Lime mortar description

Lime is manufactured by burning limestone or chalk and the result of this burning is a dirty white, lumpy material known as quicklime. When this quicklime is mixed with water a chemical change occurs during which heat is generated in the lime and water, and the lime expands to about three times its former bulk. This change is gradual and takes some days to complete, and the quicklime afterwards is said to be slaked, that is it has no more thirst for water. More precisely the lime is said to be hydrated, which means much the same thing. Obviously the quicklime must be slaked before it is used in mortar otherwise the mortar would increase in bulk and squeeze out of the joints. Lime for building is delivered to site ready slaked and is termed ‘hydrated lime’.

When mixed with water, lime combines chemically with carbon dioxide in the air and in undergoing this change it gradually hardens into a solid mass which firmly binds the sand.

A lime mortar is usually mixed with 1 part of lime to 3 parts of sand by volume. The mortar is plastic and easy to spread and hardens into a dense mass of good compressive strength. A lime mortar readily absorbs water and in time the effect is to reduce the adhesion of the lime to the sand and the mortar crumbles and falls out of the joints in the brickwork.

Mortar for general brickwork may be made from a mixture of cement, lime and sand in the proportions set out in Table 2. These mixtures combine the strength of cement with the plasticity of lime, have much the same porosity as most bricks and do not cause efflorescence on the face of the brickwork.

The mixes set out in Table 2 are tabulated from rich mixes (1) to weak mixes (2). A rich mix of mortar is one in which there is a high proportion of matrix, that is lime or cement or both, to sand as in the 1:3 mix and a weak mix is one in which there is a low proportion of lime or cement to sand as in the mix 1:3:12. The richer the mix of mortar the greater its compressive strength and the weaker the mix the greater the ability of the mortar to accommodate moisture or temperature movements.


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