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A wall of orange bricks with light mortar.

The Ultimate Guide to Bricks

Exploring Bricks and Their Uses

Welcome to the Southwest Brick and Fireplace guide to all things brick-related. For centuries, bricks have stood as a testament to durability, aesthetic appeal, and the timeless craft of building. From the foundations of civilization to today's advanced composite materials, bricks remain a "cornerstone" of construction materials.

Here at Southwest Brick and Fireplace, bricks are our bread and butter. In the decades spent supplying masonry and stone materials to builders, architects, and homeowners in DFW, we've learned quite a bit. Now we want to share that knowledge with everyone from professional builders to weekend DIY warriors.

We've designed this guide to be a one-stop shop for all-things brick. From the tried-and-tested traditional clay to the latest in eco-friendly innovations, we're diving deep. We’ll explore how to pick the perfect brick for any project, ensuring your construction not only stands up but stands out.

Understanding Bricks

At its core, a brick is one of the simplest yet most versatile building materials available. Originating from humble beginnings as sun-dried mud blocks in ancient times, bricks have evolved into sophisticated components of modern construction, thanks to advances in materials science and manufacturing techniques. Today, bricks are commonly made from clay or shale, formed into uniform shapes, and then fired in a kiln to achieve their characteristic hardness and durability.

What are Bricks?

A brick is a hard, rectangular block of clay, shale, or other materials that people bake or fire in a kiln. Known for their durability, strength, and ability to withstand fire, they are primarily used in construction. Bricks are used for building walls, pavements, and other elements in masonry construction, and can come in various colors, sizes, and finishes.


Speaking in Brick

Getting to know bricks a little better means getting familiar with common industry terms. Let’s look at a glossary of key words that helps us describe and appreciate the nuances of brickwork.


  • Brick Bond: The pattern in which bricks are laid. Different patterns, such as "Running Bond" or "Herringbone," serve both aesthetic and structural purposes.

  • Frog: An indentation found on one face of some bricks, designed to improve mortar adhesion and reduce weight.

  • Mortar: A mixture used to bond bricks together, essential for the structural integrity and longevity of brickwork.

  • Header: A brick laid so its shorter end is visible on the face of the wall. Used in various bonding patterns.

  • Stretcher: A brick laid with its longer edge visible on the wall's face, forming the majority of the wall surface in many bond patterns.

  • Efflorescence: A white, powdery residue that can form on the surface of brickwork when water evaporates and leaves salt deposits behind.

  • Clinker Brick: Bricks that have been overfired, resulting in a darkened color and distorted shape.

  • Spalling: The wear on a brick's surface, often caused by moisture penetration and subsequent freezing and thawing cycles.

  • Tuckpointing: A repair where old mortar is removed from bricks and replaced with new mortar.​

Understanding Bricks

Making the Right Choice

Choosing the right brick might not sound like the most glamorous part of a project, but it can make all the difference in the world to the look, feel, and longevity of your build. Whether you’re drafting the plans for a towering commercial space or laying out your dream backyard patio, getting to grips with the different brick types out there is step one.

Types of Bricks

Bricks come in various types, each suited to different construction needs and aesthetic preferences. Understanding the main types helps in selecting the right brick for a project. Here’s a concise overview:​

Clay Bricks

  • Description: Made from clay formed into rectangle and then baked in a kiln. They are one of the oldest and most commonly used types.

  • Uses: Ideal for both structural and decorative purposes, including facades, walls, and paving.

  • Estimated Invention: Around 7000 BC. Clay is one of the oldest known building materials, with evidence of their use dating back to Neolithic times.

Concrete Bricks

  • Description: Composed of concrete, a mixture of cement, sand, aggregates, and water. They are molded and cured, not fired like clay bricks.

  • Uses: Often used for facades, fences, and landscaping because of their flexibility in color and texture.

  • Estimated Invention: Early 20th century. Concrete bricks became more prevalent after the introduction of Portland cement in the 19th century.

Sand Lime Bricks (Calcium Silicate Bricks)

  • Description: Made by mixing sand, lime, and water, followed by a chemical process under pressure and heat.

  • Uses: Known for their smooth finish and high compressive strength, making them suitable for load-bearing walls.

  • Estimated Invention: German researcher Wilhelm Michaëlis patented the process for making sand lime bricks in 1880.


Engineering Bricks

  • Description: High-quality bricks with precise dimensions and greater strength, low porosity, and resistance to moisture.

  • Uses: Used in civil engineering projects like sewers, groundworks, and damp-proof courses thanks to their durability and strength.

  • Estimated Invention: During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, although the precise date can vary. The term specifically relates to bricks with high strength and low porosity developed for engineering projects.

Fly Ash Bricks

  • Description: Manufactured using fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion in power plants, mixed with lime and water.

  • Uses: Eco-friendly choice for a variety of construction applications, known for their lightweight and insulation properties.

  • Estimated Invention: Late 20th century, gaining popularity in the 1990s. Fly ash was developed as an environmentally friendly alternative that utilizes the industrial waste product fly ash.

Fire Bricks (Refractory Bricks)

  • Description: Made from fire clay, they are fire resistant, and can withstand high temperatures without melting or cracking.

  • Uses: Ideal for lining furnaces, fireplaces, and kilns thanks to their heat resistance.

  • Estimated Invention: Around 3,000 BC. The use of fire bricks can be traced back to the early civilizations of the Indus Valley.

Decorative Bricks

  • Description: These bricks come in various colors, shapes, and textures, intended for aesthetic appeal rather than structural integrity.

  • Uses: Used in walls, walkways, and other elements where appearance is a priority.

  • Estimated Invention: Varied. While bricks have been used decoratively for thousands of years, the modern production of specially designed decorative bricks became more common in the 19th and 20th centuries with advances in brick manufacturing technology.


Perforated Bricks

  • Description: Bricks with holes through their width to reduce weight, improve insulation, and decrease the amount of raw material used.

  • Uses: Commonly used in non-load-bearing walls for improved thermal and acoustic insulation.

  • Estimated Invention: Early 20th century. The concept of perforated bricks, aimed at reducing weight and improving insulation, became more common with the technological advancements in brick manufacturing.

Still have Questions?

We have answers on brickwork, masonry, and more!

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