Sunday, 20 December 2009

How to make bricks: A Malawi brick-making masterclass

Bricks in Malawi are hand-made from the clay soil that makes up much of the composition of the land throughout the country. I've been away for a while, you know how the Christmas and New Year goes, anyway, here is the latest blog post on how to make bricks in Malawi.

Preparation for making bricks in Malawi:

Most people in Malawi who can afford it, build using bricks. These are made manually, using wooden moulds. Generally, one would buy a small piece of land with an anthill and bring in a pile of sand to get the right consistency. The old anthill would need to be dug up, water brought and the earth from the anthill mixed with sand and water. People mix the brick-mix by repeatedly treading in it barefoot - rather like how one imagines grapes for wine used to be crushed in the old days.

Sun-drying bricks in Malawi:

Normally the process of making bricks, once the anthill/clay mixture is at the right consistency, involves several people in a sort of production line.

A brick-shaped mould is lined with sand, to prevent the mixture sticking to the sides and bottom. A lump of the mixture is slapped into the mould and any excess is scraped of the top using a flat piece of wood. The full mould is banged on the ground a couple of times to remove any potential cracks. The brick is turned out on a flat piece of ground and subsequent ones are placed in rows alongside and behind it. If there is no shade, the bricks are covered lightly with cut grass to stop them from cracking as they dry in the sun.

Firing brick in the kiln:

Kiln-baked bricks are much more durable than sun-baked ones.

Once the bricks are sun-dried, they are collected into a pile and the process of building a kiln can begin. The number of 'legs' a kiln has depends on how many bricks need to be fired, and therefore how many spaces are needed for the wood fires.

Bricks are stacked to build legs, which are gradually widened so that once they are around 1 metre tall, they meet each other and form a single sturcture with spaces underneath, for the fires. The entire structure is then covered in mud creating an oven effect that encloses all the bricks. Slowburning wood is then brought and fires are lit under the arches.

Once the fires have burnt out and the bricks have cooled down, they are ready for use. Alternatively, they can be stored in the kiln structure until needed. Once the bricks have been fired, they are much more robust, and can withstand a fair degree of weathering.

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