Mortar is a workable paste used to bind construction blocks together and fill the gaps between them. The word comes from Latin mortarium meaning crushed. Mortar may be used to bind masonry blocks of stone, brick, cinder blocks, etc. Mortar becomes hard when it sets, resulting in a rigid aggregate structure. Modern mortars are typically made from a mixture of sand, a binder such as cement or lime, and water. Mortar can also be used to fix, or point, masonry when the original mortar has washed away.
The first mortars were made of mud and clay. Because of a lack of stone and an abundance of clay, Babylonian constructions were of baked brick, using lime or pitch for mortar. According to Roman Ghirshman, the first evidence of humans using a form of mortar was at the Mehrgarh of Baluchistan in Pakistan, built of sun-dried bricks in 6500 BCE. The ancient Harappa city in Pakistan was built in about 2600 BCE with kiln-fired bricks and a gypsum mortar. Gypsum mortar, also called plaster of Paris, was used in the construction of the Egyptian pyramids and many other ancient structures. It is made from gypsum which requires a lower firing temperature so is easier to make than lime mortar and sets up much faster which may be a reason it was used as the typical mortar in ancient, brick arch and vault construction. Gypsum mortar is not as durable as other mortars in damp conditions.
In early Egyptian pyramids constructed about 2600–2500 BCE, the limestone blocks were bound by mortar of mud and clay, or clay and sand. In later Egyptian pyramids, the mortar was made of either gypsum or lime. Gypsum mortar was essentially a mixture of plaster and sand and was quite soft.
In the Indian subcontinent, multiple cement types have been observed in the sites of the Indus Valley Civilization, such as the Mohenjo-daro city-settlement that dates to earlier than 2600 BCE. Gypsum cement that was "light grey and contained sand, clay, traces of calcium carbonate, and a high percentage of lime" was used in the construction of wells, drains and on the exteriors of "important looking buildings." Bitumen mortar was also used at a lower-frequency, including in the Great Bath at Mohenjo-daro.
Historically, building with concrete and mortar next appeared in Greece. The excavation of the underground aqueduct of Megara revealed that a reservoir was coated with a pozzolanic mortar 12 mm thick. This aqueduct dates back to c. 500 BCE. Pozzolanic mortar is a lime based mortar, but is made with an additive of volcanic ash that allows it to be hardened underwater; thus it is known as hydraulic cement. The Greeks obtained the volcanic ash from the Greek islands Thira and Nisiros, or from the then Greek colony of Dicaearchia (Pozzuoli) near Naples, Italy. The Romans later improved the use and methods of making what became known as pozzolanic mortar and cement. Even later, the Romans used a mortar without pozzolana using crushed terra cotta, introducing aluminum oxide and silicon dioxide into the mix. This mortar was not as strong as pozzolanic mortar, but, because it was denser, it better resisted penetration by water.
Hydraulic mortar was not available in ancient China, possibly due to a lack of volcanic ash. Around AD 500, sticky rice soup was mixed with slaked lime to make an inorganic−organic composite mortar that had more strength and water resistance than lime mortar.
It is not understood how the art of making hydraulic mortar and cement, which was perfected and in such widespread use by both the Greeks and Romans, was then lost for almost two millennia. During the Middle Ages when the Gothic cathedrals were being built, the only active ingredient in the mortar was lime. Since cured lime mortar can be degraded by contact with water, many structures suffered from wind blown rain over the centuries.
Portland cement mortar
It was invented in 1794 by Joseph Aspdin and patented on 18 December 1824, largely as a result of various scientific efforts to develop stronger mortars than existed at the time. It was made popular during the late nineteenth century, and owing to the First World War, it had by 1930 superseded lime mortar for new construction. The main reasons for this were that Portland cement sets hard and quickly, allowing a faster pace of construction, and requires fewer skilled workers. However, as a general rule, Portland cement should not be used for the repair or repointing of older buildings constructed in lime mortar, which require the flexibility, softness and breathability of lime if they are to function correctly.
In the United States (and other countries), one of five standard types of mortar (available as a dry premixed product) are generally used for both new construction and repair. The ratio of cement, lime, and sand included in each mortar type produces different strengths of mortar. The formulations for each type are specified by the ASTM standards organization. These premixed mortar products are designated by one of the five letters M, S, N, O, and K, with Type M mortar being the highest strength and Type K the weakest. These type letters are taken from the alternate letters of the words "MaSoN wOrK".
Polymer cement mortar
Polymer cement mortars (PCM) are the materials which are made by partially replacing the cement hydrate binders of conventional cement mortar with polymers. The polymeric admixtures include latexes or emulsions, redispersible polymer powders, water-soluble polymers, liquid resins and monomers. It has low permeability, and it reduces the incidence of drying shrinkage cracking, mainly designed for repairing concrete structures. For an example see MagneLine.
The speed of set can be increased by using impure limestone in the kiln, to form a hydraulic lime that will set on contact with water. Such a lime must be stored as a dry powder. Alternatively, a pozzolanic material such as calcined clay or brick dust may be added to the mortar mix. This will have a similar effect of making the mortar set reasonably quickly by reaction with the water in the mortar.
Using Portland cement mortars in repairs to older buildings originally constructed using lime mortar can be problematic. This is because lime mortar is softer than cement mortar, allowing brickwork a certain degree of flexibility to move to adapt to shifting ground or other changing conditions. Cement mortar is harder and allows less flexibility. The contrast can cause brickwork to crack where the two mortars are present in a single wall.
Lime mortar is considered breathable in that it will allow moisture to freely move through it and evaporate from its surface. In old buildings with walls that shift over time, there are often cracks which allow rain water into the structure. The lime mortar allows this moisture to escape through evaporation and keeps the wall dry. Re−pointing or rendering an old wall with cement mortar stops this evaporation and can cause problems associated with moisture behind the cement.
Pozzolana is a fine, sandy volcanic ash, originally discovered and dug in Italy at Pozzuoli in the region around Mount Vesuvius, but later at a number of other sites. The ancient Roman architect Vitruvius speaks of four types of pozzolana. It is found in all the volcanic areas of Italy in various colours: black, white, grey and red.
Finely ground and mixed with lime it acts like Portland cement and makes a strong mortar that will also set under water.
Firestop mortars are mortars most typically used to firestop large openings in walls and floors required to have a fire-resistance rating. They are passive fire protection items. Firestop mortars differ in formula and properties from most other cementitious substances and cannot be substituted with generic mortars without violating the listing and approval use and compliance.
Firestop mortar is usually a combination of powder mixed with water, forming a cementatious stone which dries hard. It is sometimes mixed with lightweight aggregates, such as perlite or vermiculite. It is sometimes pigmented to distinguish it from generic materials in an effort to prevent unlawful substitution and to enable verification of the certification listing.
Cable tray cross barrier firestop test, full scale wall
An international team headed by Åbo Akademi University has developed a method of determining the age of mortar using radiocarbon dating. As the mortar hardens, the current atmosphere is encased in the mortar and thus provides a sample for analysis. One major challenge is various factors that affect the sample and raise the margin of error for the analysis.
Technical data sheets, Mortar Industry Association, www.mortar.org.uk
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