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concrete bricks & blocks

1. Introduction
The small-scale manufacture of concrete bricks and blocks
for masonry is well suited to small businesses. Production
can be carried out in the open, the process is simple and
equipment does not require high capital investment.
The aim of this publication is to provide the information
needed to set up and run a blockyard to manufacture
concrete bricks and blocks on a small scale. The publication
is intended mainly for development agencies, local
authorities, builders’ associations, housing consultants,
trainers, etc, but could be of use to entrepreneurs and
blockyard managers.
Aspects dealt with include the feasibility study, selecting
and establishing a site, selection of equipment, materials for
blockmaking, trial mixes and production.
This publication focuses on technical information. Topics
outside the scope of this leaflet are:

Detailed cost analysis

Manufacture of paving blocks
Bricks and blocks are masonry units and are referred to as
such in SABS standards. Units may be solid or hollow. The
difference between bricks and blocks is one of size. In this
pamphlet “block” is used throughout, but the same principles
apply to brick.
2. Feasibility study
It is easy to make a concrete block. The successful
blockyard must however make blocks of uniform quality and
sell them at a price high enough to cover costs and make a
reasonable profit.
Before you start a blockyard, it is essential therefore to
investigate the economic feasibility of the venture.
Determine first what demand there is for blocks in your
area (how many per month) and find out if there would be
competition from other blockyards.
Then estimate costs based on various methods of production
and output.
Factors which influence unit cost include:

Purchase price or rental of site

Cost of site improvements: fencing, paved areas for
production and stockpiles, pathways, roadways and
buildings

Cost of equipment: concrete mixer, blockmaking
machine, miscellaneous equipment, eg wheelbarrows
and trolleys, and tools.

Cost of services: water and electricity

Material costs (See section 7.2 for mix ratios. As a first
estimate, assume that 1-m
3
of loose aggregate will
yield 0,7-m
3
of concrete volume.)

Wastage

Maintenance costs of site and equipment

Output: number of blocks per day – dimensions of block,
solid or hollow.

Labour costs

Cost of finance
A list of possible sources of information and assistance is
available from the C&CI.
3. Selecting a site
In selecting a site, consider location, access, ground slope
and size. Each of these is discussed below.
3.1 Location
This should be considered in relation to:

Supply of raw materials

Market for blocks

Location of the labour force

Security of the area

Availability of services, i.e. roads, water, sewerage,
electricity, etc.
3.2 Access
The site must be accessible to trucks delivering aggregates
and cement and collecting finished blocks.
3.3 Ground slope
Ideally, the site should be level or nearly so. Steep slopes
make handling and production difficult. Terracing a steep
slope is expensive.
3.4 Size
The site should be big enough for aggregate stockpiles,
cement storage, production (slab or stationary machine)
block stacking, staff facilities, an office and on-site access.
How to make
4. Establishing the site
The site should have provision for stockpiling aggregates
and storing cement, a production area, a stacking area, staff
facilities, an office, and access between different areas and
facilities. Each of these is discussed below.
4.1 Aggregate stockpiles
Aggregates must be stockpiled in such a way that: they do
not become contaminated by soil, leaves, etc; different
aggregates are kept separate; and rainwater can drain away.
Ideally therefore, aggregates should be stockpiled on a
concrete slab. If this is not done, the layer of aggregates
in contact with the soil should not be used for production.
Aggregates must not be stockpiled under trees. Partitions
should be erected between different types of aggregate.
Stockpiles should be on a slight slope so that rainwater
does not collect in the aggregates.
4.2 Cement store
The best way to store cement is in a silo. For most small-
scale blockyards however, cement will be delivered in bags.
Cement in bags should preferably be stored in a
weather-proof room. Bags should be stacked on a plastic
tarpaulin or on closely spaced wooden strips so that they do
not absorb damp from the floor. The storeroom should be
big enough to hold at least a week’s supply of cement.
If it is not possible to provide a storeroom, cement in bags
should be stored in stacks raised above the ground and
completely covered with tarpaulins.
4.3 Production area
The size of this area depends on the method of producing
blocks.
A stationary machine, which forms blocks on pallets, needs
a relatively small area with space around it for operators.
A mobile “egg-laying” machine needs a fairly large slab on
which blocks are made. Details of such a slab are discussed
below.
Construction of a production slab
Area
A flat concrete slab, big enough for at least one day’s
production, is required. To minimise breakages in cold
weather, increase the cement content of the mix or the
curing period before moving blocks.
As a guideline, a slab 50-m
2
in area is suitable for a
production of 1-000 bricks or 200 blocks.
Slope
Normally block production is carried out in the open, and
the concrete slab should have a minimum slope of 1 in 100
to ensure proper drainage.
Thickness
The minimum thickness of the slab is normally 125-mm.
However, in the case of temporary works or works using
a small hand machine, a thickness of 100-mm could be
considered. Large production machines may require a
minimum slab thickness of 150-mm.
Concrete
If you mix the concrete yourself, the proportions shown in
Table 1 should be used.
Table 1: Concrete mix proportions for production slab
The amount of water is not given in the table because it
depends on the materials used. Use enough water to make
a workable mix that can be properly compacted.
For concrete ordered from a ready-mix supplier or contractor,
specify a strength of 30 MPa at 28 days and 19 mm stone.
Slump should be 75-mm if the concrete is to be compacted
by mechanical vibration and 125-mm for hand compaction. A
woodfloated finish permits easier removal of blocks.
Joints
To prevent uncontrolled cracking of the slab, it should be
divided into panels which should be square or as close
to square as possible. A construction joint is shown in
Figure 1. The halfround keyway prevents differential settle-
ment of adjacent slabs.
The maximum joint spacing depends on the thickness
of the slab and should not exceed 3,0, 3,75, 4,5- and 6 m for
slab thicknesses of 100, 125, 150- and 200 mm respectively.
It is not necessary to reinforce the panels with steel rods or
mesh.
Quantities per cubic
Size

Proportions by volume*
metre of concrete
of
stone Cement Sand Stone Cement ** Sand Stone
mm bags m
3
m
3
19,0 1 2 2
or 8,7 0,7 0,7
26,5 1 bag 75 l 75 l
1 2 1N
13,2 10 0,8 0,8
1 bag 75 l 55 l
* Loose, uncompacted state except for cement in bags
** Complying with SANS 50197-1 (see 6.1)
Thickness of slab, mm Dimension A, mm
100 20
125 25
150 30
200 40
Figure 1: Construction joint
Half-round
This panel
placed first
T
h
i
c
k
n
e
s
s
E
Q
E
Q
A
Edges rounded to 3 mm radius
4.4 Stacking area
An area big enough to stack two weeks’ production is
needed for curing (see section 8.5) and drying (see section
9.3) blocks.
It is normally not necessary to pave this area. To avoid
muddy conditions, a layer of concrete stone, about 100-mm
thick, should be enough.
4.5 Staff facilities
These include toilets, ablutions, and possibly change rooms.
Facilities should meet minimum requirements of local
authorities if applicable.
4.6 Office
An office should be provided for all but the smallest of yards.
4.7 On-site access
Pathways and roadways between the different parts of the
yard should be wide enough for barrows, trolleys or trucks
and may have to be paved or covered with aggregate to
make them usable in wet weather. Paving would in any case
be necessary where trolleys are to be used to move blocks.
5. Equipment
Blockyard equipment consists essentially of a means of
moulding blocks, a concrete mixer, and various general-
purpose tools and equipment. These are discussed below.
5.1 Blockmaking equipment
There are two basic types of equipment, depending on the
method of moulding the blocks:

Stationary machines that mould blocks, one or more at
a time, on pallets.

“Egg-layer” machines that mould blocks on a concrete
slab.
Some advantages and disadvantages of stationary and egg-
layer machines are given in Table 2.
For both types, equipment available includes small hand-
operated devices, which have limited output, and a range of
electrically powered machines of high output. The machines
listed in Table 3 represent a small selection of the models
currently on sale.
Detailed information on the output and price of specific
machines should be obtained from manufacturers and
suppliers. A list of suppliers is available from C&CI.
5.2 Concrete mixer
It is possible to make blocks on a small scale without a
concrete mixer. Hand mixing has the advantage of reducing
the amount of capital required and providing employment,
but may limit output and not always be thorough.
Hand mixing should be done with shovels on a concrete
slab or flat steel sheet. Never mix directly on the ground
because this results in contamination of the mix.
A pan mixer is the only type of machine mixer suitable for
blockyards. Pan mixers, with a forced mixing action, can
cope with the semi-dry mixes used for making blocks. Drum
mixers do not work because they cannot mix the semi-dry
concrete.
The output of the mixer should match that of the block-
making machine. A mixer of adequate capacity for making
hollow units may have insufficient capacity for solid units.
5.3 Miscellaneous equipment
This includes wheelbarrows, batching containers, trolleys (for
moving blocks), shovels, hosepipes and plastic sheeting.
6. Materials for blockmaking
6.1 Cement
Cement should comply with SANS 50197-1. Strength class
should be 42,5N or higher because the concrete must
develop strength as rapidly as possible. Note that it is illegal
to sell cement which does not bear the SABS mark.
6.2 Aggregates
Sand and stone are used for most block production.
Sand and stone are fragments of rock and differ only
in size. Sand particles will pass through a sieve with
4,75 mm square openings. Stone particles will not.
All aggregates should be clean and not contain organic
matter such as roots or humus. If the aggregates contain
clay it should be in a very small fraction.
The following aggregates may be considered:

Fine sand with particles mainly smaller than 1-mm: pit,
fine river or dune sand

Coarse sand with the biggest particles approximately
5-mm in size: crusher, pit or coarse river sand

Stone with a maximum size of 13-mm for bricks or solid
blocks or 10-mm for hollow blocks
It is normally possible to make blocks with coarse sand on its
own. Alternatively combinations of aggregates may be used:

A blend of coarse sand and fine sand

A blend of fine sand and stone

A blend of fine sand, coarse sand and stone
For small-scale production, the best aggregate or
combination of aggregates is normally found by trial and
error. Information on a more scientific approach is given in
Appendix 1. Assessment of aggregate blends is dealt with
in section 7.3.
6.3 Water
Water that is fit for drinking is suitable. Most river and
borehole water may be used.
Clinker or hard-burnt ash often contains harmful impurities
and should not be used as aggregate unless it is found to
be acceptable by laboratory test. Good quality clinker can
be used instead of sand or stone but blending with sand
or stone may be necessary.
7. Trial mixes
7.1 Introduction
The aim is to find a mix that will produce blocks that have
an acceptable texture and are strong enough but as cheap
as possible. Because cement is more expensive than aggre-
gates, the lower the cement content the cheaper the block.
Strength of well cured blocks (see section 9.1) depends on:

Aggregate:cement ratio

Degree of compaction

Size of block, solid or hollow
The degree of compaction depends on:

Overall grading of the aggregates

Particle shape of aggregates

Aggregate:cement ratio

Water content

Compactive effort
It can be seen that strength depends on a number of
interrelated factors. It is therefore not possible to design a
mix in a laboratory. Instead, a trial-and-error process, using
the equipment of the blockyard, is followed.
This process aims to arrive at the best combination of
aggregates and the right aggregate:cement ratio.
Table 2: Advantages and disadvantages of stationary and egg-layer blockmaking machines
Table 3: Information on a small selection of available blockmaking machines
Type of machine Factors
A relatively small space is needed for production.
Block machine can be under cover.
Pallets are necessary. For most systems, enough pallets for a day’s production are needed.
Pallets are therefore an expensive item initially. They also involve ongoing expense as damaged
(or stolen) pallets have to be replaced.
(Some hand operated machines for making bricks need only a few pallets because bricks are
removed from the pallet directly after moulding.)
A fairly large slab is needed for production of blocks. The slab is expensive and increases the
size of the site necessary for a blockyard.
Pallets are not necessary.
Stationary
Egg-layer
6-brick hand mould H Brick 1 200
10-brick egg-layer H 222 x 106 x 73 Brick 4 000
15-brick egg-layer H or Brick 8 000
Vibrating egg-layer* P 220 x 105 x 75 Brick 10 000
Vibrating 8-drop with pallets P Brick 10 000
1-block mould H 390 x 190 x 190 Hollow block 500
1-block mould H 390 x 190 x 140 Hollow block 500
4-block egg-layer H 390 x 190 x 190 Hollow block 1 200
5-block egg-layer H 390 x 190 x 140 Hollow block 2 000
Vibrating egg-layer* P 390 x 190 x 190 Hollow block 1 600
Vibrating egg-layer* P 390 x 190 x 140 Hollow block 2 400
Vibrating egg-layer*** P 190 x 90 x 90 Brick 1 000
Vibrating egg-layer*** P 290 x 140 x 90 Solid block 5 000
* Vibration —-petrol, diesel or electric operation
Manual forward movement
Vibrating egg-layers have the added advantage that due to better compaction a leaner mix can be used
** According to machine manufacturer and assuming that mixing output is sufficient
*** These units are modular size and are preferred over the imperial sizes (eg 222 x 106 x 73). Modular size
units are in keeping with the National Building Regulations requirements of:
– 140-mm single leaf exterior walls
– 190-mm single or double leaf exterior walls (90-10-90)
– 90-mm interior walls
Operation
H = hand
P = power
Equipment
Size, mm Type
** Approx.
maximum
daily
production
Brick or block
7.2 Starting points
The following starting points are suggested.
Aggregates
First try coarse sand only. Then try replacing some of this
by fine sand and some by stone, if these materials are
available. Alternatively, if coarse sand is not available, try
different blends of fine sand and stone.
(Some trial-and-error can be avoided by starting with the
gradings given in Appendix 1.)
Aggregate:cement ratio
Try 6:1, 8:1 and 10:1 by loose volumes (230, 300 and 380-l
of aggregate respectively per 50-kg bag of cement).
7.3 Trials
For each combination, make up a batch of concrete with
optimum water content (see section 8.2) and, using the
yard’s blockmaking equipment, mould some blocks.
Because block density is a good indicator of strength, blocks
can be assessed by weighing them as soon as they are
demoulded. Adjust the mix until the heaviest block is achieved.
The next step in assessment of strength is to look out for
breakages to corners and edges of cured blocks. (If blocks
break when handled, they are clearly too weak.) Strength
can also be assessed by knocking together two blocks,
after curing and drying out. A ringing sound indicates good
strength while a hollow thud probably means that the blocks
are too weak.
Ideally, blocks should be laboratory tested for strength. The
National Building Regulations require nominal strengths of
7-MPa for solid units and 3,5-MPa for hollow units for single
storey houses and buildings.
Also assess the surface texture of the blocks. If the texture
is too smooth, reduce the amount of fine material in the mix;
if it is too coarse, increase the amount of fine material.
8. Production
8.1 Ordering and stockpiling materials
Aggregates and cement should be ordered in good time.
Stocks should be sufficient to prevent stoppages due to lack
of material.
As a rough guide, using an aggregate:cement ratio of 8:1
by loose volumes, three and a half bags of cement and a
cubic metre of aggregate will be enough to make about
400 bricks. The number of blocks produced from the same
quantity of material will depend on block size and whether
they are solid or hollow.
Aggregates must be stockpiled in such a way that
contamination is prevented and mixing of different types
is not possible (see section 4.1).
Cement must be stored so that it is kept dry (see section
4.2). Cement in bags should be used within one month of
being delivered.
8.2 Batching
Cement, if supplied in bags, should preferably be batched
by the full bag. Cement supplied in bulk may be weighed
(preferable) or batched by loose volume.
It is important to batch all materials accurately. Batching
containers, eg wheelbarrows, buckets, drums and wooden
boxes, should be loosely filled to the brim and struck
off flush with it. To avoid errors, there should be enough
containers for a full batch to be made without using any
container more than once. Dented or broken containers
must not be used.
The amount of water to be added to the mix is judged by eye
and by doing some simple tests (see Water content below).
Time can be saved if, once the approximate quantity of water
per batch is known, about 90-% of this is measured out and
added to the mix at the start of mixing. The rest of the water
can then be judged by eye and by test.
Water content
Water content is critical. The mixture must be wet enough to
bind together when compacted, but it should not be so wet
that the blocks slump (sag) when the mould is removed. A
common mistake is the use of mixes that are too dry, resulting
in incomplete compaction. The moisture content should be as
high as possible as this allows better compaction and thus
gives the best strength. Moisture content is approximately
right when ripple marks form on a steel rod or the back of a
shovel when it is rubbed against some of the mixture. The
water content is just over optimum when ripple marks start
appearing on blocks when they are demoulded.
8.3 Mixing
Hand mixing should be done, using shovels, on a level
concrete slab or steel plate.
First spread the aggregate out 50 to 100-mm thick. Then
distribute the cement, and stone if any, evenly over the
sand. Mix aggregate and cement until the colour is uniform.
Spread the mixture out, sprinkle water over the surface and
mix. Continue with this process until the right amount of
water has been mixed in.
For machine mixing, first mix aggregate and cement then add
water gradually while mixing until water content is correct.
8.4 Moulding
Hand operated machines should be used as instructed by
the manufacturer.
The mould of a powered machine should be filled until
approximately six to eight cycles of compaction are required
to bring the compacting head to its stops. Too little or
poor compaction should be avoided as it results in greatly
reduced strengths.
Demoulding or removal of the mould should be done
carefully so that the fresh blocks are not damaged. Fresh
blocks should be protected from rain with plastic sheets
or any suitable covering during the first day and from the
drying effects of the sun and wind until curing starts.
Published by the Cement & Concrete Institute, Midrand, 1996, reprinted 1997, 1999, 2003, 2006.
© Cement & Concrete Institute
PO Box 168, Halfway House, 1685
Tel (011) 315-0300 • Fax (011) 315-0584
e-mail info@cnci.org.za • website http://www.cnci.org.za
Cement & Concrete Institute
In some cases it may be necessary to protect blocks from
frost damage. Covering with plastic sheeting with the edges
held down is normally sufficient.
8.5 Curing
The day after production, blocks should be removed from
the production slab or pallets and stored in the stacking
area, ready for curing. Stacks should be carefully built to
avoid chipping edges and corners.
Curing is the process of maintaining a satisfactory moisture
content and a favourable temperature in the blocks to
ensure hydration of the cement and development of
optimum strength.
In the South African climate it is normally sufficient to cover
blocks with plastic sheeting to prevent moisture loss or to
spray blocks with water.
Blocks should be cured for at least seven days.
9. Quality control
Three aspects should be monitored to ensure quality
masonry units: strength, dimensions and shrinkage.
9.1 Strength
Quality of blocks should be controlled so that strengths are
adequate (to avoid breakages or rejection by customers)
and mixes are as economical as possible.
Ideally, blocks should be regularly tested for strength and
mixes and production processes modified if necessary.
If testing is impracticable or unaffordable, block strength
should be continually assessed by noting whether corners
and edges, or even whole blocks, tend to break in handling.
Strength can also be assessed by knocking two mature
bricks together (see 7.3).
9.2 Dimensions
The length and width of the units are determined by the
mould and will not vary greatly. However, the height can vary
and should be monitored using a simple gauge. Units of
inconsistent height will lead to difficulties in the construction
of masonry and possible rain penetration.
9.3 Shrinkage
Concrete masonry units shrink slightly after manufacture. In
order to avoid this happening in the wall, blocks should be
allowed to dry out for at least seven days before being used
for construction.
Appendices
Appendix 1:
Optimum grading of aggregates
The grading, i.e. particle size distribution, of each aggregate
is determined using standard sieves in accordance with
SABS Methods 828:1994 and 829:1994.
A recommended combined grading is as follows:
Note that the figure implies that between 15 and 30% of the
total aggregate should be stone.
Appendix 2:
Definitions
Block: A masonry unit with dimensions that satisfy any of
the following conditions:

Length between 300 mm and 650 mm

Width between 130 mm and 300 mm

Height between 120 mm and 300 mm
Brick: A masonry unit with dimensions that satisfy all of the
following conditions:

Length not exceeding 300 mm

Width not exceeding 130 mm

Height not exceeding 120 mm
Masonry unit: A rectangular unit intended for use in
construction of masonry walling.
Hollow masonry unit: A hollow unit containing cores which
exceed 25%, but do not exceed 60% of the gross volume of
the unit.
Solid masonry unit: A masonry unit either containing no
cores, or containing cavities not exceeding 25% of the gross
volume of the unit.
Masonry: An assemblage of masonry units joined together
with mortar or grout.
Standard Percentage by mass
sieve size of aggregate
mm passing
4,75 70 – 85
2,36 50 – 65
1,18 35 – 50
0,60 25 – 40
0,30 10 – 25
0,15 5 – 15
0,075 0 – 10