March 30th 2023
Looking to add the 'wow' factor to your next brickwork project? Fancy adding a curved wall or arch to an existing structure? Then you're going to need some special-shaped bricks to help you achieve your goals while adding a spot of masonry magic...
Available in a variety of shapes, colours and materials, special-shaped bricks (specials) can enhance any brick surface. They provide architects with additional flexibility and offer functional solutions when designing distinctive buildings using non-standard brickwork.
There are loads to choose from and finding the right type can be a challenge. But we're here to help with a comprehensive look at how special-shaped bricks are made, where you can use them, and the different kinds that are available.
Special-shaped bricks have been used for years in myriad architectural styles - in fact, if you look around any brick building today, you'll probably spot irregular-shaped bricks along corners, edges, door frames and arches.
Although specials were originally cut and manufactured in small batches for specific purposes, these days special-shaped bricks are just as easy to order as regular bricks. They're fully customisable too, meaning they can play an important role in projects of all shapes, sizes and scopes.
Some special-shaped bricks are mass produced for common usage, but they are generally tailored specifically for each project.
Specials need a specific amount of heat during manufacturing and are often fired in a different kiln to standard bricks. This means they are sometimes produced in a separate plant and can contain slight colour variations from their standard brick counterparts.
Some standard bricks also have finished faces that emerge when the bricks are stacked together, but because the angular nature of specials prevents stacking, their finish can be slightly different.
However, with developments in the industry, many modern brick manufacturers can now create special-shaped bricks that match the colour and texture of any standard brick so that they appear identical.
While the best way to use specials is to opt for a made-to-order brick, there is a time-saving alternative if you're working to a deadline: we're talking 'cut and bond' here, a process which involves modifying standard bricks and sticking them together to make the required shape.
Where the surface of a made-to-order special will be seamless, with cut-and-bond bricks there might be a slight seam or other evidence of cutting visible on the face. It's worth remembering, though, that this process can be done in a few days. Make sure you weigh up your options and factor in the time needed when planning your project.
Specials can be used in lots of different ways. Besides the aesthetic advantages, special-shaped bricks can also be used to renovate, restore and protect portions of existing brickwork.
For example, many people lay specials to add durability to a pre-existing structure, improve the bond between new bricks, and prevent mortar problems.
You can also save time on site by avoiding the hassle of cutting standard bricks to fit a particular measurement. Order the right specials in advance, and all your materials are pre-cut and ready to mortar.
For individual projects, special-shaped bricks are a great way to create a distinct look that sets your brickwork apart from others.
You can highlight your original brickwork by introducing 'plinth' bricks that have a different colour or texture; you can upgrade your current brick element with special-shaped bricks that match the existing surface; and you can create arches, spirals and subtle finishes to corners and frames that can alter the mood and ambience of a room or building... The possibilities are endless!
There are lots of options when it comes to shapes and sizes in specials, and they are categorised with a two-letter code based on how they're used - some are designed for very specific purposes, while others are frequently used in standard brick structures.
Bonding bricks are cube-shaped bricks that are often used to fill gaps that would have required cutting a standard brick. While bricklayers may still cut standard bricks to fill a specific measurement, it's common to use bonding bricks if there are many instances that require non-standard bricks. They're also used when a standard brick proves difficult to cut.
Plinth bricks are angled at 45 degrees and are typically used to change the depth of brickwork at the base. The sharp cuts and shapes on plinth bricks also make them perfect for detailing hard lines on returns, windowsills, kerbs, capping and corbelling details.
As the name implies, angle bricks serve a functional purpose and allow a building to carry an angle other than 90 degrees. Cant bricks provide clean and crisp lines to create chamfered features on doors, corners and window openings. These can also be used as decorative capping for walls too.
Arch bricks are double tapered in length or width so that they can be placed together to create an archway or other curved elements, such as a circular window.
Featuring a smooth rounded edge on either one or two sides, bullnose bricks provide a soft and subtle transition for corners, windows and doors. They are easy on the eye and great for making doorways, windows and corners feel open and welcoming. They are also used as decorative capping for walls.
Often used to create industrial chimneys, radial bricks can also be employed as an aesthetic device for curved and wavy structures - plus, they are great for adding circular details without the aid of tapered joints.
Soldier bricks are laid vertically and are primarily used to acheive a specific look. They can complement or contrast the details on a brick surface by breaking up portions of the original brick pattern or highlighting certain areas of the brickwork.
Pistol bricks are similar to soldier bricks in that they're vertical, but in this case they're designed to hide the metal angles of a multi-storey structural frame. Rather than leaving the metal exposed, Pistol bricks create a seamless transition between brick and support.
Coping bricks resemble a half-moon shape and are used as a decorative finish for parapet walls in order to protect the brickwork beneath. Cappings are designed to sit flush against a vertical wall, while copings project out from the wall.
Brick slips (also know as brick tiles) are thin slices of brick that have been cut from a standard-sized clay brick. Roughly 22mm thick, brick slips maintain the appearance of a traditional brick and are indistinguishable from their full-sized counterparts once placed on any interior or exterior surface.
Interested in using special-shaped bricks for your next project? We have a range of services tailored to help you acheive successful brickwork - whatever the shape of your build or the size of your ambition.
Our expert Brick Advisors are standing by to help you match, customise and calculate the exact amount of bricks you need, then source them and find the best price - we'll even arrange delivery too.
Simply let us know what you need, and our experts will do the rest!