If you have a brick or stone home you may have wondered at some point, “What is tuckpointing?”. You’re not alone. In its most basic sense, tuckpointing is the process of adding a decorative mortar joint to a brick or stone structure to change the appearance. Much like adding a texture or pattern to a plaster ceiling tuckpointing can significantly change the look of a masonry wall.
When a masonry wall is constructed the mortar is placed between the masonry units (bricks, stones, CMU, etc.) and then the face is struck with a trowel or a brick jointer to form the desired joint design while the mortar is still wet.
Most masonry joints are either flush or recessed in some way since that is simplest and usually sufficient for most projects. What makes tuckpointing unique is that it creates a mortar joint that stands proud of the masonry unit giving the wall a very different texture and appearance.
This purposely raised portion of mortar joint is called a “fillet”. The design of tuckpointed joints can vary and are sometimes called beaded or roped because they appear to have a bead down the center of the joint.
Tuckpointing is not done as often in America as it is in the UK and other European countries where it is most commonly found. It can be used on really any kind of masonry wall and can be added to an existing building if a change in appearance is desired.
Tuckpointing vs. Repointing
Tuckpointing is not the same as repointing though the two are often confused. And by often confused I mean almost everyone who has every asked me to tuckpoint their historic building meant they wanted it repointed. So let’s create some clear definitions
Repointing – The process of removing old mortar from joints and replacing it with new mortar.
Tuckpointing – The process of applying narrow lines of mortar in a contrasting color or unique design down the centers of existing mortar joints.
As mortar ages and weathers it can become loose, particularly lime mortar, which is designed to be softer than the surrounding masonry unit. The sand in the lime mortar can begin to fall out over decades of weathering, and when that happens, repointing is usually necessary with new lime mortar.
Proper repointing requires removal of a small portion of the mortar joint, usually 1/4 to 1/3 the depth of the mortar, a cleaning of the joint, and then reapplication of a matching mortar in both color and composition resulting in the same appearance as the original joint.
If you want to learn the process, materials and tools to repoint your mortar check out my earlier post How To: Repoint Historic Mortar
Repointing is typically used in historic preservation circles more often to return weathered joints on historic buildings to a healthy condition for continued service.
In tuckpointing there is still some removal of the existing mortar joint, but that is more to ensure a solid bond between the new decorative application of lime mortar or putty so that the joint will be strong and long-lasting.
Tuckpointing is focused on cosmetic change compared to repointing which is focused on building maintenance.
Types of Mortar Joints
There are as many different types of mortar joints as there are masons. The way a particular joint is struck and the manner in which the brick jointer is used can create a completely different look to the building.
There are some standard types of mortar joint design that you’ll commonly see and after reading this post you can look around your neighborhood and see if you can identify the different types of mortar joints you see. The differences are subtle, but distinct.
- Concave – A half round joint that comes almost flush to the face of the masonry at it’s fullest point
- Vee – Just like it’s spelled the mortar is tooled to a point leaving a sideways V shape
- Flush – The mortar struck flush with the outer surface of the masonry unit
- Racked – The mortar is compacted or raked out of the joint leaving a square but recessed joint
- Extruded – The excess mortar is not scraped away and left to naturally squeeze out of the joint
- Weeping – Excess mortar is used to create an almost messy and extreme version of an extruded joint
- Struck – The mortar is struck flat but at an angle that reveals the bottom of the joint
- Weathered – Similar to a struck joint a weathered joint is struck flat at an angle that reveals the top of the joint
Of this design the only one that would be considered a tuckpointed design would be the beaded pattern.
What is Penciling?
Penciling is a purely decorative, painted surface treatment over a mortar joint, often in a contrasting color. This is different from tuckpointing because it does not include building up the mortar joint with additional lime mortar, but rather coloring in a portion of the joint usually with dry pigments.
The process of penciling can often be called “lining out” because it essentially looks like adding thin white or red lines to the center of the mortar joint in order to create more contrast or structure to the wall assembly.
How much does tuckpointing cost? That is a tough questions because a lot of the cost depends on the condition of the existing masonry and mortar, the ease of access to the area to be tuckpointed (ie. 1-story building vs 4-story building), and any number of other factors.
According to HomeAdvisor tuckpointing costs around “$5 to $25 per square foot, depending on location and accessibility. Repointing costs slightly less at $3 to $15 per square foot.”
The major driver of the cost of tuckpointing is labor which accounts for 80% or more of the total cost. If you live in an area where labor rates are higher you’ll pay more. If you live in an lower costs area rates may be lower but you may have trouble finding skilled tradesmen to complete the work.
For work higher up than 8 feet the work can begin costing significantly more. You need to account for the cost of scaffolding rental including delivery, setup, and breakdown fees. These costs can raise the price of work by 20-30%.
Then consider higher or hard to reach work that may be difficult or dangerous to do like tuckpointing chimneys. Chimney tuckpointing costs can add a premium of 50% to the base cost.
The last element to consider regarding the cost of tuckpointing is the complexity of the joint you need to match or plan to add. Is it tinted? Is the design complex? Bricks provide a fairly straightforward joint pattern to tuckpoint but fieldstone is a completely random pattern that takes extra time and skill to create.
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I love old houses, working with my hands, and teaching others the excitment of doing it yourself! Everything is teachable if you only give it the chance.