Ken’s brick wall project – part 3

Jan 20, 2024 | Uncategorized

         2023 progress update          

I’m realizing that, after blogging about my brick wall project in 2022, I never wrote a blog post last fall to document the progress my friend Joe and I made in 2023.  Some backstory as a reminder, or for those who didn’t see my 2022 blog posts:  I started on this project in the fall of 2022.  The project involves mortaring/laying a brick veneer on both sides of a cinder block core on 2 walls (I built the cinder block wall cores in 2007).  The shorter, east wall is about 22 feet long, the longer west wall is 35 feet long.  Both walls will require laying a total of about 3,500 bricks to complete.  These brick walls are basically a “glorified fence” but, as a neighbor recently told me, they will be a centerpiece of the neighborhood after I’ve completed them.

We started laying bricks on the shorter east wall in late summer of ’22.  We laid 9 of the 18 required brick courses (650 of the total 1,300 bricks) by the time we stopped laying bricks at the end of September ‘22.  Bricklaying commenced in early June of ’23 and we completed the final 9 courses of the east wall by early July.  The remainder of July was spent prepping the longer west wall before we could begin bricklaying.  The footing and cinder block needed to be cleaned (power washed) before we could begin bricklaying, as well as excavating dirt that had built up around the footing over the 15 years since I had built the cinder block cores.

We began bricklaying on the west wall in mid-August and laid about 400 of the required 2,000 bricks before stopping in late September.  Our work was delayed several times due the extreme heat we experienced in late August and early September.

I got a later start than I had hoped in spring of ’23 as I was completing some interior projects on my home.  This spring I intend to begin bricklaying by late April, and I plan to have the longer west wall completed by the fall of ’24.  Beyond requiring more bricks, the longer west wall has more complexities than the short east wall had.  Namely, it has a bend in the wall (which makes setting string lines more difficult) but, more importantly, this wall will have 3 “faux windows”.  Basically, what will look like windows that were bricked in at a later date. The windows will be of a “Moorish” style and bricking them in will add time to our bricklaying.  You’ll see a mock-up of the windows in the photos.  But engineering this detail into the project will add character to the longer west wall and “break up” the long brick lines of the wall.  Simply put, the faux windows will add interest to the longer west wall.

Just as I had to tarp the ½ bricked east wall for the winter of ‘22/’23, I’ve had to tarp the unfinished west wall for the winter of ‘23/’24.  Until the bricks are laid to the top of the cinder block cores and can be covered by the temporary cement board capping, I need the bricks tarped to keep snow and rain out of the brick cores.  If I didn’t do this the freeze/thaw of snow and rain getting into the brick cores over the winter months would compromise/destroy the work we’ve done.

This project will require 2 more summers of work to complete.  The summer of 2024 will be spent completing the primary bricklaying on the west wall including the faux windows.  The summer of 2025 will be spent building up the 4 pillars on the ends of each wall higher, adding permanent capping to the walls, and also adding 2 foot high pickets to the tops of each wall to bring the wall heights up to 6 feet.  I’m also planning to build two, 4 foot high pillars on each side of the walkway to the porch at the front of our house to match the brick walls.

I’m comfortable with the idea that this project will take a total of 3+1/2 summers for me to complete.  I’m not a bricklayer by trade, and so I’m not very fast at it.  But I know that, while I may not be completing this project as fast as a professional bricklayer would, we’re doing the work properly.  I had 15 years to plan for this project, I’ve done the research, and Joe and I have gotten good enough at it, that I know we are building something that will last for many years and will be beautiful.  And this isn’t a project that I can take an entire summer off to work on in order to complete it faster.  I have other client work that I need to complete every summer, while doing bricklaying on the weekends, and I’ve learned that taking 2 months off to only lay bricks every day is not something I can physically do at my age.  It’s HARD WORK.  It requires a lot of set up every morning, and a lot of clean up at the end of every day, and it’s not the kind of work I want to be doing more than a few days a week every summer.  I’m a carpenter.  Building decks and fences and catios during the summer months is much easier than laying bricks every day…

This blog post is getting long, so I should probably wrap it up.  But I will add these recollections from our 2023 bricklaying endeavors:  I learned last year that a lot of people (neighbors, etc.) have a lot of “opinions” about my brick wall project.  Mostly along the lines of “why would Ken decide to take on such a labor intensive project??!!”  The simple answer is that I started this project over 15 years ago and I simply HAVE TO complete it.  This brick wall project can’t be left uncompleted when the day comes that we sell our home.  I wish I hadn’t put off the project for 15 years but here I am.  It must get done.  That being said, I’ve received many compliments from neighbors and friends who understand and see my vision and who have been very encouraging about the progress I’ve made since 2022.  While this project will take time to complete, I’m so happy to finally be getting it done and it’s very satisfying to see my vision coming to fruition.

I had a good friend visit one day last August.  Rich had been following my brick wall project on Facebook but had yet to visit to see the work in person.  We were sitting in my backyard drinking beer on a Saturday afternoon, and he was taking stock of our bricklaying progress.  At one point he exclaimed:  “Ken, your brick walls are iconic!  No one builds sh*t like this anymore!”   It’s compliments like this that give me the encouragement I need to complete this project.

But my favorite recollection of 2023 was a story that Joe told me.  Getting Joe involved with this project has been the best of blessings.  Joe and I are old friends and he came to visit me in the summer of ’22 as I was starting the project, and we hadn’t seen each other for several years.  Joe offered to help, and my wife had been encouraging me to hire help, and Joe has provided the exact help that I have needed.  Joe shows up when he says he’ll be here, works hard, we work well together (Ken: “Joe, please do this”  Joe: “copy” and he goes off and does what I’ve asked him to do without argument), we like the same kind of music, and Joe’s become a faster bricklayer than I am!  I feel that Joe has become more invested in this project than I am, and he’s in it for the long haul.  Joe will keep showing up until this project is done…

Last August Joe was telling me how he was showing pictures of my brick wall project to a friend and describing the project.  She asked him “why would anyone decide to take on such a hard project?”.  Joe replied:  “it’s Ken’s art project!”

If you’ve read this far I want to thank you and I appreciate your interest.  I did my best to encapsulate the brick wall project for 2023 without getting too long-winded, but it was impossible to avoid – I could have said more.  Here are a ton of pics from 2023 bricklaying.  Stay tuned for 2024 brick wall blog posts as Joe and I work to complete this project…