Brick: A Comprehensive Guide to History, Types, and Uses

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 20, 2022
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A brick is a small, rectangular building material. But it’s also a lot more than that. It’s a fundamental part of the construction industry and has been for thousands of years. So let’s look at what a brick is and how it’s used.

A brick is a block or a single unit of a kneaded Clay-bearing soil, sand and lime, or concrete material, fire hardened or air dried, used in masonry construction. Lightweight bricks (also called lightweight blocks) are made from expanded clay aggregate.

What is a brick

Bricks: More Than Just Building Blocks

Bricks are a type of construction material that has been used for building since ancient times. They are primarily composed of clay, but can also be made of other materials or chemically cured construction blocks. Bricks come in various sizes, but the standard size is roughly 2.25 x 3.75 x 8 inches.

The Modern Brick

While the term “brick” primarily refers to a unit composed of clay, modern bricks can be made of a variety of materials, including cementitious and chemically cured blocks. These newer materials offer greater strength and durability, but can come at a higher price point.

Brick Sizes and Shapes

Brick sizes can vary depending on the region and type of construction. In Spanish, bricks are called “bloque” or “ladrillo,” while in Portuguese they are called “tijolo.” Turkish bricks are known as “tuğla,” and in French they are called “brique.” Other languages have their own names for bricks, including Catalan, Dutch, Arabic, Czech, Danish, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Malay, German, Norwegian, Korean, Ukrainian, Italian, and Russian.

Bricks can also come in different shapes, including rectangular, square, and even curved. They can be joined together using cementitious mortar, which is a mixture of cement, sand, and water.

The Evolution of Brick-Making: From Simple Mud Bricks to Modern-Day Building Materials

Bricks have been around for thousands of years, with the earliest examples dating back to 7000 BC. These bricks were discovered in southern Turkey, in an ancient settlement near the city of Jericho. The first bricks were made from mud and dried in the sun, making them a simple and natural building material that was readily available in warm climates.

The Standardization of Brick Production

As brick-making became more popular, standards began to emerge. Bricks were produced in standard sizes and shapes, and the production process became more sophisticated. In ancient Rome, for example, bricks were produced in a variety of sizes and shapes, and were used to build everything from walls to aqueducts.

The Role of Craftsmanship in Brick-Making

Brick-making was not just a matter of production, but also of craftsmanship. Skilled brick-makers were able to produce bricks that were more aesthetically pleasing, with regular shapes and smooth surfaces. In some cases, bricks were even painted or decorated to add to their beauty.

From Clay to Brick: The Manufacturing Process

The process of making bricks involves several steps, starting with the preparation of materials. The materials required for brick manufacturing include clay, ground stone, rice husk ash, and fly ash. The clay used for brick making is typically clayey soil, which is shaped and burnt to the specified format. Additives may be used to modify the physical and chemical characteristics of the clay to improve its performance. For example, iron oxide can be added to clay to give it a red color.

Mixing and Moulding

Once the materials are available, the next step is mixing and moulding. The clay is mixed with water to form a plastic mass, which is then moulded into the desired shape. The moulding process can be performed by hand or by using machines. The mass is then left to dry, which can take several days depending on the level of moisture in the air.

Drying and Firing

After the bricks have been moulded, they are left to dry in the sun or in a kiln. The drying process is important to ensure that the bricks do not crack during firing. Once the bricks are dry, they are fired in a kiln at a high temperature. The firing process involves burning the bricks in a kiln, which can take several days. The optimum temperature and firing time depend on the type of clay used and the desired properties of the bricks.

Additives and Their Role

Additives play an important role in brick manufacturing. They can help to conserve agricultural land by utilising waste materials such as rice husk ash and fly ash. These materials can modify the behaviour of the clay during the manufacturing process, improving the flow of the plastic mass and reducing the adverse effects of physical and chemical characteristics.

The Importance of Manufacturing Processes

Manufacturing processes for bricks have evolved over time, from ancient times when all moulding was performed by hand to the vast range of manufacturing operations available today. The selection of a manufacturing process is based on several considerations, including the level of automation required, the size of the site, and the type of bricks being produced. The manufacturing process is an important aspect of brick production, as it determines the physical and chemical characteristics of the final product.

Fired Bricks and Their Applications

Fired bricks offer good performance in civil engineering and construction applications. They have a wide range of uses, including in the construction of buildings, walls, and gate pillars. The physical and chemical characteristics of fired bricks make them suitable for use in fluid flow applications, such as in the construction of drainage systems.

Brick it up: The Many Uses of Bricks

Bricks have been used for construction for centuries and continue to be a popular choice for builders today. Here are some of the ways bricks are used in construction:

  • Building walls: Bricks are commonly used to build walls in both residential and commercial buildings. They are strong, durable, and can withstand harsh weather conditions.
  • Paving: Bricks are also used to create pavements and walkways. They are a popular choice for outdoor spaces because they are slip-resistant and can withstand heavy foot traffic.
  • Fireplaces: Bricks are an excellent choice for building fireplaces because they are fire-resistant and can withstand high temperatures.


Bricks are primarily composed of clay, but they can also be made from other materials such as:

  • Concrete: Concrete bricks are made from a mixture of cement, sand, and water. They are strong and durable, making them a popular choice for construction projects.
  • Fly ash: Fly ash bricks are made from a mixture of fly ash, sand, and water. They are lightweight and eco-friendly, making them a popular choice for sustainable construction projects.
  • Stone: Stone bricks are made from natural stone and are often used for decorative purposes. They are durable and can add a unique touch to any building.


There are many different types of bricks available, each with its own unique properties. Here are some of the most common types of bricks:

  • Common bricks: These are the most basic type of brick and are used for general construction purposes.
  • Facing bricks: These are used for the exterior of buildings and are designed to be aesthetically pleasing.
  • Fire bricks: These are designed to withstand high temperatures and are used for fireplaces and other high-heat applications.
  • Engineering bricks: These are extremely strong and durable and are used for heavy-duty construction projects.


Building with bricks requires skill and precision. Here are some of the steps involved in building with bricks:

  • Laying the foundation: The first step in building with bricks is to lay the foundation. This involves digging a trench and pouring concrete to create a stable base.
  • Mixing mortar: Mortar is used to hold the bricks together. It is made from a mixture of sand, cement, and water.
  • Laying the bricks: Bricks are laid in a specific pattern to create a strong and stable structure. This requires careful planning and attention to detail.
  • Finishing touches: Once the bricks are in place, the final step is to add any finishing touches such as pointing and sealing.

Composed Units

Bricks are composed of individual units that are designed to fit together seamlessly. Here are some of the characteristics of brick units:

  • Size: Bricks come in a variety of sizes, but the most common size is 2 1/4″ x 3 3/4″ x 8″.
  • Texture: Bricks can have a smooth or rough texture, depending on the manufacturing process.
  • Color: Bricks can be made in a variety of colors, including red, brown, and gray.
  • Shape: Bricks can be rectangular or square, depending on the intended use.

Informally Denote

While the term “brick” traditionally denotes a unit primarily composed of clay, it is now also used informally to denote units made of other materials or other chemically cured construction blocks. Here are some examples:

  • Concrete blocks: These are often referred to as “concrete bricks” even though they are not made from clay.
  • Glass blocks: These are sometimes referred to as “glass bricks” even though they are not made from traditional brick materials.
  • Foam blocks: These are sometimes referred to as “foam bricks” even though they are not made from clay or other traditional brick materials.

The Not-So-Strong Side of Bricks

Bricks have been a popular building material for centuries, but they do come with some limitations that need to be considered. Here are some of the limitations to keep in mind when using bricks in construction:

  • Bricks are not as strong as other materials such as stone or steel, which can limit their use in certain types of structures or in areas with high seismic activity.
  • Brick masonry needs plastering done to finish a project which can raise construction costs.
  • Brick absorbs water which will cause dampness and damage over time.
  • Bricks are not as durable compared to stone, which means they may not last as long in certain environments.
  • Unreinforced brick masonry is not suitable for earthquake-prone areas, and reinforced brick masonry may not be as safe as other materials in the event of an earthquake.
  • Certain types of bricks may contain elements that are not suitable for certain types of construction or engineering projects.

The Role of Manufacturing and Ingredients

The quality of bricks can vary depending on the manufacturing process and the ingredients used. Here are some things to consider:

  • Burnt bricks are highly durable and are known for their strength, making them a popular choice in architecture and construction.
  • Unburnt or sun-dried bricks are useful in certain parts of the world where firewood is scarce, but they are not as strong or durable as burnt bricks.
  • Fly ash bricks are a newer type of brick that is manufactured using fly ash, which is a byproduct of coal-fired power plants. These bricks have some advantages over traditional bricks, including better uniformity in size and a smoother finish.
  • The constituent materials used in making bricks can play a big role in their strength and durability. For example, bricks made with coarse sand may not be as strong as those made with finer sand.

The Importance of Finishing and Keeping Bricks Dry

To improve the quality and durability of brick structures, it’s important to consider the finishing process and keeping bricks dry. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Brick masonry needs plastering done to finish a project which can raise construction costs.
  • Bricks should be prepared properly before use to ensure they are of good quality and suitable for the intended purpose.
  • Bricks should be kept dry to prevent dampness and damage over time. This can be achieved by using a damp-proof course or by ensuring that the ground around the structure is properly graded to prevent water from pooling around the foundation.

The Class of Bricks and Their Use in Architecture

Bricks are classified based on their manufacturing process and their strength. Here are some things to know about the different classes of bricks:

  • Class A bricks are the strongest and most durable, and are suitable for use in load-bearing structures.
  • Class B bricks are similar to Class A bricks but are slightly less strong.
  • Class C bricks are molded bricks that are not as strong as Class A or B bricks, but are still useful in certain types of construction projects.
  • The use of bricks in architecture has a long history, and they continue to be a popular choice for their aesthetic appeal and durability. In San Francisco, for example, many buildings were constructed using reinforced brick masonry after the 1906 earthquake to improve their seismic safety.


So, that’s what a brick is. A brick is a building material used for making walls, and they’ve been around for thousands of years. 

You can’t build a house without them, so it’s good to know the facts. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t forget to read this article again soon!

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.