Up the chimneys they rose
by Kim Zelinski
Tuck pointing, re-pointing, brick pointing, spot pointing or pointing up…just what exactly does all this “pointing” mean? In 2012, Meadow Brook Hall became quite familiar with these masonry terms, when restoration work on four of The Hall’s 39 chimneys was tackled in a big way.
Although the masonry terms are often (and incorrectly) used interchangeably, they all refer to a process that applies or re-applies mortar joints to brick or stonework. While masonry is generally considered a permanent building material, it is not immune to deterioration, especially the mortar joints. Over time, the joints can erode and crack, causing water to infiltrate and further damage the mortar joints and the adjoining brick.
Such was the case with the Meadow Brook Hall chimneys. Their condition, according to brick mason, Ben Shaw of Pullman (Structural Group), “is what I expected for a building over 80 years old. Most of the deterioration on the mortar joints and brickwork is on the south and west exposures of the stacks where weather conditions tend to be more severe.”
The restoration process began in 2011 with pre-construction work that included both mortar analysis to determine and replicate the appearance of the original mortar composition and the procurement of more than 1,000 hand-made bricks that included 17 shapes and colors.
With materials finally in place, the “re-pointing” process (the correct term for this particular restoration technique), began in early Spring 2012 with Shaw and his mason assistant, Dirk Morrison, harnessed into a lift bucket some 65 feet in the air. The arduous task included “grinding away the damaged mortar joints up to a depth of 1- ½ inches with an electric grinder and hand chisel, rinsing away the dust to ensure a proper mortar bond and, where needed, replacing the damaged bricks” Shaw said. “We then put down a 3/8” lift, which is the first pass of mortar into the joint, followed by the next lift after it is “thumb print” hard. The end result creates the best match possible to the original construction materials and should extend the chimney’s life span another 80 years.”
Shaw also added that although work was somewhat grueling during the summer’s hot spell, he loved working at Meadow Brook Hall. His birds-eye view of the building’s architecture and gardens was incredible. He also admired the team effort in working over, around and through the challenges of The Hall’s busy museum operations. But, he added “I could have done without the seven bee stings… hazards of the job I guess.”
The project, funded by the Matilda R. Wilson Fund matching grant program, was managed by SmithGroup/JJR, Detroit, George W. Auch Company of Pontiac and Pullman (Structural Group, Inc.) out of Trenton, MI.