Clay bricks are rarely exactly rectangular in shape and they vary in size. Some facing bricks are far from uniform in shape and size and if a wall were built of bricks laid without mortar and the bricks were bonded the result might be as shown, exaggerated, in Fig.
Because of the variations in shape and size, the courses of bricks would not lie anywhere near horizontal. One of the functions of brickwork is to support floors and if a floor timber were to bear on the brick marked A it would tend to cause it to slide down the slope on which it would be resting. It is essential, therefore, that brickwork be laid in true horizontal courses, and the only way this can be done with bricks of differing shapes and sizes is to lay them on some material which is sufficiently plastic, while the bricks are being laid, to take up the difference in size, and which must be able to harden to such an extent that it can carry the weight normally carried by brickwork.
The material used is termed mortar. The basic requirements of a mortar are that it will harden to such an extent that it can carry the weight normally carried by bricks, without crushing, and that it be sufficiently plastic when laid to take the varying sizes of bricks. It must have a porosity similar to that of the bricks and it must not deteriorate due to the weathering action of rain or frost.
Sand is a natural material which is reasonably cheap and which, if mixed with water, can be made plastic, yet which has very good strength in resisting crushing. Its grains are also virtually impervious to the action of rain and frost. The material required to bind the grains of sand together into a solid mass is termed the matrix and the two materials used for this purpose are lime or cement.