A pointing trowel is a bricklayer's tool used for filling and shaping the mortar in between bricks, a process known as pointing. It has a triangular blade of around five inches (12.7 cm) in length, joined onto a handle made of either plastic or wood. Pointing trowels can also be used for repairing old mortar and are important tools in archaeological excavations.
Better quality pointing trowels are forged from a single piece of steel as opposed to cheaper versions where the blade and shank may only be welded together. A trowel made all from one piece is likely to be stronger. This strength comes from the backbone, or tang, of the trowel, which extends from the handle to the tip of the blade, and it is weakened if it contains a join.
While traditional handles made of wood are still in use, and preferred by some, many pointing trowels now have ergonomic handles made from soft plastic which can adapt to the user's grip over time. Although a pointing trowel is similar in shape to the larger bricklayer's trowel used to spread mortar and cut soft bricks, it is smaller in size, having a blade roughly half as long. While the blade of the larger bricklayer's trowel has a specially tempered, rounded edge suitable for cutting bricks, this is absent from the pointing trowel.
There are different styles of pointing trowel available, with London and Philadelphia being the most popular versions. The blade of the London style trowel is quite fine compared with that of the Philadelphia style, which is bigger and broader. What is called a tuck pointing trowel has a very narrow blade, about the same width as the gap between bricks, and is used specifically for repointing the joints in brickwork after the removal of old damaged mortar. Any pointing trowel should be properly cared for by keeping it clean and giving it a light coating of oil when it is not in use.
It is important to hold a masonry pointing trowel correctly, with all four fingers wrapped around the handle and the thumb placed on top. This gives better balance and control, and prevents the thumb projecting into the mortar, which could happen if the thumb was positioned on the blade or shank of the trowel. In the case of an archaeologist, the trowel is held with the edge of the blade flat against the earth to gently scrape away thin layers of dirt from the inside of a trench.