. Certainly there are other companies that have similar products.

I like what’s shown because of its rapid setting time, and because it’s easily modified. You can add plasticizer if you want it to “flow” better, or use cold water to slow the set time, or hot water to hasten it. Because the “normal” condition is a fast set, I only mix up the amount that I think I can use in about 10 minutes.

All I use for work like this is a tub meant for vehicle oil changes, a water jug, and several small tools like these:

Rubber gloves really should be worn, too, and I do if I’m in contact with the mortar mix for long. It is hard to work in gloves, but without them, hands must be kept rinsed continually or the chemicals in the mortar will “burn” the skin.

Here’s me packing the freshly-mixed mortar into a joint. The larger trowel was used for big gaps, and the “pointing” trowel for smaller ones:

There’s really no secret method here. It’s just a matter of getting everything compacted into place. What I did for the smaller joints was to hold a scoop of the mortar mix on the back of the larger trowel and use the smaller one to scrape globs of it into the cracks. The major advantage of the fast setting time is that in several locations, I found it most productive to manually hold everything in place for a few minutes. Once the set began, I could remove my pressure on the joint and just let things progress naturally. Here I’m working on the front face. The left side has already been completed:

Here are two pictures, showing the front and the right sides as completed. All that’s left to do is to add a new plaque to the face (hopefully something of little value to discourage thieves). The moral of the story is that sometimes with minimal tools, but the right ones, pretty decent do-it-yourself repairs are possible. Don’t be afraid to tackle these projects!

I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!


If you’d like to download a PDF of this “Ideas” column, click here:

Ideas from Ed 2021-May-Bad Joints
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