Welcome to Frank Menchise website DIY Brickwork and gets the job done right! This page is the continuation of our brickwork in the home page. Here we are also going to tell you issues that we are going to publish in the pages of this website, which will be about, building houses, maintaining house and buying your house, we are also supplying a navigation bar so that you could navigate all our sites. 

Welcome to Frank Menchise website DIY Brickwork and gets the job done right! But first let us tell you how and why I have worked in the building industry when I came to Brisbane Australia. 

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 Australia affordable houses

Welcome to my hub, Australia affordable houses

In Australia as well as in other part of the world not all the houses are the same, because houses come in a variety of styles and sizes, of course we all would like to live in the best houses available, but most of us would not be able to afford large expansive houses, therefore, we have to be happy to live in any house that we can afford to buy or rent.

For this simple reason of affordability, in order to satisfy the house market so to speak, there are several types of house that are being built at any given time. Here I am not going to mention the many type of house that could be built, because I am only saying this to you to point out what I am going to say next about building houses, in order to point out the sorts of houses that I ended up working on in the early sixties.

In the early sixties I ended up working on average houses that the working class could afford to buy, or at least the aim of the builders that were building them was based in this affordability, since they had designed them with this purpose in mind, because in the end even though they had been built cheap not all of us would be able to afford to buy these type houses. But anyhow this was the purpose of building these types of houses in the early sixties.

 Building houses from scratch

My story of building affordable houses from scratch

Let me say this, one of the reasons why I have started writing all these articles about building houses is because, I would like to tell you the story of my life and what I did when I came to Australia; but at the same time I would like to say something useful to my readers, and I believe that knowing how the houses are built might be useful for my readers, since knowing a few things about building houses comes handy at times; you see, we all live in houses and therefore we would like to know as much as we can about them.

Now what I might be telling you here is the story of my life and how I worked in the building industry, but while I am doing that I am going to make an effort to describe how these building things were and are done with as many details as I can, so that anyone interested in houses might be able to learn something useful from these building articles.

Now has I have explained already in my last hub, I was working in the building industry with this Italian builder, we were starting to build houses from scratch. As I have already said at the beginning of the sixties most of the digging were still done by hand, specially the type of work that we were doing on these new houses, as machines then were used mostly if there was a lot of digging to be done and with the machines one can only dig straight forward things and not small detailed digging as they were required to do for these type of houses, anyhow as I said, I did a lot of this digging work as I was employed as builder labour.

Therefore now, let us imagine that I have finished digging these stump holes and some foundation for this new house, as I have explained in my previous hub, and now, we need to concrete the foundation and also the concrete stumps. So let us go over what we had to do, because in those times these things were started from scratch.

Making your own concrete

Making your own concrete on site from scratch

Let me explain, what is meant by concrete in buildings and how it is made would be good to know; if during your life you are going to do any sort of renovations, it would be useful to know how to make your own concrete properly, so that you might understand what is required and how and why it must be done in certain ways, you will find it written in this hub. Some people might say here that today thing are usually done in a different way, so why bother to tell us all this stuff about how to mix concrete properly, when we can buy the concrete ready mixed by truckload, or in bags and all you have to do is to add water to make concrete.

 But I believe that you still need to know how concrete is made from scratch, because that is the only way if you don’t want to make costly mistakes. Therefore, let me tell you how we were mixing our own concrete in the sixties and also what is usually required to do that and how it is supposed to be done, if you want a good job done and the concrete to last a long time.

By the way here I need to clarify one thing as I am worried that some people might not be sure what is meant by the word concrete, because usually they would replace it with the word cement, on building the word concrete means all the element mixed together able to harden to a solid consistency within a certain length of time, therefore it has got to be done the right way.

One of the most important things while mixing concrete is that the concrete should be well mixed and to a workable consistency using the least amount of water possible, because if too much water is used then the concrete becomes weaker, therefore it must be done properly.

Usually concreting and other jobs are done according to its specifications, you see any good firm that makes building plans, which may be just a small house or something else of more importance, and they have to writes also the specification how the job needs to be done. In these specifications it will be written what material to use how to use it and also the quantity and quality required. Therefore to concrete say a foundation for an average small house, the specification written in those times could usually say that the concrete should be mixed to a consistency at least 1 to 6; for people that knew this it meant that to mix the concrete you should use 1 part of Portland cement 2 parts of river sand and 4 parts of gravel (aggregate) and mix it as required until an even consistency is achieved. For the stumps usually would be a bit more cement than the foundations. But I have to say that sometimes even these rules had to be changed a bit depending on the material that could be delivered on that local site.

Now let us say that we are ready to start mixing the first batch of concrete, as we have made everything ready, and everything has been delivered. To make concrete you need at least four elements of materials plus clean water; 1 Portland cement, 2 washed river sand, 3 clean or washed gravel and 4 reinforcement steel rods, and also it is helpful if you have a mixer if you have to mix a large amount of concrete, because to mix by hand is hard work and the concrete needs to be well mixed.

Now let us start the mixer and make the first batch, while the mixer is turning around, the very first thing you put in the mixer is water, one must be careful not to put too much water to start with, it has got to be just enough to mix everything to a certain consistency, so let us say that we put 8 litres of water (the amount of water can be different, since it depends on the amount of water that is already in the (sand gravel) aggregate) then we put in the mixer cement, next is the river sand twice as much as the cement and then the clean gravel 4 time as much as the cement; here the mixer is going around and mixing everything together.

For people that do this job all the time it is easy for them to see if the concrete that is being mixed has the right consistency required; if it is too dry just add a bit of water and if it is too wet you have to add a bit of everything else. There you are it is not too hard if you know how to do it.

What I have written above here applies only to house building of less importance, for building that are large and important the concrete needs to be to a very high standard and specifications.

 Concrete requires team work

To concrete usually requires team work

In order to concrete well and do a fair amount of work on these houses you need a team. Our team was usually three of us, I as builder labour, John as bricklayer and Con the contractor who was a bricklayer and concreter. So I was usually on the mixer mixing the concrete, one was with a wheelbarrow taking the concrete from the mixer to the foundations that we were concreting and one was fixing the concrete in place.

Fixing the concrete for the foundation was physically the lightest job, when we were mixing the concrete with this mixer on site, but it also was/is the most responsible job, because while concreting the foundations fist of all you have to make sure that the steel rods reinforcement was in the right position, at the same time you had to pack the concrete down and then the concrete in the foundations has to be finished level, this was easy when the ground was level, but when the ground was not level, it was necessary that some steps were made and they had to be to gauge, which was equal to the thickness of one or two laid bricks or more, or perhaps the thickness of a laid block, if blocks were going to be used to build the walls on this foundation, whatever was going to be used to lay on the foundations, we had to try to make an adjustment while we were laying the foundations; therefore this was the job for the experts, at that time it was not that hard, because mixing by hand even using a mixer was a slow job, so the bloke that was fixing the concrete had plenty of time to do his job right.

What I have written above is how we used to lay some small foundations in the early sixties, which are much the same as we would lay foundations today, except that today we just order concrete already mixed, but we have to be really ready with everything and everything has got to be in the right place, because the concrete ready-mix truck will unload its concrete very quickly, so there is no time to do anything else except to fix the concrete at the right level as quickly as possible and as required.

 Concreting stumps on site

Concreting stumps on site

Now let me go back again to the early sixties, when we were concreting these stumps on site, as this is not done very much today, the reasons for this change it is because the buildings have gradually changed in many ways and also today some of these stumps can be made in a concrete factory and when cured can be delivered to the building site, where the worker can erect them as required. There are other reasons also and later on we will be looking at this also.

To concrete these stumps on site we had some steel forms of various length, and these forms were assembled together with steel pins, so we first of all we would assemble these steel forms and then start to mix concrete, we had also make sure that the stumps were exactly in the right place by using the marked profiles and tight line between them.

In this case it was an easy job for the fellow that is mixing concrete, but a lot harder for the blokes that had to pour the concrete in the stumps form-work and make sure that the stump was exactly in the right place and finished at the right height and were also plumb (perfect vertical position). It was also necessary that some reinforcing rods were placed in the right position with a purpose made devise. These are how we made those onsite stumps in the sixties.

These concrete stumps that we made in the sixties were better that the timber stumps that they were replacing, because it was an improvement as they did not rot with the passing of time, as the timber stumps were doing. But although they were easy to make, they were hard to move to a different position. So to anyone that is going to attempt to dig out these stumps to move them to a new position, they better think twice because I tell you that the part that is under the ground is a lot larger than the stumps at the top. Remember what I said in our previous hub, we had to dig a hole sixty centimetre dip in the natural ground, and at the bottom should be a level base not less than forty centimetres square.

I believe that I have said enough in this hub and I will be coming back to talk about more building work in my next hub. See you soon.

 House building

Welcome to my hub, House building in Brisbane;

In this hub we are also going to talk about; House building in Brisbane in the sixties; Brick bases under timber houses, and, Working as a brickies labour.

What I am going to talk about next might seem strange to people that live in the old continent of Europe as over there most houses are made of masonry, as the timber over there is more expansive that in Australia. There might also be other reasons why they are made of masonry because of the colder climate, you see thick walls of masonry would absorb the heat during summer and act as storage of this heat by releasing it slowly during the colder months, and perhaps also for other reasons, anyhow houses over there would be built mostly from masons bricklayer and concreters, and the carpenters would play a smaller part that in Australia, as the carpenters would be building the roofs only, when the roofs were made of timber, because even the roofs sometimes are/were made of concrete.

But when I came to Australia, it was the carpenter that usually played the role of builders, when houses were built, because most houses were still made of timber, I am saying this here just to compare houses building, between the old continent and Australia in those times, because as we will see later on even this sort of building houses is slowly changing here. Now that I have made this comparison, let me go back to what I was doing myself in helping to build these houses. Therefore let me talk about how we were building houses in South East Queensland in the sixties.

House building in the sixties

House building in Brisbane in the sixties

In the sixties and seventies most houses building were done from teams of subcontractors, who had their own team of building workers, even if they were only a small team of two or three people, like the team I was working with, which had two tradesman and one labour as myself, as I have already explained in the previous hub. Now let me go over very briefly what sort of teams were there; first of all there would be the concreters and bricklayer, which usually could be the same team, then the carpenter team, then the roof, the electrician and the plumber and the plasters. The work of the builder, which most times was the leading carpenter was; not only to build the timber frame work of the house, but also to organise all the teams in a way that would be appropriate, so that they were not in each other way while they were working and finally do all the finishing work required.

In those times to be a builder of these stand alone houses on an approved block of land was easy, as long as you were a building tradesman and had some knowledge of building and you had the money to build them, or you had a lender that would give you money to build, of course there were local authority inspections to be had while we were building and at the end of it, but if you know what you were doing it was easy to pass. So there were so many house builders around that would hire these teams of building workers as we were.

I need to say that there are good reasons to believe that the building industry in Australia is one of the main driving forces of the economy, since it employs lots of new comers that are willing to do some hard physical work to earn their living, you see you don’t need to be a very learned person to work on the building, all you need is some common knowledge of things and enough English to understand what is wanted from you if you know what you are doing, or you work with some people that speak your native language and they explain to you what you need to do.

I believe that in the sixties and seventies there were very good opportunities to work on building houses in the building industry, because the price of the houses were more affordable than today, and therefore those builders that were building them were able to sell their houses soon enough at a decent profit that would enable them to build other house.

As we all know everything changes with the passing of time and there are usually good reasons for them to change, as we usually become aware when we look back at the changes that have taken place. So let us look at what has taken place in the houses and other accommodations in building industry.

You see in the beginning houses in Brisbane were mostly made of timber and they were set on timber stumps, then in the sixties because the timber stumps would rot or they would be attacked by white ants they gave way to concrete stumps, and also some brick walls under the house. Then from just a brick wall in front of the house they changed to a full brick base and some concrete stumps or steel posts, then came the era of the brick veneer and finally concrete and cavity bricks.

Now that I have said a few things about the history of house building in Brisbane, let me talk about my contribution in the building industry and what I did during the earlier part of my working building houses. If I remember right in my last hub I was talking about how we were concreting the stumps for a new house, and we also had laid the foundations for some brickwork, therefore now, let us talk about the brickwork base under the house.

Brick based houses

Brick base under timber houses

As I have already mentioned before, there were many type of houses being built in those times and some of them had a brick base or just the front wall under the house built in bricks. So, this was another job that we did with our small team of workers.

In order to be efficient and competitive a small team that lays bricks needs to be made of two bricklayers and a labour, of course there can be any sort of teams and larger teams that can work well with a different number of people, but anyhow this is what was like then and as I said our team had two bricklayer and a labour as myself.

Now that I have explained my position let us start working so that I can describe how things work out and who does what and how it should be done. It is usually the leader of the bricklayer team that decides from where to start. But if he is not there then it is up to whoever is there to start getting ready where the bricklayers have to start. This is not hard to know because to lay bricks you need to start from the lowest part of the foundation, So when I was working as a labour I would get ready the bricks and the compo boards, at the lowest point of the foundation, so that when the bricklayer had to start all I had to do to start them going was to give them fresh mixed mortar on these compo boards, and then continue to supply them with brick and mortar as required, I suppose that it is hard work for the labour and also for the bricklayer, because at the end of the day one has to handle so many bricks, since in a day a bricklayer on a normal wall is supposed to lay on average up to 500 face bricks, or up to a thousand common bricks, of course most times we didn’t but we had to try to get there. This is how the team usually works, but now let me break it down and describe to you what the labour does and then what the bricklayers have to do, as I know all this because I became and worked as a bricklayer for decades myself.

 Working as a bricklayer labour

What do you do when you are working as a brickies labour

The brickies labour job is hard work as I have said above and it is also a semiskilled work, since he has got to know how to go about to supply mortar and bricks to the bricklayer at the right time in the right place. It is obvious that he has to have at his disposition a mixer to mix mortar and two wheelbarrows and sometimes other small devises to help him achieve that. 

Here I need to point out that to start a new job it is very hard, as the ground on the site is not flat and generally there are hips of dirt around the foundations where the brick or block walls are going to be built, so, the labour needs first of all to flatten the ground a bit so that the mortar boards and the bricks can be positioned at the right distance from the foundation, usually this is about 60 centimetre plus from the walls that are being built, so that the bricklayers have enough room to move and at the same time they can reach the bricks and the mortar boards without walking; in order to achieve that there needs to be one mortar boards and then one stack of bricks and again one mortar board and another stack of brick and so on for the whole length of the wall being built. Now that we have made it ready and the bricklayers are going to start to lay bricks soon, let me prepare the mortar, which some people may call cement or compo.

Preparing or mixing the mortar

Here again there are rules to follow how to mix good mortar, so, one has to keep in mind first of all what sort of material is available and can be delivered on the local site, because quantity and quality may vary a bit with the locality. Anyhow let us assume that for this job a load of brickies loam has been delivered on the site; in this case this brickies loam has some lumps in it, so it needs to be screened before or after mixing the mortar, as I have already screened some of it I am ready to mix it now.

So I start the mixer and put in some clean water, and a small measure of mortar mix (this is a chemical that helps the mortar to be more workable) then I put in say a shovel full of Portland cement and four shovels full of brickies loam, this is how we usually mix mortar to lay bricks, it is one part of cement to four parts of loam by volume, therefore for bigger batches you can have say; three shovels full of cement and twelve shovelful of loam and so on. Of course sometimes these quantities can vary, if for instance it is written in the specifications that the mortar has to be made with different amount of materials.

Anyhow let me go back to this batch of mortar that I have just mixed to the right consistency; Now, I take the wheelbarrow near the mixer and tip the mortar in the wheelbarrow, and then take the wheelbarrow with the mortar near the mortar boards, here I wet the mortar boards before I place the mortar on them and finally I am ready for the bricklayers to get started. From now on I have to make sure that the bricklayers have always enough mortar and bricks, otherwise the bricklayers will we shouting at me Bricks! Or compo! (or mortar!)

Dear readers if I have missed a few things you just have to use your own common sense to get everything going the right way, you see most things on the building site is just plain common sense.

I believe that I have said enough in this hub and although there is a lot to be said about the bricklayer, how they are going to lay the bricks for this brick base, I am going to leave it for next hub. See you soon.

     Here are some links about houses and building houses in Australia: 

Australia affordable houses,            Working in the Australian building industry      Welcome to Brisbane         Australian houses in Brisbane

Is Australia the land of opportunity?               Australia affordable houses                House building in Brisbane                             DIY brickwork                         

Building a brick base                    House brick base continues                      Safety first of all                                         Buy your first house 

DIY Retaining walls                Mix your own cement