Read CHAPTER IX - VITRIFIED BRICK ROADS of American Rural Highways , free online book, by T. R. Agg, on

Vitrified brick roads consist of a foundation course of Portland cement concrete, broken stone or slag macadam, or of brick laid flat, the first named being by far the most generally used, and a wearing course of vitrified brick.

Vitrified Brick. Vitrified brick are made from clay of such a character that when heated to the required temperature they will fuse into a glassy texture. Brick roads are constructed on roads carrying the severest of traffic and the brick must therefore be tough and of high resistance to wear.

Not all of the clays from which brick may be manufactured will produce a product suitable for road construction, and paving brick, even though truly vitrified, are of different degrees of durability, depending upon the nature of the clay and the care exercised in the manufacture.

Paving brick are manufactured by the stiff mud process, which means that the clay is molded into form in a relatively dry condition. To accomplish this, considerable pressure is exerted in forcing the column of clay through the dies, which form the prism from which the brick are cut. If the clay is unsuitable in character or is not properly ground and mixed, the brick will possess planes of weakness between the various layers of clay which have been pressed together, and these planes, called laminations, are a source of weakness if too marked. It is usual to specify that the brick used for road surfaces shall be free from marked laminations.

If the brick is not properly burned it will be only partly vitrified and therefore not of maximum durability. It is customary to specify that the brick shall show a glassy fracture indicating complete vitrification.

Various defects of a minor nature occasionally develop in the brick during the successive steps in the manufacturing process. Check cracks resulting from the burning or from too rapid cooling are often encountered, but unless these are deep, that is 3/16 inch or more, they do not impair the wearing quality of the brick, nor indicate structural weakness. Kiln marks are formed on some of the brick due to the weight of the brick above in the kiln. These depressions are not objectionable unless the brick are so distorted that they will not lie evenly in the pavement.

Spacing lugs or raised letters are formed on one face of the brick to insure sufficient space between the brick for the filler. These lugs or letters are not less than 1/8 inch nor more than 1/4 inch high and of such design that they will not obstruct the free flow of filler into the joints between the brick.

Several varieties of paving brick are to be had, the difference being principally in the design or size.

Repressed Brick. In this type of brick the spacing lugs are formed by pressing the green brick, after it has been cut to size, into a mold on one face of which are recessed letters or other devices into which the clay is pressed, thus forming the spacing lugs.

Vertical Fiber Brick. These brick are designed to be laid with one wire-cut face up and spacing is provided by two or more beads on the side of the brick. Sometimes the vertical fiber brick has no spacing lug, it being contended that the irregularities of the brick are such as to provide all of the space required. In practice this does not always work out, as the brick are so regular in shape that when laid there is too little space between the brick to permit the introduction of a suitable filler. The use of brick without spacing lugs is just beginning and is not yet a generally accepted practice.

Wire-cut-lug Brick. This is a type of non-repressed brick which has spacing lugs provided by cutting one face in a special manner which provided lugs for spacing. In this type the wire cut face is the one between the brick as they are laid in the pavement.

Tests for Quality. The standard test for quality of paving brick is the rattler test. The brick rattler consists of a barrel of 14 sides 24 inches long, mounted so as to rotate at a speed between 29.5 and 30.5 revolutions per minute. The duration of a test is 1800 revolutions. Ten brick constitute a charge and these are placed in the rattler along with 300 lbs. of cast iron spheres. The spheres are of two sizes, the smaller being 1-7/8 inch in diameter when new, and the larger 3-3/4 inches in diameter when new. Ten of the larger spheres are used and the balance of the charge is made up of the small size.

Other Tests. Sometimes the absorption test is specified for paving brick, but it is rarely a vitrified brick that will pass the rattler tests which fails to pass a reasonable absorption test. Absorption of water in an amount exceeding 4 per cent indicates incomplete vitrification and failure of such brick is almost certain during the rattler tests.

The cross breaking test is also sometimes employed, but generally only to check the general quality of the brick. Failure in service more frequently occurs from excessive wear than from any other cause and the cross breaking test has little significance, except for brick less than 3 inches thick, which are to be laid on a sand bedding course.

Foundation. The foundation for brick roads is usually of Portland cement concrete, the thickness varying with the nature of the traffic and the kind of soil upon which the pavement is built. For well drained soils and normal highway traffic, 5 inches is the ordinary thickness of foundation. Under favorable conditions such as locations with sandy soils or in semi-arid or arid regions where the soil is always stable, the foundation may be four inches thick, and a considerable mileage of brick road has been built with concrete foundations less than four inches thick.

In other locations the soil and traffic conditions require a base six inches or more in thickness, and the proper thickness can be determined only after all of the factors involved are known and have been analyzed. It is impractical to adopt a standard thickness of foundation that will be equally economical for all locations and all kinds of traffic. As the brick pavement is essentially a heavy traffic type of surface, the design cannot be varied greatly with similar foundation conditions because the weight of individual loads is the significant factor and this does not vary so much as the volume of traffic. A variation in volume of traffic may be compensated for by a variation in the quality of the brick as already set forth.

The mixtures for the concrete foundation vary widely because of the variation in the aggregates employed. If the fine and coarse aggregate for the concrete are of good quality a mixture of one part cement, two and one-half parts sand and five parts of coarse aggregate would insure concrete of adequate strength. A somewhat leaner mixture is sometimes employed and would be satisfactory if the aggregates were of exceptional concrete making quality. Mixtures of sand and pebbles (unscreened gravel) may also be used if care is exercised to secure a mixture of adequate strength. The proportion will of necessity vary with each particular material and the discussion of the various considerations involved may be obtained from various standard works on concrete and concrete materials.

Broken stone macadam is sometimes utilized for the foundation course of the brick pavement and such foundations are constructed as water-bound, which is described in a previous chapter. The thickness, like that of the concrete foundation, varies with the soil conditions and the weight of the loads that are expected to use the road. The macadam is placed in a single layer and is rolled and bonded with screenings as described in the chapter dealing with water-bound macadam. Six inches is a common thickness for the macadam base. This type of foundation should be employed only where the soil is quite stable and where material costs are such as to insure that the macadam base is materially cheaper than one of concrete. This would usually be in locations where the cost of cement is high because of long hauls and where suitable macadam materials may be obtained close at hand.

Old macadam roads are sometimes utilized for the foundation for the brick surface, but the instances where this is permissible are comparatively few in number. When an old macadam is to be used it is reshaped to the proper cross section and re-rolled and bonded so as to afford a stable foundation of the proper cross slope.


In order to equalize the variations in size and shape of the brick, they are laid on a bedding course composed of material into which the brick may be forced by rolling. In this way the upper surfaces of all brick can be brought to the proper elevation to insure smoothness and easy riding qualities. Several kinds of bedding course are now employed.

Sand Bedding Course. The sand bedding course has been referred to as a sand cushion, but as a matter of experience the cushion effect is slight, although sometimes pavements have become uneven because the brick have pushed down into the sand after the pavement was used for a time. The sand for the bedding course should preferably be fine grained, all particles passing the eight mesh sieve, but ordinary concrete sand is satisfactory. The sand need not be clean, as a comparatively large percentage of silt or clay does not impair the usefulness of the material.

Sand Mortar Bedding Course. In order to eliminate the tendency for the straight sand bedding course to shift because of the impact of traffic on the brick, a lean cement mortar is sometimes employed rather than the straight sand. Sand and cement in the ratio of one part cement to four or five parts of sand are mixed dry, and after the brick have been rolled, is moistened to furnish water to hydrate the cement. The sand employed is ordinary clean concrete sand.

Green Concrete Bedding Course. In the monolithic type of brick road construction, the brick are laid directly on the green concrete base before the concrete has taken a set and the irregularities of the brick are taken up by rolling them until bedded in concrete.


The spaces between the brick are filled with some material that will prevent the brick from being displaced and prevent water getting to the bedding course. A suitable filler must adhere to the brick and fill completely the spaces between them. It must withstand traffic so as to remain intact in the joints and when in place it must be rigid enough to prevent displacement of the brick.

Cement Grout Filler. One of the most commonly used fillers for brick pavements consists of a grout composed of Portland cement and fine sand. When properly mixed and applied the grout filler meets all requirements for a filler except that it is non-elastic and some means must be adopted for caring for pavement expansion.

Bituminous Fillers. Asphaltic materials and tars are widely used as fillers for brick pavements. Such fillers are of high melting point and consequently solid at ordinary temperature. They are poured into the joints hot and when they cool are firm enough to comply with the requirements for a filler. In addition, they have enough ductility to accommodate the expansion of the pavement due to temperature changes.

Mastic Fillers. Mastic consists of a mixture of about equal volumes of fine sand and a solid bituminous material. The mixture is prepared at high temperature and is worked into the joints between the brick while hot. When cool it resembles the straight bituminous filler except that the mastic is somewhat more resistant to wear than the straight bituminous filler.


It is recognized that brick will expand and contract with changes in temperature. When a bituminous or mastic filler is employed there is sufficient yield to the filler to accommodate the change in dimension in the brick, but when the grout filler is used either the expansion joint must be provided or the pavement must be designed to withstand the compression due to expansion of the brick. Expansion joints may consist of a sheet of bituminous mastic prepared for the purpose and set in place in the pavement. The sheet of joint material is simply inserted between courses of brick at the proper place.

Another method of forming an expansion joint consists in placing a strip of wood between courses of brick at the place where a joint is required. After the pavement has been grouted, the wooden strip is pulled out and the joint is filled with a suitable bituminous filler.

Marginal Curb. If the sand bedding course is employed, it is necessary to provide curbing along the sides of the brick to hold the bedding course in place. The curb is usually constructed integral with the base and of concrete of the same mixture as the base. The width of the curb is usually six inches and the top of the curb is at the same elevation as the edge of brick surface.


Before the construction of a brick surface should be undertaken on a road, the drainage should be provided for even more completely than for a less costly type of surface since it does not pay to jeopardize the stability of the pavement by failure to provide adequately for the stability of the supporting soil. Grades should also be reduced to the economical limit.

The earth subgrade is brought to the proper elevation and cross section and is thoroughly rolled. If there are places where the soil will not compact properly under rolling, these places are corrected by taking out the material and back filling with new material that will properly compact under the roller.

The aggregates for the concrete may be distributed along on the prepared subgrade or may be stored in stock piles or bins at convenient points. If stored on the subgrade, a traction mixer is employed which is drawn along the road as the work progresses, the materials being placed directly in the mixer. If stored at a central point, they may be transported to the mixer on the road and dumped directly into the mixer, or the mixer may be set up at the storage piles and the concrete hauled in trucks to the road where it is deposited and shaped.

The concrete is spread to the proper thickness and tamped either by hand or by machinery. If the marginal curb is to be employed, it is constructed immediately after the concrete for the base has been finished but before the cement begins to set.

After the foundation concrete has set, the bedding course is spread and struck off to the proper thickness. When the bedding course consists of sand-cement mortar, the sand and cement are mixed dry and spread to prescribed thickness. It is considered to be desirable to roll the sand bedding course with a light hand roller before the brick are placed, but the sand-cement bedding course is not rolled. The bedding course must be carefully shaped by means of a templet or strike board before the brick are placed.

The brick are laid in straight courses across the pavement, with the spacing lugs all in the same direction if brick with spacing lugs are employed, and with the lugs in contact with the brick of adjoining courses. If brick without spacing lugs are used they are laid loosely so that there will be room for the filler between the brick of adjoining courses.

After the brick have been laid they are rolled to bed them in the sand or sand-mortar bedding course and thus secure a smooth surface. For this purpose a light, power driven, tandem roller is used and the rolling is continued until the brick are thoroughly bedded. Any defective brick that are noted are removed and replaced with good brick and after this culling has been completed the surface is once more thoroughly rolled. If a cement-sand bedding course is employed, the surface is sprinkled just after the final rolling so that water will flow down between the brick and moisten the bedding course sufficiently to cause the cement to set. In some cases, the sand-cement bedding course is sprinkled just before the brick are laid but in warm weather the setting would take place before the brick could be rolled if that were done. In cool weather the setting is sufficiently slow to permit rolling before the bedding course hardens.

The filler is applied to the surface after the rolling. If the bituminous type of filler is employed, the hot filler is poured onto the surface and worked into the joints by means of squeegees, with comparatively little material left on the surface. In some instances cone-shaped pouring pots are employed and the material is poured directly into the joints.

The cement grout filler is applied in the same general manner as the bituminous filler. The grout, consisting of equal parts of sand and cement, is mixed to a thin consistency and poured onto the surface and is then worked into the joints with squeegees. Two or more applications are usually required to effect a complete filling of the joints. The surface should be covered with sand and be kept moist until the cement grout has set.