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(The small scale producer)

D. P. Katale and Peter Tawodzera
Department of Civil Engineering,
University of Zimbabwe, P. O. Box MP 167 Mount Pleasant Harare.

An investigation was carried out to investigate the raw materials used and the quality of bricks produced.
Of special interest was the performance of small-scale producers. Tests were conducted on materials used
and the behaviour of the products produced both at the green and fired stages of brick making. The results
showed that all the producers were able to select the right type of raw materials to use. The result from
testing of the fired brick however showed that almost all the small-scale producers were not able to meet
the performance requirements.

The Department of Civil Engineering, University of Zimbabwe together with ITDG Zimbabwe
carried out an investigation into the product quality and raw material used in the Brick production

Scope of work
The scope of work included:
(a) Determining the product characteristics, both the intermediate characteristics; the green
bricks and the final products; the fired bricks. The parameters used for this part of the
investigation included
(i) the average density of the green bricks
(ii) the average moisture content of the green bricks
(iii) the average density of the fired bricks
(iv) the average water absorption of the fired bricks
(v) the average compressive strength of fired bricks.
(b) Determining the raw material characteristics. The parameters used here were
(i) the particle size distribution of the soil
(ii) the plasticity characteristics of the soil.

Soil samples, green bricks and fired bricks were obtained from a number of brick producers, in a
number of locations. The average properties were determined using at least three bricks except
where the number of bricks available was limited. The tests that were conducted are listed below.

Average density
The densities of the bricks both the green and fired bricks were determined by weighing the
bricks using a balance accurate to 1 g. The volume of the bricks were determined by measuring
the length, the breadth and the height of each brick to an accuracy of 0.1 mm using vernier
callipers Three readings were made for each of these linear dimension and the average values
used in calculating the volume of each brick. The density was then calculated as the weight in
kilograms divide by the volume in cubic meters.

Moisture content
The moisture content for each green brick was measured using the method detailed in close 6.1
of SAZ 185: part 1: 1998
. The whole brick was used to measure the moisture content.

Water absorption
The water absorption of fired bricks was obtained using the method detailed in SAZS 221 : 1991
The fired brick was dried in an oven at 105 - 110 degrees centigrade. The oven dry weight of the
brick was recorded and then the brick submerged in cold water for twenty four hours. The brick
was removed from the water, quickly surface dried and weighed immediately. The absorption of
the brick was then calculated as the water absorbed by the brick expressed as a percentage of
the dry weight of the brick.

The compressive strength of fired bricks
The compressive strength of the fired bricks was measured as detailed in SAZS 221 : 1991
Immediately after measuring the water absorption the brick was used to determine its
compressive strength. The brick was placed between two plywood boards and crushed using a
universal compressive machine capable of providing the required force. The loading surface was
the one that would be used for mortar bedding in a normal wall. The compressive strength was
then calculated as the failure load divided by the loading area.

Particle size analysis
The particle size analysis was conducted using two methods. These were the wet sieve analysis
and the hydrometer analysis. The results from the two methods combined to give a description of
the grain size distribution for the various soils. The detailed procedures for these two tests are
given in close 5 of SAZ 185: part 1: 1998

Plasticity indices
The liquid limit was measured using method A, close 7.2 of SAZ 185: part 1: 1998. While the
plastic limit was measured according to close 8 of the same standard. The results of the liquid
limit and the plastic limit tests together with the grain size distribution were used to calculate the
plasticity index and plasticity product. The calculation procedures for these are given in close 9 of
SAZ 185: part 1: 1998

The results from all the tests are given in the tables and figures below. The grain size distribution
results are shown in figure 1 and the plasticity results are given in table 1. The properties of the
green bricks are shown in table 2; these are the dimensions, the moisture content and the dry
density. The dimensions, water absorption rate, the dry density and the compressive strength of
the fired bricks are shown in table 3.

Table 1. Soil Plasticity (Raw materials)
Soil sample Liquid Plastic Plasticity Linear Fineness Plasticity
Location limit limit (%) index (%)
e Index Product
(%) w
(%) I
(%) I
(%) FI(%)
Large scale producers
ALP 40.2 24.8 15.4 5.3 75 1155
GWE-RS 31.8 17.2 14.6 5.3 61 891
MUT 36.6 17.4 19.2 4 39 749

Medium scale producers
KWE 49.3 22.9 26.4 8.6 -- --
NORT 46.1 19.6 26.5 8 -- --

Small scale producers
CR-LY 51.3 32.8 18.5 7.3 51 944
CR-B 60.8 30.8 30 10 -- --
EPW 26.6 12.2 14.4 2 43 619
EPW-OG 28.3 15.3 13 4.7 33 429
NPEPW 38.9 22.7 16.2 6.7 30 486
FAM 31.5 16.4 15.1 6 72 1087
MHO 36.6 20.4 16.2 6.7 -- --
SEK 18.9 14 4.9 1.3 -- --
Fi gure 1 Grai n si ze di stri buti on of the soi l s used.
0.0001 0.001 0.01 0.1 1 10 100 1000
g r a i n s i ze (mm)

Table 2. Dimensions, Moisture content and
dry density for the green bricks
Location Average dimensions

(L) Width (W)
(mm) (mm) (mm) w
(%) (kg/m
Large scale producers
ALP 229.4 109.5 73.8 1.5 1664.8
GWE-RS 229.5 113 75.2 1.4 1859.6
MUT 232.5 114.9 76 1.3 1846.8

Medium scale
KWE 225.5 113.7 71.2 3.7 1779.8
NOR 223.4 107.6 74.1 4.92 1780.3

Small scale producers
CR-LY 220.6 108.7 73.5 5.1 1468.1
CR-B -- -- -- -- --
EPW 230.2 116.9 75.3 2.2 1632.3
EPW-OG -- -- -- -- --
FAM 215.7 104.6 67.6 3.3 1837.5
MHO 229.2 115.6 70.3 3.28 1507.5
SEK 211.4 117.1 70.8 0.08 1573.6

Table 2. Dimensions, Water Absorption, Dry density and
the average Strength of fired bricks
Location Average dimensions

(mm) (mm) (mm) w
(%) (kg/m
) Mpa
Large scale producers
ALP (common) 230.5 108.5 75.3 19.3 1601.3 8.2
ALP (hard burn) 222.6 107.8 73.4 13.7 1741.5 23.7
ALP (combined) 226.5 108.1 74.3 16.5 1671.4 15.9
GWE-RS 230.0 112.8 75.6 11.1 1643.6 14.1
MUT 231.2 113.7 75.1 14.3 1795.9 13.7

Medium scale
KWE 229.5 117.4 72.0 15.3 1582.0 13.3
NOR 223.3 107.7 75.1 17.3 1637.8 13.8

Small scale producers
CR-LY 220.0 113.3 75.1 19.4 1402.2 4.3
CR-B -- -- -- -- -- --
EPW 231.4 115.2 76.8 15.3 1590.3 3.3
EPW-OG -- -- -- -- -- --
NPEPW -- -- -- -- -- --
FAM (common) 217.8 106.3 70.3 17.7 1675.9 10.7
FAM (hard burn) 212.7 102.3 69.1 8.2 1807.0 23.3
FAM (combined) 215.2 104.3 69.7 13.0 1741.5 17
MHO 230.2 114.3 71.5 22.6 1424.5 3.2
SEK 212.7 113.1 76.8 12.3 1417.6 2.2

NB. Two producers sorted their products into two classes, common and hard burns.

In order to produce high quality bricks the raw material must have suitable properties. Soils with
these properties are found in numerous places making it possible to make bricks in almost any
locality. The brick making process include mixing the soil with water and kneading it to produce a
plastic workable material which can be moulded into the brick shape. The moulded brick must be
moved out of the moulding equipment and placed in the drying area without distorting its shape.
The wet brick must then be dried without producing cracks in the brick. Finally the dried brick is
fired to produce a strong well shaped crack free and undistorted unit ready for use in a building.
The type of soil used affect the results obtained at each stage of the brick making. Suitable soils
are composed of sand silts and clays. The clays provide the plasticity, which allows for easy
preparation and moulding of the clay into any required shape without breaking. The more clay
there is in a soil the easier it is for it to be moulded into any shape and for it to keep that shape.
The clay also acts as the glue for the soil. Unfortunately clay expands and shrinks with changes
in moisture content. Too much clay in the soil means that the bricks will crack while being dried
and this will render them useless. The shrinking properties of soils do not only depend on the
quantity of clay but also on the type of clay minerals that the clay is composed of. Montmorillonite
has a very high shrinkage rate in comparison to kaolin. It is therefore necessary to know the
composition of the soil and how to change it if required. Good brick making soil should contain
about 10% to 50 % clay
the rest being silt and sand. Looking at figures 1 only the soil from CR-
B failed this criterion, having a clay content of about 60%. The rest fell within a range of 10% to
35%, which is acceptable for brick making. The samples from NOR, FAM, KWE, MUT and one of
the samples from EPW had up to 10% gravel. This might have to be sieved out.

The plasticity of the soil is another important property of the soil for making bricks. If a soil has
very low plasticity it will be very difficult to mould and remove from the mould. Pure sand is an
extreme example of this. The soils with high plastic limit need a lot of water to make them
workable. This means that the drying time of green bricks will be long. Another even more
serious reason is that soils with high plastic limits tend to be the ones with high activity and the
ones more likely to crack on drying. These factors mean that the soils to use should not be of
very high plasticity. The plastic limit range of 12% to 22%, liquid limit range of 30% to 35% and a
plasticity index range of 7% to 18% have been suggested as adequate for brick making using
traditional methods
. Soils with values outside these ranges can and have been successfully
used. Table 1 shows the results of the plasticity test on the soils used by the brick makers in this
study. Most of the small-scale producers satisfied these criteria or violated them only marginally;
the only exception being the soil from CR-LY. Of the large-scale producers only GWE-RS
satisfied the criteria while all the soils from the medium scale producers did not. The soils that did
not satisfy these criteria were more plastic than required and would require more water to work
with or tend to crack while drying. But these are soils that large scale and medium scale
producers can work with since they have the capacity to mix and mould soils using little amounts
of water.

Why is it important to know the properties of soils being used? This is a question large scale
producers never ask themselves because they know that the information they get from testing
soil enable them to adjust the materials they use and their methods of working in order to
produce their bricks as effectively and as efficiently as possible. Small scale producers on the
other hand need to be made aware of the importance of understanding the properties of the soils
they use and how they affect their operations. When unsuitable soils, both in terms of the soil
composition and its plasticity, are used a lot of bricks will break while they are being made. The
ones, which do not break, tend to be weak and might have limited use. This might look just like a
waste of the brick makers time and may be money but it goes beyond this. A lot of energy is
used to fire the bricks and whenever fired bricks break and become unusable this energy is
wasted. Most of the energy sources used to fire bricks have an adverse impact on the
environment, both in terms of the exhaust gases they produce and the depletion and destruction
of forests when wood is used. It therefore stands to reason that among other things, efficient use
of energy reduces the impact of brick making on the environment. Knowing the soils and how to
work with the soil helps in efficient utilisation of energy.

There are quite a number of parameters that are used to measure the quality of bricks worldwide.
Zimbabwe has a set of standards specifying the requirements that must be satisfied by various
types of bricks. The better the quality of the bricks the higher the price that has to be paid for
them. A major problem with bricks produced by small-scale brick makers is their quality. This
poor quality is reflected in the market price of these brick in comparison to those produced by
large-scale producers. Currently these bricks often referred to as farm bricks fetch only about a
fifth of the price of those produced by the large-scale producers.

The first quality indicator that a customer has of the bricks he is buying is their shape,
appearance and finish of the bricks. This has a very strong bearing on the price that he will be
willing to pay for these products. Facing bricks are differentiated from industrial ones by just their
attractive appearance. This indicator was related to the control the brick makers had over their
moulding and this can be seen in dimensional variation of the bricks from the various sites. SAZS
221 1991
gives dimensional tolerances for bricks of 229-232 mm for the length, 110-116 mm for
the width and 71-75 mm for the height. Looking at the dimensions of both the green bricks and
the burnt bricks in table 2.1 and 3.1 it is evident that the large-scale producers have the best
quality control. The largest variation for the small-scale producers was in the length of the bricks.
The overall impression however is that closer control of the brick dimensions need to be
exercised by all the producers.

Energy loss is a waste in terms of money lost but also has a negative impact on the environment.
An effort must therefore be made at all times to minimise this loss. The energy is lost from the kiln
surface area. Reducing the surface area in relation to the volume of the kiln reduces the energy
lost per brick made. To achieve this, large compact kilns should be used. The height of the kiln
that can be made depends on how easily the bricks at the bottom of the kiln break. The stronger
the bricks the higher the kiln can be made. The strength of the brick in this position and condition
depends on how dry the green bricks are and how true the shape of the bricks is. The drier a
brick is the stronger it is. Bricks to be fired should therefore be as dry as they can be made.
Bricks which are distorted provide local support points so that when they are piled on top of each
other in a kiln they are supported at these points instead of the whole surface of the brick. As a
result the height to which the kiln can be built is reduced and the efficiency of energy utilisation is
likewise reduced. Again the lack of close control of the dimensions indicates that the bricks are
likely to be distorted and therefore limit the height to which the kilns can be built.

The first stage of firing the bricks does no more than drive off the moisture remaining in the bricks
after the drying stage. If a lot of water is left in the bricks when the firing begins it means that a lot
of energy will be used just to drive off this excess water. It is therefore important to make sure
that the bricks are as dry as possible before they are put into a kiln for firing. This way the sun
energy which is not paid for and pollution free is used instead of using the firing fuels that have a
monetary as well as an environmental cost. Large-scale producers performed better in this
respect as can be seen in table 2.2. Small-scale producers need to improve this facet of their
production procedure. They would save both their money by using less energy and reduce the
impact they have on the environment in the process.

The density of bricks depends on the nature of soil used as well as the compactive energy
utilised. It is therefore difficult to compare the practices of the different brick makers without letting
them use the same soil type. What can be concluded from the results however is that the density
of green bricks is increased with firing. A comparison of table 2 and 3 shows this density change.
This is to be expected since the soil contracts first on loosing water and then continue to do so as
the temperature is increased to produce ceramic changes as well as vitrification.

The second observation that can be made from the results for the same soil types is that the
compressive strength and the water absorption of the fired brick is correlated to the density of the
fired brick. This can be seen in table 3. The results of the common and hard burnt bricks from
ALP and FAM show that the strength increased and the water absorption decreased with an
increase in the density of the bricks.

Table 3 shows the compressive strength of the finished product. SAZS 221
specifies that
common bricks should have a minimum average strength 7 Mpa, industrial 15 Mpa, and
Engineering bricks 25 Mpa. Of the small scale producers only one produced bricks which
satisfied these criteria. With sorting this producer managed to make bricks that satisfy two
classes, commons and industrial bricks. The remaining small-scale producers achieved
compressive strength of between 2 and 5 Mpa. These are still bricks that can be used for non-
load bearing partition walls
. Large and medium scale producers on the other hand had bricks
that satisfied commons and industrial bricks criteria. Again they had a wide variation in their
strength and sorting would be necessary to efficiently sell and use the bricks in an appropriate

1. All the soils used by the various brick makers both large scale and small-scale producers
except CR-B had the required clay content for making bricks.

2. The plasticity of the soils used by small-scale producers and one large-scale producer
were in an acceptable range for traditional brick making or just marginally outside this range. The
remaining ones had soils with higher plasticity; nevertheless they are still soils that can be used.
These two factors indicate that selecting suitable soils was not difficult for all the brick producers

3. There was a lot of variation in the brick dimensions produced by the various brick

4. The average density of green bricks varied between 1468 kg/m
and 1860 kg/m
that of fired bricks varied between 1402 kg/m
and 1807 kg/m

5. The average water absorption of the bricks ranged between 8.2% and 22.6%. For the
same soil type this quantity had a correlation with the dry density of the fired bricks.

6. The compressive strength of the fired bricks varied between 2.2 Mpa and 23.7 Mpa. The
Large and small-scale producer made bricks which were stronger than those of the small scale
producers and satisfied the SAZS 221 specification for common and industrial bricks. The small-
scale producers failed to satisfy these compressive standard. The exception being FAM which
produced bricks suitable for both the commons class and the industrial class. The strength
achieved by the other small-scale producers was nevertheless good enough for the bricks to be
used in non-load bearing partition walls. This indicates that small scale producers have not yet
mastered their technology well enough to consistently produce the required performance. With
training however it should be possible for them to do so as evidenced by FAM.

7. Brick making negatively impacts the environment due to the green house gases
produced during the firing stage and the cutting down of trees for fuel purposes. Any method
used to increase the efficiency of energy utilisation during the firing stage and any reduction in
the loss of the finished bricks will reduce this negative impact.


SAZ 185: part 1: 1998 Method of Testing Soils for Civil Engineering
SAZS 221 : 1991 Zimbabwe standard specification for burnt clay building
bricks and blocks,
ILO 1984 Small-scale brick making, Technology series, Technological
memorandum No 6