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Pointing with lime mortar ~ Part 3 = Technique

Category: Starter for 10 February 24th, 2011 by mbc

Lime Pointing Tips

Here’s my take on how to go about pointing with a lime based mortar – others may have differing guidelines – this is very much my take.

This post is this third in the series.

In the first instalment, I covered the tools of the (pointing) trade.

The second instalment was about lime mortar and how to go about making it.

Now in part three I’ll address – pointing technique


Firstly the old mortar joints will need cleaning out. If the old mortar is really rotten or dirty then a pressure washer can be used initially to clean down the masonry and blast out any really lose rotten mortar.

With a hand pick work back the mortar to give a repointable joint. When repointing over old mortar, a joint of around 25mm / 1 inch depth will allow a good packing in of fresh mortar that will be able to carbonate externally and remain stable over time. Too deep a treatment and the deepest mortar, deep in the joint and away from the air will remain too moist and too flexible and potentially be unstable. For deep joints point in ‘shifts’ of 25mm or so at a time, allow the mortar to go-off between applications. If you can’t get down to the ideal 25mm joint don’t worry too much, I’ve pointed plenty of shallower joints that are still sound after several years.

Some advisors on the subject talk about the need for a squared internal surface to point up against (in contrast to a rounded one). Whilst probably ideal, this is time consuming to achieve and so unless you’re lucky enough to have abundant time for your pointing project I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Square the corners if you can, but don’t fret about it if you can’t.

If the existing mortar is sound, then I leave it in place – if it ain’t broke

Before applying new mortar, damp down the wall before pointing. Use a bristled brush and a bucket of water. Personally, I favour a ‘flick’ technique – water in bucket – dip brush and flick! Get right into the joints that you’re repointing. The warmer the day the keener you’ll need to be. On a generally damp, cold, dismal day (not that we get many of those in Wales!) your damping down will likely be minimal.

It’s best to point a wall top-down – that way you can damp down the wall without damaging or washing out previously pointed joints lower down the wall.

So, to work…
Load your small pointing hawk with a trowel full of mortar, then using your trowel of choice (either a ‘normal’ pointing trowel or a smaller ‘trowel and square tool’ as I discussed in part 1) take up a sliver of mortar on the back-face of the trowel appropriate to the size and shape of the joint you are pointing and push the mortar into the joint. Use the trowel to work the mortar fully into the joint and tidy up any that doesn’t go where you want it to.

After pointing a length of joint or a discrete area of wall then go back over your work, tidying and smoothing along the length of joints to get a consistent finish.

…and repeat…

Where you have wide and / or deep joints it’s important to use pinning stones to reduce the width / depth of the joints and so reduce the amount of mortar you need which in turn will reduce the time needed for setting and carbonation of the joint.

For very narrow or very shallow joints do what you can. Sometimes you’ll need to pack the mortar into a very narrow joint – place a blob of mortar on the joint and repeatedly press the mortar into the joint, hopefully filling it slowly. I’ve been known to build up very shallow joints to stand proud of the masonry surface, although this is more of a cosmetic affectation than a practical necessity.

Cleaning up
I must admit to being a bit lax when it comes to finishing the joints. Ideally, after around 24 hours you will tidy up your pointing. At this stage the surface of the mortar will be hard with softer mortar underneath. A brush with stiff bristles (but not too stiff as you’ll just end up ruining your good work of the day before) can be used to tidy up the joints, remove excess ‘tags’ of mortar and mortar that is misplaced on the masonary.

When to point
You can point for most of the year in the UK (except perhaps in the far north), I tend to ‘retire’ over the Winter – Novemberish to Marchish. Keep an eye on the five day forecast when pointing and have a tarpaulin or sacking ready to cover over any pointing should a sharp shower unexpectedly arrive. Don’t let rain anywhere near your freshly pointed joints. Beyond that, fill your pointing boots…

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Installing Freesat – Starter for 10

Category: Starter for 10 February 11th, 2011 by mbc

Given the problems I’d had with the signal from the TV aerial I thought I’d look into satellite TV. There was no way I was going to pay and any escape from the clutches of Sky seemed to be liberating. With the promise of more HD channels than Freeview, Freesat looked to be the way to go.

Starter for 10

The 'Starter for 10' series is my way of sharing some of my experiences.

I'd love to receive any hints, tips or advice you may have that will add to those already given. Any that are worthy of inclusion will be added with appropriate acknowledgements.

Just post your suggestion as a comment below... thanks

(As it transpired, the problems I was having with the digital signal from the roof mounted TV aerial (the signal dropped intermittently and TV screen went blank momentarily) were more to do with the TV I was using than the signal and the allure of more HD channels on Freesat doesn’t stand true any longer after the introduction of Freeview HD last year – but you live and learn.)

So with a dish, cabling, a Freesat receiver, a satellite finder and a compass I set about looking for satellites…

I’ll not go into too many details about getting the dish up on a wall as it’s pretty straight-forward. I will give one word of warning – make sure that you get the moveable hinge on the bracket that you fix the dish to the wall with correctly aligned so that you’ll be able to move the dish horizontally from east to west rather than up and down as I did first time!

You’ll need to run cables to the dish from your receiver. For Freesat with a receiver with two tuners you’ll want to run two cables so that you can watch one channel and record another or record from two channels simultaneously. Buy good quality cable – I used PF100 Coaxial Satellite Cable bought in a 100 metre long roll.

From Barn Conversion 2011

My cable run is quite long (over 25 metres) and I was worried about loss / degradation of signal. However, having experimented, the key to maintaining a good signal seems to be maintaining uncut runs of cable. I’ve had more problems getting a strong, uninterrupted signal through cables that have joins along their length than from long cables. So try and run complete, uncut lengths of cable, rather than patching together bits and pieces.

You’ll need f-type plugs for connecting the cable to the receiver at one end and the LNB at the other. Buy them by the pack from a DIY or tool retailer rather than individually from an electrical store as you’ll tend to get more for your money. I recommend outdoor compression f-type connectors for connecting the cable to the LNB.

Let’s start to align the dish. Firstly, make sure the receiver is switched off…

From Barn Conversion 2011

With the dish wall mounted but still lose, we first need to get the skew on the LNB set correctly. This is a pretty dull subject and most dishes will have a leaflet with a map that will tell you how to set your particular LNB correctly for your location, so please refer to that.

Next we’ll get the dish aligned vertically. With a spirit level held vertically across the face of the dish get it level. Tighten the appropriate nuts and bolts on your bracket to retain the level …easy hey?!

We then move on to the more tricky horizonal alignment.

Luckily, I’m able to get a clear view of the sky from field to the side of the barn, so I’ve no issues about a blocked line of sight to the Freesat satellites. The satellites we need orbit over Africa and can be found in the south-east of the sky. We’ll be looking for the Astra group of satellites at 28.2º east for TV channels and the Eurobird satellite at 28.5º east from which the electronic programme guide (EPG) is transmitted.

The easiest way to find the satellites is with a satellite finder. This is a small gadget with a dial on it that also gives an audible indication of the satellite signal strength from the current bearing of your dish. Make sure you’ve switched your receiver off. Attach a short length of cable to the ‘To LNB’ (or equivalent) f-type socket of the finder then connect this to the LNB. Connect the cable from your reciever to the ‘To receiver’ (or equivalent) socket of the finder.

Switch your reciever on – this will power the satellite finder and you can start hunting satellites.

I found it easiest to start with the dish pointed east (many online guides suggest start from the south but the sky seems more cluttered with satellites when coming from that direction).

Move the dish slowly from the east, southwards aligning the dish with the first strong signal you can find as you move toward the south. Lock the dish onto the signal by tightening the approriate nuts and bolts.

Now check your reciever. Most boxes have some method of checking signal strength (for example, on a Humax FOXSAT-HDR the select Menu > System > Diagnostics) so go to the appropriate page on your system and check signal strength. If signal strength is low then tweak the positioning of the dish. As long as you’ve found the correct satellites you should only need to make very small adjustments so be careful.

Once happy with the signal then remove the satellite finder, connect both cables to the LNB and recheck signal strengths. In a dual tuner system, if there’s a problem with the signal to one tuner and not the other your issue is probably with the cable or connections so recheck all the connections before moving the dish.

Once happy with the signal then make sure that your dish is bolted firmly in place.

With a long cable run you may want to use an in-line LNB satellite signal booster on each cable. They are best installed close to the dish where there is more of a signal to boost. In my case, I’ve placed them just over half-way along my cable run – after the cables enter the house where they are patched into the cabling that runs to the wall sockets. They seem to have boosted my signal significantly.

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Pointing with lime mortar ~ Part 2 = Mortar

Category: Starter for 10 December 31st, 2010 by mbc

Lime Pointing Tips

As I near the end of my repointing opus magnum I feel a little more qualified to advise on pointing with lime mortar than on most of the subjects I blather on about on this blog.

So here’s my take on all things lime mortar related – others may have differing guidelines – this is very much my take. This post is this second in the series.

Firstly, I covered the tools of the (pointing) trade now I’ll move onto lime mortar and how to make it.

From Pointing ~ tools

What went before?
When repointing an old building you may want to match the new mortar to the original mortar – a similar mortar mix, with a similar colour and texture. Many lime suppliers will analyse a piece of your original mortar and suggest the best way to achieve a match. Alternatively, you might want to do your own piece of psuedo-science and like me carry out your own lime analysis with a piece of the original mortar and an acid to dissolve the lime.

From your analysis you’ll start to form a picture of the exact mortar mix you’ll be using. You need to stick with the same mix for the whole of the job to ensure consistency of finish so make sure you’ve enough raw materials before you start.

Putty or powder?
One of the first questions you need to answer is what type of lime you’re going to use. There are two main choices – lime putty or powdered hydraulic lime.

Fat lime putty is produced by slaking quicklime with excessive amounts of water, thus forming a lime putty with a high water content. This form of lime does not set unless it comes into contact with air and so is ideal where some degree of flexibility is required – below the surface the lime does not fully set and so if the mortar cracks the newly exposed lime will set and re-establish a sound joint.

Natural hydraulic lime (NHL) dry powder products are similar in appearance and usage to dry powder cement products. Differing strengths of hydraulic lime products are available:

  • Feebly hydraulic lime (known as NHL 1 & 2), is slow setting (taking up to 20 days to set in wet conditions) and is suitable for internal use or external use where the masonry being pointed is very soft.
  • Moderately hydraulic lime (NHL 3.5), faster setting and used for pointing most types of stonework.
  • Eminently hydraulic lime (NHL 5), faster setting again and used for very exposed areas of pointing or floors.

As a rule of thumb you should never use a lime that sets harder than any masonry it’s in contact with.

Personally, I work with and recommend lime putty for pointing masonry walls which is where my experience lies.

Mortar Mixing
Powdered lime mortar can be treated pretty similarly to cement and a mixed by hand or in a cement mixer.

For mixing lime putty there are three main methods, in ascending order of ease and cost:

  1. By hand
  2. Using a drill with mixer attachment.
  3. By mortar mill (a £2000+ option)

I tend to mix small amounts of mortar as I use it – the equivalent of about four shovels-full of mortar lasts me about half a day. I use a drill with a mixer attachment. For most amateurs working on their own that is more than sufficient. Each mix takes 5 or 10 minutes and usually comes as welcome relief from starring at a wall. Originally I mixed by hand, which is a lot more time consuming, but good exercise and I certainly wouldn’t dissuade anyone from starting off in that way.

One advantage of using a putty based mortar is that any left unused can be stored, covered over and kept dry and then knocked up (that is worked briskly with a trowel) the next day or week ready to be used – only the top most layer will go off in contact with the air. Add a little splash of water if it dries out a bit.

Be careful when adding water to lime mortar at any stage – a little goes a long way.

You can also buy premixed mortar in which case no mixing is required. I’ve only come across a premixed mortar when being used by a neighbour – the mortar failed to go off and needed to be replaced so I’d certainly approach premix with caution.

When using a mortar gun you’ll need a smoother and sloppier mix than normal. No stones, pebbles or lumps of mortar or you’ll clog up the gun.

The mix I use, which gives a light coloured finish similar to the original mortar is:

  • 1 part lime putty
  • 2 parts builders sand
  • 1/2 (half) part kiln dried sand (for colour and to dry down the mix a little)
  • 1/2 part sharp sand
  • – this gives me some texture and a some particles than the builders sand alone, when using the mortar gun this can be left out to ensure a smooth mix

You’ll need to derive your own mix that suits your circumstances – then stick with it for the duration of your project.

In Part 3 I go on to discuss pointing technique

Previously… In Part 1 we looked at tools for pointing

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Pointing with lime mortar ~ Part 1 = Tools

Category: Starter for 10 December 23rd, 2010 by mbc

Lime Pointing Tips

As I near the end of my repointing opus magnum I feel a little more qualified to advise on pointing with lime mortar
than on most of the subjects I blather on about on this blog.

So here’s my take on all things lime mortar related – others may have differing guidelines – this is very much my take. This post is this first part of a series of 3 or 4 (I’ll see how I get on).

Firstly, I’ll cover the tools of the (pointing) trade.

From Pointing ~ tools

You need some pretty specialist tools for pointing. Nothing too exotic or hard to find, but I think it’s important to get the correct tools – tools that have the right size, weight and balance for the job. As a generally

For damping down the wall before pointing, you’ll need a good bristled brush and a bucket of water. I favour the ‘flick’ technique – water – bucket – dip brush and flick! Some people advocate the use of a garden water spray but that seems a little too fiddly to me.

From Pointing ~ picks

You’ll need a good hand pick or preferably two to allow for spreading them around your work area and keeping at least one close to hand. Use the pick for hacking out the old mortar to give a repointable joint. The pick will soon blunt and so a tool for resharpening is also recommended.

There are various machinery based options involving drill attachments and angle grinders that can be used for cleaning out old pointing joints, but I avoid them for fear of damaging the stonework.

From Pointing ~ hawk

To hold the mortar whilst pointing you need a hawk. Small pointing hawks rather than larger plasterers hawks are quite hard to come by, try your lime supplier first as they tend to stock them. A small hawk, by that I mean one that can accommodate a good trowel full of mortar and not much more is pretty essential when it comes to slow, delicate repointing work. Too large a hawk with too much mortar on it becomes surprising heavy surprisingly quickly.

From Pointing ~ trowels

I use two different size trowels, a normal sized pointing trowel for initially applying mortar to the joints and a smaller ‘trowel and square tool’ for finishing off – smoothing down the fresh mortar, cleaning off excess and filling small gaps. If you have straight mortar joints or need to work mortar into narrow recesses then a finger trowel may be of use, although mine is rarely used. I must admit to probably over-using the small trowel and encourage you not to do the same. I’m sure I could have worked much more quickly if I’d used a proper sized trowel whenever I could have. I’m trying to remedy that now by working with the larger trowel whenever possible, but I soon lapse back to my old ways if I’m not careful.

From Pointing ~ I’ve pointed
100 sqm+ with this sucker…

From Pointing ~ hammer

You’ll also need a masonary or brick hammer for hammering pinning stones into the original mortar bed to achieve a firm bedding before pointing (there’ll be more on what I mean by this in the technique section).

You’ll also need a wire brush or two (I always favour doubling up on tools that you’re not using all the time – with two around it’s more likely that at least one will be at hand). A hard bristled brush is also handy for cleaning off old lose mortar and misplaced or untidy dried new mortar. Do be careful when using a wire brush and try to keep it away from your nicely pointed joints as it will easily damage them.

From Pointing ~ gun!

I bought a mortar gun way back when I first started pointing. At the time I couldn’t get on with it at all. I’d try using it and usually give up in disgust at the amount of time I was wasting filling it, clogging it up, emptying it and repeating the whole cycle whilst achieving very little in the way of pointing. However, after much trial and error I came to a happy compromise with it and learnt when to try using it and when not to bother. The key is getting the mortar to the correct consistency (much sloppier than you’d mix for normal pointing) and like a good gravy ensure there are no lumps (of stone or lime) in it. Too firm a mix will clog the gun and you’ll end up pressing water out of the mortar rather than mortar out of the gun. Any lumps of stone or lime putty will block the nozzle of the gun and nothing will come out. As you’ll be using a sloppy and smooth mortar mix it’s only really suitable for filling deep or inaccessible holes in the mortar and in relatively dry conditions that will allow the mortar to lose a lot of moisture relatively quickly – I tend to not damp the wall down prior to using this mortar. In practice I only use the gun when I have deep and / or inaccessible joints to repoint. The gun does the bulk working, pumping quantities of mortar into the joints first, I then finish the top layer of pointing in the normal way by hand.

In Part 2 I go on to discuss lime mortar

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Tiling – Starter for 10

Category: Starter for 10 August 24th, 2009 by mbc

From, often painful and time consuming experience, whilst not claiming to any kind of authority, I suggest the following sequence to tiling (others may have differing guidelines):

Tiling Tips
  • Get a level consistent floor. (More below…)
  • [optionally] Skip this step if using glazed tiles. Seal / stain-guard tiles. If expecting a really messy job, or tiling an awkward space you may want to seal or prime before fixing to save effort later.
  • Layout tiles.Check for colour and size variations. (more below…)
  • Fix tiles with adhesive.
  • [optionally] Prime or seal tiles. Protecting the tiles before grouting may sometimes be in order but you’ll need to grout neatly and not use any strong cleaning products later on.
  • Grout your tiles.
  • Clean your tiles. Apply plenty of elbow grease or opt for a chemical (alkaline or acid based depending on the material your tiles are made from) cleaner.
  • Skip this step if using glazed tiles. Seal / stain-guard tiles. If expecting a really messy job, or tiling an awkward space you may want to seal or prime before fixing to save effort later.

Starter for 10

The 'Starter for 10' series is my way of sharing some of my experiences.

I'd love to receive any hints, tips or advice you may have that will add to those already given. Any that are worthy of inclusion will be added with appropriate acknowledgements.

Just post your suggestion as a comment below... thanks

When tiling on existing timber floors, install a plywood liner to provide a level and even floor on which to tile.

Some adhesive manufacturers will recommend priming the surface to be tiled with PVA, if so follow those instructions, if not, then don’t!

A blindingly obvious statement, but worth making – Ensure that you have sufficient tiles, spacers, adhesive and / or grout prior to starting work – it’s easy to under-estimate and frustration when you do so.

Start tiling from the centre of the room. Don’t be tempted to tile from an edge of the room towards the centre, starting with a whole tile – the visual effect won’t be quite right. The centre of the central tile must be in the centre of the space being tiled.

For natural stone or unglazed tiles you may want to seal them before fixing or grouting to help prevent excessive staining or marking from the tile adhesive and grout. However, you’ll need to be very neat as you shouldn’t then use a chemical cleaner to remove dried on adhesive or grout at later stages of your installation.

For tiles that vary in thickness, height and / or width (more likely an issue with natural stone tiles) it is important to take time prior to fixing to ensure that you getting a uniform finish – that the dimensions only change gradually and individual tile colours blend across the entirety of the area to be tiled. When tiling a wall you may wish to start with the thicker tiles at the bottom gradually working up to the thinner tiles at the top. For width and height variances you need to ensure that you keep your joints between tiles neat, tidy and (somewhat) uniform. ‘Shuffle’ your tiles to avoid noticeable variances in colour or finish. All this takes preplanning and whilst time consuming can pay dividends and avoid unsightly variances in the eventual finish.

For pitted tiles like natural slate or travertine you may want to protect those pits with strategically placed pieces of tape to prevent the grout or adhesive from blocking the pits.

Mosiac Tiles
If you have problems with individual tiles not sticking despite having sufficient adhesive behind them (this can be caused by the weight bearing down from tiles above, or simply becoming detached from the wall before the adhesive has fully dried) then consider using a wooden baton screwed through the gaps between tiles to hold the wayward tiles in place until the adhesive has full dried.

Where using a white or pale grout be cautious when sealing tiles after grouting. Brush on the sealant and clean the grouted joints, before the sealant dries, otherwise you may end up suffering the purgatory of resealing.

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