Other Components

Historic components

In addition to the color of the sand, the texture of the mortar is of critical importance in duplicating historic mortar. Most mortars dating from the mid-19th century on—with some exceptions—have a fairly homogeneous texture and color. Some earlier mortars are not as uniformly textured and may contain lumps of partially burned lime or "dirty lime", shell (which often provided a source of lime, particularly in coastal areas), natural cements, pieces of clay, lampblack or other pigments, or even animal hair. The visual characteristics of these mortars can be duplicated through the use of similar materials in the repointing mortar.

Replicating such unique or individual mortars will require writing new specifications for each project. If possible, suggested sources for special materials should be included. For example, crushed oyster shells can be obtained in a variety of sizes from poultry supply dealers.



Some historic mortars, particularly in the late 19th century, were tinted to match or contrast with the brick or stone. Red pigments, sometimes in the form of brick dust, as well as brown, and black pigments were commonly used. Modern pigments are available which can be added to the mortar at the job site, but they should not exceed 10 per cent by weight of the portland cement in the mix, and carbon black should be limited to 2 per cent. Only synthetic mineral oxides, which are alkali-proof and sun-fast, should be used to prevent bleaching and fading.

Modern Components


Admixtures are used to create specific characteristics in mortar, and whether they should be used will depend upon the individual project. Air entraining agents, for example, help the mortar to resist freeze-thaw damage in northern climates. Accelerators are used to reduce mortar freezing prior to setting while retarders help to extend the mortar life in hot climates. Selection of admixtures should be made by the architect or architectural conservator as part of the specifications, not something routinely added by the masons.


Generally, modern chemical additives are unnecessary and may, in fact, have detrimental effects in historic masonry projects. The use of antifreeze compounds is not recommended. They are not very effective with high lime mortars and may introduce salts, which may cause efflorescence later. A better practice is to warm the sand and water, and to protect the completed work from freezing. No definitive study has determined whether air-entraining additives should be used to resist frost action and enhance plasticity, but in areas of extreme exposure requiring high-strength mortars with lower permeability, air-entrainment of 10-16 percent may be desirable (see formula for "severe weather exposure" in Mortar Type and Mix). Bonding agents are not a substitute for proper joint preparation, and they should generally be avoided. If the joint is properly prepared, there will be a good bond between the new mortar and the adjacent surfaces. In addition, a bonding agent is difficult to remove if smeared on a masonry surface.

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  • Kansas City Craft Masons/Historic
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