Mortar (masonry)

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Mortar holding weathered bricks Three old bricks held together with mortar.jpg
Mortar holding weathered bricks

Mortar is a workable paste which hardens to bind building blocks such as stones, bricks, and concrete masonry units, to fill and seal the irregular gaps between them, spread the weight of them evenly, and sometimes to add decorative colors or patterns to masonry walls. In its broadest sense, mortar includes pitch, asphalt, and soft mud or clay, as used between mud bricks. The word "mortar" comes from Latin mortarium, meaning crushed.


Cement mortar becomes hard when it cures, resulting in a rigid aggregate structure; however, the mortar functions as a weaker component than the building blocks and serves as the sacrificial element in the masonry, because mortar is easier and less expensive to repair than the building blocks. Bricklayers typically make mortars using a mixture of sand, a binder, and water. The most common binder since the early 20th century is Portland cement, but the ancient binder lime mortar is still used in some specialty new construction. Lime, lime mortar and gypsum in the form of plaster of Paris are used particularly in the repair and repointing of historic buildings and structures so that the repair materials will be similar in performance and appearance to the original materials. Several types of cement mortars and additives exist.

Ancient mortar

Roman mortar on display at Chetham's School of Music. Chetham's Library 2015 56.jpg
Roman mortar on display at Chetham's School of Music.
Workers prepare mortar in a trough. A 10th-century sculpture from the Korogho church, Georgia. Qorogho Barelief (3).jpg
Workers prepare mortar in a trough. A 10th-century sculpture from the Korogho church, Georgia.

The first mortars were made of mud and clay, [1] as demonstrated in the 10th millennia BCE buildings of Jericho, and the 8th millennia BCE of Ganj Dareh. [1]

According to Roman Ghirshman, the first evidence of humans using a form of mortar was at the Mehrgarh of Baluchistan in the Indus Valley, Pakistan, built of sun-dried bricks in 6500 BCE. [2]

Gypsum mortar, also called plaster of Paris, was used in the construction of many ancient structures. It is made from gypsum, which requires a lower firing temperature. It is therefore easier to make than lime mortar and sets up much faster, which may be a reason it was used as the typical mortar in ancient, brick arch and vault construction. Gypsum mortar is not as durable as other mortars in damp conditions. [3]

In the Indian subcontinent, multiple cement types have been observed in the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization, with gypsum appearing at sites such as the Mohenjo-daro city-settlement that dates to earlier than 2600 BCE.

Gypsum cement that was "light grey and contained sand, clay, traces of calcium carbonate, and a high percentage of lime" was used in the construction of wells, drains, and on the exteriors of "important looking buildings." Bitumen mortar was also used at a lower-frequency, including in the Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro. [4] [5]

In early Egyptian pyramids, which were constructed during the Old Kingdom (~2600–2500 BCE), the limestone blocks were bound by a mortar of mud and clay, or clay and sand. [6] In later Egyptian pyramids, the mortar was made of gypsum, or lime. [7] Gypsum mortar was essentially a mixture of plaster and sand and was quite soft.

2nd millennia BCE Babylonian constructions used lime or pitch for mortar.

Historically, building with concrete and mortar next appeared in Greece. The excavation of the underground aqueduct of Megara revealed that a reservoir was coated with a pozzolanic mortar 12 mm thick. This aqueduct dates back to c. 500 BCE. [8] Pozzolanic mortar is a lime based mortar, but is made with an additive of volcanic ash that allows it to be hardened underwater; thus it is known as hydraulic cement. The Greeks obtained the volcanic ash from the Greek islands Thira and Nisiros, or from the then Greek colony of Dicaearchia (Pozzuoli) near Naples, Italy. The Romans later improved the use and methods of making what became known as pozzolanic mortar and cement. [7] Even later, the Romans used a mortar without pozzolana using crushed terra cotta, introducing aluminum oxide and silicon dioxide into the mix. This mortar was not as strong as pozzolanic mortar, but, because it was denser, it better resisted penetration by water. [9]

Hydraulic mortar was not available in ancient China, possibly due to a lack of volcanic ash. Around 500 CE, sticky rice soup was mixed with slaked lime to make an inorganic−organic composite sticky rice mortar that had more strength and water resistance than lime mortar. [10] [11]

It is not understood how the art of making hydraulic mortar and cement, which was perfected and in such widespread use by both the Greeks and Romans, was then lost for almost two millennia. During the Middle Ages when the Gothic cathedrals were being built, the only active ingredient in the mortar was lime. Since cured lime mortar can be degraded by contact with water, many structures suffered over the centuries from wind-blown rain.

Ordinary Portland cement mortar

Laying bricks with Portland cement mortar Brick and block laying.jpg
Laying bricks with Portland cement mortar
Mortar mixed inside a 5-gallon bucket using clean water and mortar from a bag. When it's the right consistency, as in the photo (trowel stands up), it's ready to apply. Mortar mixed inside bucket.jpg
Mortar mixed inside a 5-gallon bucket using clean water and mortar from a bag. When it's the right consistency, as in the photo (trowel stands up), it's ready to apply.

Ordinary Portland cement mortar, commonly known as OPC mortar or just cement mortar, is created by mixing powdered Ordinary Portland Cement, fine aggregate and water.

It was invented in 1794 by Joseph Aspdin and patented on 18 December 1824, largely as a result of efforts to develop stronger mortars. It was made popular during the late nineteenth century, and had by 1930 became more popular than lime mortar as construction material. The advantages of Portland cement is that it sets hard and quickly, allowing a faster pace of construction. Furthermore, fewer skilled workers are required in building a structure with Portland cement.

As a general rule, however, Portland cement should not be used for the repair or repointing of older buildings built in lime mortar, which require the flexibility, softness and breathability of lime if they are to function correctly. [12] [13]

In the United States and other countries, five standard types of mortar (available as dry pre-mixed products) are generally used for both new construction and repair. Strengths of mortar change based on the mix ratio for each type of mortar, which are specified under the ASTM standards. These premixed mortar products are designated by one of the five letters, M, S, N, O, and K. Type M mortar is the strongest, and Type K the weakest. The mix ratio is always expressed by volume of .

Mortar TypePortland CementLimeSand

These type letters are apparently taken from the alternate letters of the words "MaSoN wOrK". [14]

Polymer cement mortar

Polymer cement mortars (PCM) are the materials which are made by partially replacing the cement hydrate binders of conventional cement mortar with polymers. The polymeric admixtures include latexes or emulsions, redispersible polymer powders, water-soluble polymers, liquid thermoset resins and monomers. Polymer mortar has low permeability that may be detrimental to moisture accumulation when used to repair a traditional brick, block or stone wall. It is mainly designed for repairing concrete structures.

Lime mortar

The setting speed can be increased by using impure limestone in the kiln, to form a hydraulic lime that will set on contact with water. Such a lime must be stored as a dry powder. Alternatively, a pozzolanic material such as calcined clay or brick dust may be added to the mortar mix. Addition of a pozzolanic material will make the mortar set reasonably quickly by reaction with the water.

It would be problematic to use Portland cement mortars to repair older buildings originally constructed using lime mortar. Lime mortar is softer than cement mortar, allowing brickwork a certain degree of flexibility to adapt to shifting ground or other changing conditions. Cement mortar is harder and allows little flexibility. The contrast can cause brickwork to crack where the two mortars are present in a single wall.

Lime mortar is considered breathable in that it will allow moisture to freely move through and evaporate from the surface. In old buildings with walls that shift over time, cracks can be found which allow rain water into the structure. The lime mortar allows this moisture to escape through evaporation and keeps the wall dry. Re−pointing or rendering an old wall with cement mortar stops the evaporation and can cause problems associated with moisture behind the cement.

Pozzolanic mortar

Pozzolana is a fine, sandy volcanic ash. It was originally discovered and dug at Pozzuoli, nearby Mount Vesuvius in Italy, and was subsequently mined at other sites, too. The Romans learned that pozzolana added to lime mortar allowed the lime to set relatively quickly and even under water. Vitruvius, the Roman architect, spoke of four types of pozzolana. It is found in all the volcanic areas of Italy in various colours: black, white, grey and red. Pozzolana has since become a generic term for any siliceous and/or aluminous additive to slaked lime to create hydraulic cement. [15]

Finely ground and mixed with lime it is a hydraulic cement, like Portland cement, and makes a strong mortar that will also set under water.

Firestop mortar

A firestop is a kind of passive fire protection measure. Firestop mortars are mortars most typically used to stop large openings in walls and floors required to have a fire-resistance rating. They differ in formula and properties from most other cementitious substances[ citation needed ] and cannot be substituted with generic mortars without violating the listing and approval use and compliance.

Firestop mortar is usually a combination of powder mixed with water, forming a cementitious stone which dries hard. It is sometimes mixed with lightweight aggregates, such as perlite or vermiculite [ citation needed ]. It is sometimes pigmented to distinguish it from generic materials[ citation needed ] in an effort to prevent unlawful substitution and to enable verification of the certification listing.

Radiocarbon dating

As the mortar hardens, the current atmosphere is encased in the mortar and thus provides a sample for analysis. Various factors affect the sample and raise the margin of error for the analysis. [16] [17] [18] [19] The possibility to use radiocarbon dating as a tool for mortar dating was introduced as early as the 1960s, soon after the method was established (Delibrias and Labeyrie 1964; Stuiver and Smith 1965; Folk and Valastro 1976). The very first data were provided by van Strydonck et al. (1983), Heinemeier et al.(1997) and Ringbom and Remmer (1995). Methodological aspects were further developed by different groups (an international team headed by Åbo Akademi University, and teams from CIRCE, CIRCe, ETHZ, Poznań, RICH and Milano-Bicocca laboratory. To evaluate the different anthropogenic carbon extraction methods for radiocarbon dating as well as to compare the different dating methods, i.e. radiocarbon and OSL, the first intercomparison study (MODIS) was set up and published in 2017. [20] [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Concrete Composite construction material

Concrete is a composite material composed of fine and coarse aggregate bonded together with a fluid cement that hardens (cures) over time. In the past, lime based cement binders, such as lime putty, were often used but sometimes with other hydraulic cements, such as a calcium aluminate cement or with Portland cement to form Portland cement concrete. Many other non-cementitious types of concrete exist with other methods of binding aggregate together, including asphalt concrete with a bitumen binder, which is frequently used for road surfaces, and polymer concretes that use polymers as a binder. Concrete is distinct from mortar. Whereas concrete is itself a building material, mortar is a bonding agent that typically holds bricks, tiles and other masonry units together.

Cement Hydraulic binder used in the composition of mortar and concrete

A cement is a binder, a substance used for construction that sets, hardens, and adheres to other materials to bind them together. Cement is seldom used on its own, but rather to bind sand and gravel (aggregate) together. Cement mixed with fine aggregate produces mortar for masonry, or with sand and gravel, produces concrete. Concrete is the most widely used material in existence and is behind only water as the planet's most-consumed resource.

Portland cement Binder used as basic ingredient of concrete

Portland cement is the most common type of cement in general use around the world as a basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco, and non-specialty grout. It was developed from other types of hydraulic lime in England in the early 19th century by Joseph Aspdin, and usually originates from limestone. It is a fine powder, produced by heating limestone and clay minerals in a kiln to form clinker, grinding the clinker, and adding 2 to 3 percent of gypsum. Several types of Portland cement are available. The most common, called ordinary Portland cement (OPC), is grey, but white Portland cement is also available. Its name is derived from its resemblance to Portland stone which was quarried on the Isle of Portland in Dorset, England. It was named by Joseph Aspdin who obtained a patent for it in 1824. However, his son William Aspdin is regarded as the inventor of "modern" Portland cement due to his developments in the 1840s.

Plaster General term for a broad range of building and sculpture materials

Plaster is a building material used for the protective or decorative coating of walls and ceilings and for moulding and casting decorative elements. In English, "plaster" usually means a material used for the interiors of buildings, while "render" commonly refers to external applications. Another imprecise term used for the material is stucco, which is also often used for plasterwork that is worked in some way to produce relief decoration, rather than flat surfaces.

Pozzolana or pozzuolana, also known as pozzolanic ash, is a natural siliceous or siliceous-aluminous material which reacts with calcium hydroxide in the presence of water at room temperature. In this reaction insoluble calcium silicate hydrate and calcium aluminate hydrate compounds are formed possessing cementitious properties. The designation pozzolana is derived from one of the primary deposits of volcanic ash used by the Romans in Italy, at Pozzuoli. The modern definition of pozzolana encompasses any volcanic material, predominantly composed of fine volcanic glass, that is used as a pozzolan. Note the difference with the term pozzolan, which exerts no bearing on the specific origin of the material, as opposed to pozzolana, which can only be used for pozzolans of volcanic origin, primarily composed of volcanic glass.

Lime (material)

Lime is a calcium-containing inorganic mineral composed primarily of oxides, and hydroxide, usually calcium oxide and/ or calcium hydroxide. It is also the name for calcium oxide which occurs as a product of coal-seam fires and in altered limestone xenoliths in volcanic ejecta. The word lime originates with its earliest use as building mortar and has the sense of sticking or adhering.

Hydraulic lime

Hydraulic lime (HL) is a general term for varieties of lime (calcium oxide), which set through hydration. This contrasts with varieties of air lime slaked lime (calcium hydroxide), used to make lime mortar, the other common types of lime mortar, which set through carbonation (re-absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air).

A binder or binding agent is any material or substance that holds or draws other materials together to form a cohesive whole mechanically, chemically, by adhesion or cohesion.

Lime plaster

Lime plaster is a type of plaster composed of sand, water, and lime, usually non-hydraulic hydrated lime. Ancient lime plaster often contained horse hair for reinforcement and pozzolan additives to reduce the working time.

Trass is the local name of a volcanic tuff occurring in the Eifel, where it is worked for hydraulic mortar. It is a grey or cream-coloured fragmental rock, largely composed of pumiceous dust, and may be regarded as a trachytic tuff. It much resembles the Italian pozzolana and is applied to like purposes. Mixed with lime and sand, or with Portland cement, it is extensively employed for hydraulic work, especially in the Netherlands; while the compact varieties have been used as a building material and as a fire-stone in ovens. Trass was formerly worked extensively in the Brohl valley and is now obtained from the valley of the Nette, near Andernach.

Lime mortar

Lime mortar is composed of lime and an aggregate such as sand, mixed with water. The Ancient Indians were the first to use lime mortars, which they used to plaster the Temples. In addition, the Egyptians also incorporated various limes into their religious temples as well as their homes. Indian traditional structures built with lime mortar, which are more than 4,000 years old like Mohenjo-daro is still a heritage monument of Indus valley civilization in Pakistan. It is one of the oldest known types of mortar also used in ancient Rome and Greece, when it largely replaced the clay and gypsum mortars common to ancient Egyptian construction.


Sealant is a substance used to block the passage of fluids through the surface or joints or openings in materials, a type of mechanical seal. In building construction sealant is sometimes synonymous with caulking and also serve the purposes of blocking dust, sound and heat transmission. Sealants may be weak or strong, flexible or rigid, permanent or temporary. Sealants are not adhesives but some have adhesive qualities and are called adhesive-sealants or structural sealants.

Metakaolin is the anhydrous calcined form of the clay mineral kaolinite. Minerals that are rich in kaolinite are known as china clay or kaolin, traditionally used in the manufacture of porcelain. The particle size of metakaolin is smaller than cement particles, but not as fine as silica fume.

Ground-granulated blast-furnace slag is obtained by quenching molten iron slag from a blast furnace in water or steam, to produce a glassy, granular product that is then dried and ground into a fine powder. Ground-granulated blast furnace slag is highly cementitious and high in CSH which is a strength enhancing compound which improves the strength, durability and appearance of the concrete.

Pozzolan Siliceous volcanic ashes commonly used as supplementary cementitious material

Pozzolans are a broad class of siliceous or siliceous and aluminous materials which, in themselves, possess little or no cementitious value but which will, in finely divided form and in the presence of water, react chemically with calcium hydroxide at ordinary temperature to form compounds possessing cementitious properties. The quantification of the capacity of a pozzolan to react with calcium hydroxide and water is given by measuring its pozzolanic activity. Pozzolana are naturally occurring pozzolans of volcanic origin.

Cement clinker

Cement clinker is a solid material produced in the manufacture of Portland cement as an intermediary product. Clinker occurs as lumps or nodules, usually 3 millimetres (0.12 in) to 25 millimetres (0.98 in) in diameter. It is produced by sintering limestone and aluminosilicate materials such as clay during the cement kiln stage.

Roman concrete Building material used in construction during the late Roman Republic and Empire

Roman concrete, also called opus caementicium, was a material used in construction in Ancient Rome. Roman concrete was based on a hydraulic-setting cement. It is durable due to its incorporation of pozzolanic ash, which prevents cracks from spreading. By the middle of the 1st century, the material was used frequently, often brick-faced, although variations in aggregate allowed different arrangements of materials. Further innovative developments in the material, called the concrete revolution, contributed to structurally complicated forms, such as the Pantheon dome, the world's largest and oldest unreinforced concrete dome.

Fly ash brick

Fly ash brick (FAB) is a building material, specifically masonry units, containing class C or class F fly ash and water. Compressed at 28 MPa(272 atm) and cured for 24 hours in a 66 °C steam bath, then toughened with an air entrainment agent, the bricks can last for more than 100 freeze-thaw cycles. Owing to the high concentration of calcium oxide in class C fly ash, the brick is described as "self-cementing". The manufacturing method saves energy, reduces mercury pollution in the environment, and often costs 20% less than traditional clay brick manufacturing.

Types of concrete concrete technology used in building construction

Concrete is produced in a variety of compositions, finishes and performance characteristics to meet a wide range of needs.

The pozzolanic activity is a measure for the degree of reaction over time or the reaction rate between a pozzolan and Ca2+ or calcium hydroxide (Ca(OH)2) in the presence of water. The rate of the pozzolanic reaction is dependent on the intrinsic characteristics of the pozzolan such as the specific surface area, the chemical composition and the active phase content.


What Is Mortar - Introduction To Mortar

Qualities Of Ideal Mortar List - Properties of Good Mortar List

Uses of Mortar List - Uses of Mortar In Civil Engineering

Types of Mortars Used In Civil Engineering

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