Brick stairs can be built more than one way. Bricks can be used to construct the entire stairway. Formed and poured concrete stairs can be covered with bricks, or combine bricks with fresh concrete. The cost of building the entire stairway out of expensive bricks can really add up, considering the inner bricks are not visible. Forming and pouring concrete stairs is a large project by itself, let alone adding another project of adding a layer of bricks. Combining brick for the outside and a fresh concrete core is an easier, less expensive method of building outdoor brick stairs.
Determine the height needed for the stairs by measuring from the ground to the top step. The top step should be approximately 6 inches below the sill for a door or use the top level if blending into a sidewalk.
Measure and add the width and thickness of the chosen bricks together and add 1 inch for mortar joints. For example, common brick width is 3.75 inches wide and 2.25 thick for 6 inches plus 1 inch for mortar joints is 7 inches. Each step will be approximately 7 inches high.
Divide the height needed for the stairs by the step height to find out how many steps are needed for the stairs.
Determine the depth of each riser by how you choose to place the bricks for each riser. The risers should be at least 15 inches deep for comfortable and safe use of the stairs. Lay out the bricks in a pattern for the bottom riser with a 1/2-inch space between each brick and measure the depth for the tread and the width of the stairs.
Multiply the depth determined for each tread by the number of treads. This is how long the pad will need to be for the brick stairs. The pad will be the width determined with the lay out bricks and the depth determined by the number of risers.
Create the Foundation
Measure the perimeter of the area needed for the stairs and mark with landscaping spray paint.
Dig out the area eight inches below ground level. Place a level on the ground to be sure that the area is level.
Compact the soil with a hand tamper. Add 2 inches of gravel and tamp to compact. Add another two inches of gravel and tamp to compact the gravel. Place a level on the gravel to ensure that the gravel is level. Add or remove gravel as needed to level the gravel for the pad.
Cut 4-inch wide boards to the dimensions determined when planning the stairs. Add about 2 inches to the boards for the sides. Secure stakes to one side of the boards with screws.
Place the boards into position on the gravel and use a hammer to drive the stakes into the ground. Level the front board first and align the boards on each side with the edge of the front board. Use the hammer to push the stakes in further or lift the boards as needed to level the edge of each board.
Create the proper slope so water runs off the front of the brick steps instead of pooling in the mortar joints. Measure the length of the boards on the sides. Multiply the number of feet by 1/8. For example, a 6-foot deep base requires 6 times 1/8- or 3/4-inch slope for proper run-off. Raise the back edge of each board on the side by the calculated slope, or 3/4-inch for this example.
Mix concrete in a wheelbarrow according to package directions.
Fill the form with concrete. Place rebar sections in the concrete about two inches above the gravel if desired. Use a 2-by-4 board that is long enough to reach side to side to level the top of the concrete. Place the 2-by-4 on the edges of the form at the back and pull the concrete to the front. Add concrete as needed to fill shallow areas.
Use a concrete float to smooth the concrete. Use a mason's scratch coat rake to rough up the top layer of the concrete so the mortar holds better when set on the concrete. Allow the concrete to dry for 24 hours. Remove the forms.
Lay Brick Stairs
Mix mortar of 3 parts sand to 1.5 parts cement. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly before adding water. Add enough water so that the mortar is the consistency of pudding.
Lay out the bricks for the first course on the ground near the steps. Start from the center and place bricks in position. Use a mason's trowel to apply a 1/2-inch layer to the bottom and one side of each brick and place in position. Use a 1/2-inch spacer between the bricks and fill the joins with mortar by pressing in between the bricks with a curved masonry joint tool. Place a level across each brick to be sure it is level sideways. Place the level front to back and be sure each brick slopes slightly to the front to maintain the run-off slope.
Use bricks on the edges of the first course, then fill behind the bricks with concrete. The second layer of bricks, or the visible layer, should cover the entire tread. Fill the area behind the second layer with concrete. Allow the concrete to firm between each layer. Repeat for each step.
Cut bricks as needed by scoring the brick where it will be cut with the corner of a bolster chisel. Put on safety glasses or goggles. Place the brick on a soft surface such as the ground or a pile of sand. Place the edge of the bolster chisel into the score and use a lump hammer to strike the end of the chisel. Use a cold chisel to clean up the cut edge of the brick.
About this Author
Emily Patterson has been creating content for websites since 1996. She specializes in home improvement, natural body care and natural cleaning articles. Patterson holds a computing certificate from Penn State University.