As much as we’d like to think we Americans were responsible for most of our official language, the joy of morning tea or NBC’s “The Office,” credit’s due where credit’s due: the British are really the ones to thank for those. We can also thank them for one of the best techniques to restore masonry, tuckpointing; but, its original purpose across the Atlantic may be surprising.
According to Michael Shellenbarger’s 1991 article “Tuck Pointing History and Confusion” in the Association for Preservation Technology International’s journal APT Bulletin (Vol. 23, Issue No. 3), in the Eighteenth Century the English were the first to come up with the term and the technique. It was developed in order to provide the illusion of bricks constructed together with very precise, narrow joints, achieving a sought-after European aesthetic at the time without the availability of uniformly sized bricks.
- How’d they do it? Two mortars were used – one to match the color or the bricks, which now could be nearly any size or shape – and the “tucked” mortar, of a contrasting color to the brick mortar color, which was inserted into the brick-colored mortar along the joints between bricks. According to Shellenbarger, the tucked mortar joint projected slightly and was shaped to provide a narrow-looking connective element between bricks without needing the precision, notably fooling preservationists for much of the past century.
- Well, how’d we Yankees get wind of this? In the Nineteenth Century, the technique appeared in Chicago before spreading gradually throughout the Midwest. It was officially adopted by the Structural Clay Products Institute in 1961. Today, the technique serves a more practical purpose, allowing specialists to replace or restore external parts of mortar joints in masonry construction (also known as “repointing.”) This becomes helpful after weather and the elements crack, flake or disintegrate mortar joints. While the English mostly deal with foggy, damp weather, the Windy City’s damaging winters can more easily cause moisture to become trapped inside the brick then evaporate when it becomes warmer. This can cause voids, cracks, and unattractive white efflorescence to form on you mortar. It also can cause your heating and water bills to go up thanks to water or air filtering through the gaps in the mortar.
- What does this mean for me today in 2014? Here at ARROW Masonry and Exteriors, Inc., we combine the two purposes of tuckpointing and repointing to provide your masonry with new protection against the elements as well as a crisp new look that will restore your building’s cosmetic appeal. We match your existing mortar color and profile with nearly 90 percent accuracy through careful manipulation of the color additives we use. The tucked mortar also will appear sharper and clearer than before since it has not had a few (or dozens) of Chicago winters to wear it down yet.