Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Home Improvement - KD Tackles Masonry

So our basement has an old chimney base that's perfect for a wine cellar.  The base is a series of brick walls which are basically 1 course of bricks thick.  The problem is that the bricks are probably original to the house (more than 200 years old) and the mortar had literally crumbled to dust.  To make matters even worse, someone had done a horrendous job trying to fix the problem at some point in the past - getting mortar all over the faces of the bricks on several of the wall faces.  In the picture below you can see all the white mortar/plaster on the faces of the bricks.  I didn't even try to fix that - it would be a major project to grind and chip all of that out.  Instead, I focused on the "eroded to dust" faces, which you can also see in this picture below.

A closeup of the bricks looks like this:
You can see how the mortar between the bricks is almost completely gone.  You can probably even make out the dust texture of the mortar.  On one face of the wall, I could have actually taken apart the entire wall if I wanted to - but most of the faces were still stable enough that the bricks were attatched.

So, I got myself a mask, some safety goggles, a dustpan brush and a wire brush, and I set to work dusting/scrubbing out the old mortar.  It was part archeology project - as if I were excavating - dusting with the dustpan brush, and then part elbow grease, where I actually had to scrape out remaining crumbling mortar using the stiff wire brush.  When the mortar was removed, it looked like this:

Note the deep, clean grooves between the bricks.  But there were other problems - some bricks themselves were largely eroded:

One more before picture for good measure:

Now came the hard part - the masonry.  I went to Lowes and picked up some Quickcrete mortar mix.  A ten pound bag.  Now, in the hands of an experienced mason, this ten pound bag might get a full face section of my wall done.  I am not an experienced mason.  The first challenge is getting the mortar to the right consistency - it's just mix + water, and it's supposed to be like wet sand - or so I thought.  I think my mortar was probably a little too dry.  Although professionals make it look super easy, I found it nearly impossible to get the mortar into those cracks.  I was using a trowel, a spade, and rubber gloves.  I quickly realized that it was much easier to just take the mortar in my hands like clay and mash it into the grooves. My father in-law later told me that the mortar is supposed to be "creamy"  - but that made it even harder to work with, so I went back to the more "clay-like" water ratio.

Now, it's quite likely that I wasn't getting the mortar all the way into the grooves, and that my mortar was too thick - but this project wasn't structural - it was visual.  Anyway - I would smear the mortar on, grab another handful, and smear some more.  Then, after 10 minutes, I'd take my wire brush and scrape all the mortar off the brick faces, leaving it in the cracks.  It worked like a charm.  Of course, this also meant that I wasted probably 2/3rd of my mortar - as it ended up on the ground.  I tried re-using some of it, but most of it had too much brick dust and floor dust in it to be of use.

So my 10lb bag of mortar mix quickly disappeared, and I picked up the 50lb bag the next time I was at Lowes.  I mixed up another batch of mortar, trying to make it wetter, but had similarly no luck getting it into the cracks with the intended tools, and I quickly resorted to the patented Kid Dynamite Grab and Smear school of masonry.   The wire brush was my best friend, and cleaned up the bricks nicely.

The project took me several hours on each of several different days, and I think I did 6 or 7 wall faces in total.  I think I used a total of 130lbs of mortar!  I don't know how far that much mortar would usually go, but I'm guessing it is supposed to cover a lot more than the 150 or so square feet I did.  I had another issue with cleanup each time:  I have a septic system, and certainly don't want to be washing cement down my drains, so I'd have to carefully clean up using a bucket of water outside and throw it in the driveway.  Here's an "after" picture:

You can still see how old the bricks are, and in the second row from the top you can see a brick that was almost entirely rebuild from mortar.  The edges of most of the bricks don't look "crisp" because they aren't - they are 200+ years old!  Many of the bricks (the reddish ones near the bottom) that look like they have mortar on their faces are actually patched with mortar.  I was trying to avoid covering the entire brick face, but needed to fill in parts of it.

So here's a video of the "finished" product.  You will notice that there are many wall faces I didn't touch - those were the ones I referred to earlier that had been previously brutalized with mortar/plaster all over the brick faces.   The wall faces I rehabbed are on the left on the outside of the room (:02 seconds), and just inside the room to the left (:13 seconds) and straight/left (:17 seconds).  You can see a wall I didn't touch in between those two wall faces (it's more white, instead of gray), and I didn't touch any of the walls to the right, above where most of the wine on the floor is. There are also a few more faces on the outside of the room that aren't visible in the video:

Now - here's where you, the reader, come in. You can see some of the wooden wine crates I have on the ground.  My goal is to make them my storage medium for my wine, and to get them off the ground.  I don't really want to mount them into the walls - which are still fragile - but I do want to build some sort of shelving system that will be able to hold the wine crates (with the wine bottles in them).  Note, that I am not a superstar when it comes to projects like this.  In our house, Mrs. Dynamite is the tool wizard  - she just finished installing some cabinets in our laundry room (and patching and painting the laundry room too) while I spend my time working on the garden or cooking.  Yeah - role reversal, I know.

So if anyone has any good, easy to implement ideas about how to create some sort of shelving system for the wooden wine boxes, I'm all ears.

blog update:  I will be out of town for the next several days.  make sure you read my prior post "It's not a homeowner bailout - it's a bank bailout" if you haven't already, and sign up to follow me on twitter:  kiddynamiteblog



rjs said...

looks like you tackled the same job i did a 1/4 century ago...cant tell for sure from the brief video, but im guesssing those columns were put in as extra support on sagging beams or the like, possibly well after the house was built...

if that quickcrete doesnt hold up on those loose bricks, they make a mortar embedded with fiberglass you just lay on the outside of the wall; often used to build walls without mortar; theres also some acrylic latex pastey stuff (too long ago to remember the name of it) which will stop bricks from deteriorating...

im not sure exactly what you want to do re: "wine cellar"...add walls? is it damp down there? if not, you could certain build a standalone wine shelving unit with relatively inexpensive pine, otherwise, use a rot resistant to doesnt lend itself to words easily, but im sure the legendary mrs dynamite could handle it if you got a set of plans...let me see what i can find...i am searching for standalone wooden wine shelving unit plans

i dont know if any of that helps, see what mrs dynamite or her father thinks...

Kid Dynamite said...

so, it's not too damp down there. i think i'll have to end up building some sort of freestanding shelf system. to clarify, i don't want the shelf to hold the wine bottles - i want it to hold the wooden wine CRATES. seems like a custom job is necessary - but that doesn't mean it's incredibly complicated.

Anonymous said...

Nice work. But, you might have saved a heap of troubles just by switching to beer.


Bob Dobb

rjs said...

ok, if youre just holding the crates you can just about buy any good commercial unit...i have cheap steel "bolt together yourself" that i got for $3.99 ea back in the day ringing my basement workbench area that hold some heavy tools and hardware; but my dampness is getting to the steel...ive got plastic (ten minutes to assemble) in the garage that also hold a lot of weight, but on the back wall of my barn i have wall to wall floor to ceiling shelving, with 2x6 floor to rafter uprights, bolted to 2x4 horizontals, corresponding horizontals nailed on the back wall and the shelves are exterior 3/4 plywood split into 2x8 could hit them with a bulldozer and they wouldnt move...
with that in mind, you could bolt 2x4s from your ceiling to the floor whereever you want your shelves to be, bolt 2x4 horizontals between them to hold the shelves, and buy standard #2 shelving for the shelves, or split plywood lenghtwise as i do for most of my wooden shelves...

Unknown said...

You could certainly build custom shelves (or more accuratly your better half could). This wouldn't be too hard.
Another option would to buy relativly cheap wood shelving from Home Depot and modify it to fit the boxes. Trimming it down so it doesn't show under the crates should be relativly easy. You might need to put a couple extra braces in so the crates have adequate support.
Good works on the bricks, I told you you could do it.

Frozen in the North said...

Just a note of caution. Be very weary of humidity. It can have a huge impact on the wine. Most good wine cellars are cool and dry.

I suggest that you verify the humidity for a whole cycle (a year) to be sure it's acceptable. You may need a dehumidifier down there.

Aside from that keep the shelving as simple as possible. Its not a wine tasting room. Personally I like the IKEA rough wood shelves. Simple and can take the weight of your (I presume wooden crates). Be sure to remove any straw in the boxes by the way -- its great for shipping but terrible for rot.

We have a similar system, except the space was small so we had our builder make a shelving system out of MDF. Our space is very dry (so it works just fine), a day to build and about $400 of wood. It's big enough for 40 cases of wine

EconomicDisconnect said...

you could do most anything down there. A nice slanted free standing self unit matched to the average size of the boxes, so that the slant has the bottles facing you but not enough so they fall out, would look very nice. Maybe a dark cherry wood or deep stained hickory.

Anonymous said...

My parents have a stone-wall basement just like that. It's also very damp - very very damp. In their basement steel shelving will grow rust 1/8 of an inch thick in no time.

Their wooden shelving has lasted just fine. Some of the original shelving from 1889 is still there. It's pine.

You need to go find somebody who has a stone basement and ask. We used old bricks and pine boards to make shelves. Just stacked them. That way you can change the heights if necessary. They actually look sort of cool, and , best of all, even an idiot can build them. I don't know about up there, but the Home Depots in Texas suddenly have some pretty good pine and cedar boards.

Adding a bit of lime makes the mortar stick better to both tools and the bricks. I've heard it also slightly weakens the cement, but it makes you look like a pro! Mrs Dyno -"Oh Mr. Dynamite, I didn't know you could butter a trowel like that!"

ADVILL said...

You are a finance guy........don´t expect that a 3000 pounds wll will be supported with a 10 quickmortar bag!.....all you were doing is cosmetic!

Kid Dynamite said...

oh yeah - cosmetic for sure. although the bricks will probably crumble before my new mortar anyway.

if it were a structural wall i would have wanted to really make sure that I was getting as much mortar as i was supposed to into the crevices. I have a feeling i probably didn't get it all the way in.