You’ve got a beautiful home, a manicured lawn, award-winning rose bushes. And to top it all off—a $19 tin can mailbox that leans 28 degrees to the left.
Or maybe you found a chair to keep it on, so your mailman is not hunting for.
Before you Begin
Before you drag out the shovels and trowels and before you pull out your ripped-up work jeans, there are a couple of quick items to check off your list.
- Check your local building codes to determine any special requirements for this type of project.
- Contact your local post office to ensure your mailbox is within their guidelines.
- Determine the size of your mailbox, brick colors, etc.
It’s a good idea to run the checklist and get all the tools and materials needed for the project.
What’s needed for Build-a-Brick-Mailbox Project?
- Rubber Gloves
- Measuring Tape
- Framing Square
- Masonry Trowel
- A Wire Brush
- A Brush with Hard-Bristles
- Premixed Mortar
- Pea Gravel
- Metal Anchors (Straps)
- Concrete Blocks
Start by removing your old mailbox. This will be the first of many gratifying moments during this project.
If you feel the need to stomp, bash or otherwise ceremoniously destroy the old mailbox, feel free to do so at this point.
If your old mailbox post was set in concrete, you’ll have to dig out all the old concrete before proceeding.
Clear the area. Remove any debris from the demo you did.
Start by marking the area you want the new mail to go. Ideal dimension would be a 2 feet square.
Measure the brick and know the dimension. This will come in handy to know how you are going to lay down and the pattern it can take using the dimensions.
When you dig the hole, remember to keep save of the top layer of grass – at least some of it.
Plugs of grass will come in handy to use when patching bare spots in the lawn. And, to pack it around after this mailbox project is done.
With your old mailbox removed, you can start digging for the footing.
The footing will serve as the base for your new mailbox, so it’s important to get it right.
If your new mailbox has the same 28-degree lean as your old one, you’ll know you’ve done something wrong.
Start by excavating an area slightly larger than the size of the mailbox. Your footing should be approximately 8” deep.
Again, check your local building codes for specific guidelines.
With your hole completed, it’s time to pour the footing.
Mix one of the concrete products well and get it ready for pouring. Every manufacturer and brand’s specifications differ slightly, so please make sure you follow the right procedure.
Quikrete or a similar product works well for this type of application.
If you use pea gravel and cement separately, that is fine, but remember to put pea grave for 2’ and then start working on concrete.
Keep in mind that once poured, you’ll have about 45 minutes to work the concrete. So, now’s probably not the best time to take a lunch break.
The essential part of pouring your footing is ensuring it is absolutely level.
A good tool for this is—you guessed it, a level.
Use a trowel and a carpenter’s level to make sure your footing is plumb. Once level, your footing needs approximately 7 days to cure.
Note: if you can’t wait that long, I totally get it. You can use a quick-cure, fast-drying version to speed up this stage. I believe you can jump to your next step in 24 – 48 hours.
So now IS probably a good time to take a lunch break.
It’s been a week (or 48 hours) and your footing is completely cured.
Now you’re ready to lay the foundation. Each course of your foundation will consist of two 8” x 8” x 16” concrete blocks placed side by side.
Using a trowel, mark the footing where the first course of blocks will sit.
Once the footing is marked you’ll need to set the blocks in place with mortar.
Over the next few hours, you’ll become very familiar with mortar—mortar on the hands, mortar on the shoes, mortar in the hair…probably even mortar in the mouth at some point.
Don’t worry it’s non-toxic—unless you eat an entire wheelbarrow full.
Apply a generous line of mortar to the area you’ve marked for your blocks. Then lay the blocks side by side, pressing them firmly into place.
Build your second tier by applying mortar to the top of the first tier of blocks. Remember to lay the second tier of blocks opposite or perpendicular to the first tier.
With two levels of foundation in place, you can now begin laying your first course of brick.
This is the fun part where your mailbox actually begins to take shape—a square shape hopefully.
It’s a good idea to dry-fit the brick around your foundation. It’ll help you get an idea of how many bricks you’ll need and generally help you get a feel for laying brick before the project is set in stone…or mortar in our case.
Apply plenty of mortar to the footing where your first course will start.
Lay the first brick and press it gently into the mortar. Before laying the next brick, apply a layer of mortar to one end then butt it against the first. Repeat, repeat, repeat…
Continue working your way around the base of the foundation until the first course is complete.
At this point check to make sure the course is plumb and level. Make any necessary adjustments, then begin the subsequent courses, staggering the joints as you go.
Also, don’t forget to work the mortar between each brick with a joint tool to create a neat concave joint.
Once you lay a few layers you will start to think you should have found a different design pattern.
Figure out the patter by doing a dry-stack and find the one that best works for your case.
Enclosing the Mailbox
You’ve laid several courses of brick, completing the lower portion of your mailbox. Now it’s time to enclose the actual mailbox within the brick structure.
You’ll want to purchase a new mailbox, probably because the old one was rusty, dented, scratched or maybe because you destroyed the old mailbox in step one.
Either way, make sure to position your mailbox so the door has plenty of room to open and close. Also, and this is kind of a no-brainer, if the mailbox has a flag on the side, you’ll want to remove it.
When your mailbox is where you want it, make a couple of locator marks on the brick and the mailbox itself.
Then remove the box and put down a heavy layer of mortar. Set the box on top of the mortar and press down gently.
Now that your mailbox is set, there are a couple of different ways to enclose it. In this article, we’ll use a vertical course.
A vertical course is just that. A series of bricks laid vertically on end rather than flat.
Depending on the size of your mailbox, the vertical course should be tall enough to fully enclose the mailbox on either side.
You can then return to laying horizontal courses and fill in the gaps around the mailbox with mortar.
Continue laying horizontal courses—three or four should do it—until your mailbox structure is at the desired height.
The simplest way to “cap off” your project is with a pre-formed concrete capstone. These capstones give your mailbox a nice finished look and are relatively easy to install.
Simply put down a thick layer of mortar over the top course of brick and have a friend help you lift the capstone into place (they’re not light).
Then just make sure the capstone is centered properly on the mailbox and you’re done.
If you want some lighting, you should plan and run the wires before you cap.
Your final step will be clean up.
Aside from the regular tool and work area cleanup, you’ll need to remove loose particles of mortar from the mailbox.
To do this, simply wait a few hours for the mortar to set up, then run a heavy brush along the joints to wipe away excess mortar.
Use a wet sponge to clean while the mortar is wet. Make sure to clean it off the bricks before the mortar dries.
If you don’t keep it clean while working this and if it dries, then you may have to use masonry detergent or muriatic acid to clean it off.
Don’t go that far, keep it clean.
That’s it – not that difficult to achieve that excellent look.
As a recap, all you need to do is just build the core, then brick structure, place the mailbox and enclose it. Finally complete with a capstone.
While it might get your pants dirty, it’s relatively easy and fun project. Mostly because the bricks are all of the same sizes, so you don’t have to measure cut and fit anything.
It’s impossible to get things out of shape because the bricks and blocks are all same sizes.