Tuckpointing is a way of using two contrasting colours of mortar in the mortar joints of brickwork, one colour matching the bricks themselves, to give an artificial impression that very fine joints have been made. In some parts of the United States and Canada, some confusion may result as the term is often used interchangeably with pointing (to correct defects or finish off joints in newly laid masonry) and repointing (to place wet mortar into cut or raked joints to repair weathered joints in old masonry).
The tuckpointing method was developed in England, in the late eighteenth century, to imitate brickwork constructed using rubbed bricks (also rubbers and gauged bricks), which were bricks of fine, red finish that were made slightly oversized, and, after firing, then were individually abraded or cut, often by hand, to a precise size. When laid with white lime mortar, a neat finish of red brick contrasting with very fine white joints was obtained. Tuckpointing was a way of achieving a similar effect using cheap, unrubbed bricks: these were laid in a mortar of a matching colour (initially red, but later, blue-black bricks and mortar were occasionally used) and a fine fillet of white material, usually pipeclay or putty, pushed into the joints before the mortar set. The term tuckpointing derives from an earlier, less sophisticated technique that was used with very uneven bricks: a thin line, called a tuck, was drawn in the flush-faced mortar, but left unfilled, to give the impression of well-formed brickwork.
Professional "tuckpointers" use tuckpointing tools, which depending on country and local trade terminology sometimes may be termed "jointers" or "tuckpointing irons" (primarily in London where the trade originated).
The tuckpointing tools themselves were originally made from forged iron by blacksmiths dating back to their origins in England during the 18th century. Over time tuckpointing tools have now evolved into tools made from a hardened quality tool steel and shaped with a sharp-pointed front with a flat base or a beaded or grooved base. The sharp point helps in making the tuckpointed fine line smooth. This is similar in theory or principle to a concreter's float, whereby if one has to make the concrete surface rough a concreter will use an upturned or rounded float whereby when a concreter has to make the surface smooth they will use a sharp pointed float.
Tuckpointing tools have a wooden handle which is attached with a brass ferrule.
Thicknesses or widths of tuckpointing tools may be between 1 mm and 14 mm depending on the tuckpointers' personal preferences and the type existing brick or stone work that a tuckpointer is tuckpointing. Tuckpointers often use wider tools when tuckpointing stonework.
There are many different types of tuckpointing tools now available: "Standard Tuckpointing Tools /flat bottomed", "Square Beaded Tuckpointing Tool", "Round Beaded Tuckpointing Tools" "Stubnose and Longnose Tuckpointing tools" and also rarer "Rounded Corner Tuckpointing Tools".
Standard or flat bottomed tuckpointing tools used to be the most commonly used tuckpointing tools, simply because they were the simplest tools to manufacture by early blacksmiths. Standard tuckpointing tools come in widths from as little as 1 mm to up to 14 mm wide, so these tools can be used for very fine detailed work up to wide stone tuckpointing work.
Lengths of tools also vary depending on personal preferences, but the most common lengths are usually between 75 and 125 mm. However professionals sometimes like a much shorter tool, for instance one 30 mm long or 25 mm long which may be flat on the front or slightly pointed in order to get into hard to reach spots, for instance under window brick work and in corners. These shorter length tuckpointing tools are called "stubnose" and "longnose" tuckpointing tools respectively and they are now available in many different "beaded" or grooved profiles. As the names suggest, the stubnose is shorter in height while the longnose is longer.
Tools are sometimes "beaded". Beaded Tuckpointing tools were first crudely made by blacksmiths by hitting a rounded leading edged hammer against a red hot tuckpointing iron. This process has now been refined and now a small rounded or square fillet is "ground" into the flat of the tuckpointing tool that comes into contact with the "perps" or "lines" in the brickwork. (In bricklaying terms, the "perps" are the gaps between the bricks in which mortar runs in the vertical direction, perpendicular to the ends. "Lines" run in the horizontal direction).
Square beaded tuckpointing tools are available in 4 mm, 5 mm, 6 mm, 8 mm, 10 mm, 12 mm, and 13 mm wide ground square profiles. Round beaded tuckpointing tools are available in 5 mm, 6 mm, 8 mm, 10 mm and 12 mm ground round profiles.
"Rounded Corner Tuckpointing Tools" are curved tuckpointing tools; that is, they do not have a flat bottom like the other tuckpointed tools but have a curved bottom surface which helps in applying lime putty around rounded bricks. They are available in Standard and Beaded profiles so that rounded bricks can be tuckpointed.
The process of tuckpointing requires that the excess lime putty is "cut" away from the fine tuckpointed line. This is performed using a Frenchmen knife or a double Frenchmen knife. A Frenchmen knife is a type of knife with a small sharp bent tip which allows the lime putty to be cut when guided along the tuckpointed line with a tuckpointer's straight edge. A double Frenchmen knife works by cutting both top and bottom tuckpointed fine lines in one pass, making the process quicker. Double Frenchmen knives can be adjusted to match the width of the fine tuckpointed lines.
Tuckpointing is a fairly rare but not forgotten trade. Many historic homes with classic Italianate architecture like the Werribee Mansion at Werribee Park, in Victoria, Australia west of Melbourne, show good examples of recent tuckpointing which display the contrast between the tuckpointed white lines in the mortar between the bluestone architecture.