The first and essential item in a bricklayer’s tool kit is the brick trowel (Fig 60), which is used for cutting, rolling and spreading mortar. A good-quality trowel is forged and milled from one solid piece of steel; the kite-shaped blade (1) and tang (5) are one and the tang extends through the full length of the handle (7). Handles are made either of plastic with a soft-grip rubber outer coating or hardwood and are terminated at the back with a cap (8) that is riveted through into the tang. The cap used to be made of steel but today most are made of a hard rubber. The point at which the tang enters the handle is finished with a metal ferrule (6). The London Pattern trowel (Fig 60) is available in lengths from 225mm up to 350mm, and in two widths, 112mm (narrow) and 138mm (broad). The latter also tends to have a slightly thicker blade and is, therefore, a little heavier. It should never be assumed that a bigger trowel will lead to faster bricklaying; trowels should be selected entirely on what feels comfortable for the user.
All London Pattern blades are ground to be thicker at the heel (4) than at the tip (3), which improves the balance and handling of the trowel. The outer edge of the blade of a brick trowel is tempered, as it needs to be harder in order to withstand being used for tapping bricks to level, and the rough cutting of soft bricks. (It is good practice to avoid the latter and use the correct cutting tools instead.) The tempered ‘cutting edge’ (2) has more of a curve than the inner edge, which also makes it easy to differentiate between right-and left-handed trowels. Left-handed trowels tend not to be stock items and will need to be specially ordered. The inner edge is generally straight as it is used for trimming off excess mortar and acts as a guide to the alignment of bricks during the laying process.
In recent years, some bricklayers have moved away from the London Pattern trowel in favour of the Philadelphia Pattern trowel, which tends to have a thinner, lighter and more flexible blade. In addition, the back end of the blade is much wider and the blade edges much more curved, which, overall, is intended to make it possible to pick up more mortar. The handle of the Philadelphia Pattern trowel is also noticeably longer, which, allied to the overall lightness of the trowel, is intended to reduce fatigue in the hands, wrist and forearm. In terms of quality, the same solid forging of blade and tang should be sought.
The trowel should be cleaned after every use and the blade wiped with an oily rag in order to prevent it from rusting.