Brick Slip Feature Wall Project

This guide is an example project to help you understand what is involved in creating a beautiful brick slip feature wall in your home. We will try cover all possible elements you may encounter in later guides but will start with a simple flat feature wall.

Sussex Press Reclaim brick slips in a kitchen installation as a feature wall

Flat Feature Wall Brick Slip Project

For a flat feature wall with no reveals (windows, doors, alcoves) you should gather the following information:

  • Height and Width in metres.
  • The substrate of the wall to be clad (plasterboard, solid masonry). This determines the adhesive you use.

Measuring Up

When measuring the height and width, if you suspect the wall is not a perfect rectangle (sloping floor/walls/ceiling), you should take measurements on all sides. If there is a significant difference in heights and widths at either end then take the average. If in doubt just contact our office - we do take offs regularly for entire buildings and this simple calculation can usually be done in a matter of a minute or two over the telephone.

Once you have found the height and width multiply them together to get the square metres area (M2). Most UK brick slip suppliers sell their brick slips in half square metre boxes. This is based on using them with a 10mm joint. If you are planning on using a tighter joint then you should call us and we can tell you how many boxes you will need based on your joint size.

To work out your half meter square box quantity multiply the square metre (M2) area by two. You should then add a percentage for site waste. Site waste is a judgement call based on the product used and the skill of the person laying. It is often better to over order than be short of a box as there will be a delay in getting these to you and additional cost for shipment. Most often if you have tilers doing the work they are often quite hard to get booked and running short of product can be quite frustrating for you and the tiler. You should also get materials to site in advance of a tiler arriving on site.

You may also find our brick slip calculator useful

Adhesive Selection

As a general rule of thumb you can use a Rapidset Flexible Wall tile adhesive where the substrate is porous (soaks up water) or if bonding onto non-porous surfaces like steel or plastic you will need to use an epoxy glue such as our Silane A5262.

In most cases you will be adhering onto porous surfaces so can use Rapidset Flexible wall tile adhesives. It is worth noting that if you use or buy adhesive sourced from elsewhere you should make sure it is of the Flexible type and not just Rapidset. Rapidset Flexible wall tile adhesive is 'high grab' and meant for heavy porcelain tiles.

Surface Preparation

As with all tiling applications you must make sure the surface to be clad is free of dust and sound structurally. If the base surface is not structurally sound you must make good the surface by either removal of loose material or you can over sheath the surface with a wall tile backer board i.e. Hardiebacker Board. If in doubt seek professional help.

Keying the Surface

If the surface is 'virgin' you do not need to key the surface though you may need to prime.

If the surface is painted you should key through the paint to the underlying surface by means of score marks through the paint. You can do this with a Stanley knife or sharp tool using it to cut a two inch / five cm diamond pattern. This enable the wall tile adhesive to bond to the underlying substrate rather than the paint.

Priming the Surface

A question we often get asked is whether to PVA prime the wall before tiling - do not PVA prime the surface. If you are going to prime a wall use acrylic primer designed specifically for the purpose. Acrylic primers can help adhesion when you have very dusty substrate materials such as gypsum based surfaces where it stabilises the surface.

Application of Brick Slips

This is where the fun begins and you get to see the wall transform into your new beautiful feature wall!

The tools and materials you should have are as follows (bold items are strongly recommended or required)

  • Brick Slips - View Here
  • Brick Slip Tracking Sheet - View Here
  • Rapidset Flexible Adhesive or Epoxy Adhesive - View Here
  • 10mm T Spacers - View Here
  • Tile Adhesive Comb or Notched Trowel - View Here
  • Level or Laser Level. A Plumb Line can also be useful. - Google it
  • Disc Cutter with Concrete Diamond Blade or Wet Tile Cutter. If you don't have access to either we can pre-cut halves for you but it is preferable on complex jobs to cut on site to suit - Google it
  • Pointing Mortar, Gorilla Bucket and Mixing Paddle with a drill - View Here
  • Pointing Gun or Pointing Bag or Pointing Trowel and Mortar Board. If you use a piping tool you must use Mortar Plasticiser to help it flow through the nozzle. - View Here
  • Jointing Tool - Bucket Handle or Pin Wheel Raking Tool or Pointing Trowel - View Here
  • Dust Pan Brush (not too soft or stiff)
  • Dust Sheets to catch falling mortar when pointing the brick slips
  • Timber starter rail if you are cladding i.e. halfway up the wall above a kitchen splashback before installation of kitchen work surfaces or if your floor line is not level
  • Brick Acid to clean up mortar that might stain the surface of the brick (shouldn't be needed if you are careful during pointing) - Google it

Setting Out

It is useful to set out at the edge of the wall by laying alternating courses of halves and full slips. The first course should be 10mm off the floor assuming you are using a 10mm mortar joint.

Brick slip halves are easily cut using a wet tile saw as you would use for standard tiling, can be bought as halves pre-cut on request or using a bolster hammer and straight edge (though this is not a great way to get a very clean straight edge).

When laying the courses of slips you should try to adjust the vertical joint width to absorb coursing dimension mismatches – that is where you may end up with a half/quarter/odd sized slip gap at the end of the run. This is usually accomplished by simply laying the tiles out on the floor next to a tape measure or the wall itself or doing a reasonably simple calculation based on the actual slip size.

When adjusting the vertical perp joint width you should not exceed less than 5mm or greater than 12mm or you will find it very hard to point the gap or it will look too large and unsightly.

Pro Tips:

  • If the floor has a gradient you should start above the floor using a starter rail to get an even and level course and then work down cutting slips to suit the gradient as it meets the floor line. Do not assume the floor is truly level.
  • To get a seamless effect where the feature wall meets abutting walls the half-slips should be cut with a clean edge and abutted right up to the wall with no space for mortar. If you do not do this you will end up with a mortar line up the edge of the wall which will make it obvious it is a veneered wall.

Working away and up from the starting corner you should apply a small amount of adhesive to the wall using the tile adhesive comb or notched trowel. Only apply small amounts of adhesive so that you make sure it has not gone off before you have had the time to stick slips to the area. Some people prefer buttering the back of the slips to avoid this issue.

As you apply slips keep checking alignment of the brick slips in relation to the levelling line and keep the vertical perp joints in alignment using a plumb line. You should use 10mm T-Spacers if you are using a standard joint to keep them spaced correctly, shimming as required or make your own sized spacers using i.e. board off cuts.

Every few slips along a course use the level and press across the face of several slips to make sure they are flat in relation to each other. This may or may not be desirable dependent on the slip type or finish trying to be achieved. Three dimensional brick work can be desirable as light playing across the surfaces can add appeal.

Pro Tips:

  • The more regular the tile the more attention you must pay to the alignment. Often though with feature walls more characterful slips are used which allows for some irregularity to not be displeasing. That said, waving courses stand out and can ruin an installation.
  • Not all brickwork needs to be 'stagger bonded' and different bonds can really add to the work with a little extra effort. Have a look at our brick bonds guide to get some idea of what you can do for little or no extra expense.
  • Using spacers is strongly recommended however you should have some packers prepared also. Small pieces of 1 or 2mm board can help pack out where required i.e. for heavily irregular brick slips.
  • STAND BACK FROM THE WORK! This will show up where you have misaligned joints very quickly.

Pointing Up (sometimes incorrectly termed 'grouting')

Pointing is one of the hardest parts of this entire process and should not be under-estimated. Accurate mixing, timing and speed are critical. Your choice of pointing mortar and tooling can drastically affect the overall appearance of the wall in terms of colour and joint finish.

Mortar Types

Pointing Mortar can be bought in many forms but is essentially sand and cement mixed together and then water is added starting a chemical reaction which causes the mixture to set into a hard wearing material. This mix is pushed or piped into the joints / gaps between the brick slips to achieve a real brick wall effect.

Pre-Mixed Pointing Mortar

Pre-mixed pointing mortar is supplied so that you can just add water (in fact you can buy packet mixes which are already in a slurry form), mix in a bucket using a 'paddle' attachment ready to be trowelled or piped into the joint.

Pre-mixed pointing mortars can also be bought pre-coloured. We offer colour consistent lime based mortars so that the user only need add water to get a quality colour consistent mortar finish.

On-site Mortar Mixes

If you are trying to match mortar colour to another area i.e. you have another wall you are trying to match up to or you have a specific colour in mind then you can always mix on-site. Usually this is done by a skilled person as mortar mixing is an art in itself.

Pro Tip:

  • Typically a good quality mix is 6 parts sharp sand, 1 part cement and 1 part lime with mortar colour additives to achieve correct colour. If the amount of cement is increased this will lead to a hard mortar which, in external applications, can be a bad thing as it means during frost cycles the brick may expand and contract more than the mortar leading to 'spalling' of the face of the brick. Lime addition makes the mortar softer and lime has the added benefit of being 'self-healing' in that micro-fractures are self-healed by lime leaching through the mortar and re-filling the cracks.

Pointing Mortar - Joint Filling

Applying mortar into the joint can be achieved using several methods but typically these break down into two categories: trowelling or piping.

Trowelling the mortar into the joint is the traditional way of pointing whereby mortar is pushed into the joint using a finger or pointing trowel. Often this is used in conjunction with a mortar board. Skilled pointers can point very fast using this method but it does take some time to learn how to apply using this method and the mortar board is something you would have to make yourself as the design is not available off the shelf.

Piping the mortar into the joint somewhat simplifies the joint filling process and can speed up the job. The tools available are piping bags (similar to a cake icing bag only far more robust) and mortar piping guns in both automatic and power assisted. If you have large surface areas these are well worth the money and if you install brick slips regularly the purchase of a power assisted tool will pay for itself many times over.

If you opt to pipe the mortar in you absolutely should use a mortar plasticiser which will help the mortar flow through the nozzle of the piping tool. If you do not you will have to mix the mortar very wet to get it to flow which causes problems in itself.

Pointing Mortar - Tooling and Brushing Down

Once the mortar has started to go off - 10-20 minutes dependent on mortar consistency, ambient temperature, air flow around the installation, porosity of the brick etc. - the mortar should be tooled.

Timing is critical as if you strike off too early or too late the mortar will not form the desired tooled surface.

Do not be tempted to brush down too early either - if you brush the excess 'snots' left after tooling too early the pointing mortar will stick to the bristles of the brush and transfer onto the faces of the bricks meaning you will have to use brick acid to clean up the stained brick face(s). On the other hand if you leave it slightly too long then you may have to use a tool to knock the snots off but this is far less work than acid cleaning.

Pointing Mortar Tooling Profiles

Different effects can be achieved using different shaped tools but the most common are:

Flush Joint - Mortar is level and flat with relation to the brick work.

Bucket Handle Joint - A concave rounded recessed mortar joint (the most common).

Rake Joint - A recessed flat joint typically 5mm below the surface of the brick.

A great resource to see some more of the available mortar finishes is the Brick Development Associations Mortar Profiles web page.

Job Done!

Well almost! You can stop at this point but depending on where the installation is and what type of brick you have you may want to think about sealing or white washing/painting the bricks.

We would invariably advise you to seal brick slip installations in kitchen areas or anywhere there is the risk of splash damage (red wine stains for example). There are widely available brick and stone sealers which barely change the appearance of the brick but when liquids come into contact with the surface they are repelled. Dependent on the porosity of the brick you may need one, two or three coats.

If you are going to paint the slips afterwards then you can just treat them exactly as you would do whitewashing or painting a brick wall.

And finally now stand back (or have a sit down after all that hard work) and enjoy what will be a feature in your home for potentially decades to come!