Retrofit An Existing Brick Mailbox With a Locking Mailbox

by Mailbox Guru on January 5, 2010

Yes! You Can Retrofit An Existing Brick Mailbox With a Locking Mailbox

Brick mailboxes are usually less secured since they do not have a locking mailbox installed. You may think that because your brick mailbox seems to be permanently mortared in the brick column, you cannot replace the "lock less" arch-top design with a modern locking design now widely available in the market.

Well, here’s good news: You can, at any time, replace your existing brick mailbox with a locking mailbox and have the peace of mind you so longed for when it comes to your mailing needs!

Are you up for some Do-It-Yourself project?

First, Check if Your Brick Column is Big Enough

The first thing you will need to figure out is if your existing brick mailbox is big enough to handle locking designs. Measure the distance between the end bricks. The most common brick mailbox layout is square with each side of the brick column having two full size bricks and an end brick.

There are 3 common brick sizes: Modular Size, Queen Size, and King Size. The distance between the end bricks on most brick columns built with modular brick and a standard layout is about 12" to 12 1/2.". For Queen size brick with a standard layout the distance is about 15" to 15 1/2" and for King brick the distance is about 16" to 16 1/2." Generally, you can expect brick mailboxes made with Queen or King size brick and a standard layout to fit just about any locking mailbox design. Brick Columns made with modular brick are a bit more complicated. Only a few locking designs are compatible with this type of brick mailboxes.

Get your hands on the project right away! Pay your brick mailbox a visit and measure the distance between the outer end-bricks. Then window shop for locking mailboxes and choose the design that you like to buy the most. Just make sure that the outside width dimension of the mailbox you’re about to buy is smaller than the distance between the end-bricks (outer bricks) on the mailbox. Your new locking mailbox has to fit in-between these end bricks therefore, the mailbox has to be smaller than the distance between the end bricks (outer bricks).

Measure the height of the locking mailbox then measure your brick column to make sure there is enough room for your mailbox to fit vertically. You wouldn’t want to make a mistake on the measurements!

Do You Have a Hollow Brick Column or Is it Filled with Debris?

Masons have different opinions on this one. Some want to build the outer walls of the brick column and fill the inside full with brick, mortar and other debris. Most of the time, they will dump their extra brick and mortar inside the column to keep from hauling it away. Other reasons for filling the inside is to build up a support for the metal mailbox inside the column. Furthermore, many masons believe that by filling the inside with brick and mortar, the mailbox is less susceptible to injuries, e.g., if hit by a truck, car or similar circumstances.

On the other hand, there are masons who build a hollow shell with nothing inside. They believe that they can save money by using less brick. Also, making a hollow shell brick column requires less time.

To help you determine whether your mailbox is hollow or filled with debris, pop the concrete cap on the top. This is fairly easy to accomplish since it is only mortared into place. But still be very careful not to break it as you pop it off. You can use a 2×4 and wedge it under the cap down to the top of the curb, then gently hit the 2×4 with a hammer close to the curb to pop the top off. Once it’s popped, slide it back and see if it is hollow or filled with debris inside.

Now It’s Time to Cut the Face with a Diamond Blade Saw

You probably don’t have one of these concrete cutting saws. Don’t fret because you can always rent or borrow from your friendly next-door neighbor! The average rental rate for one day is approximately $85.00. It’s user-friendly and you can quickly learn how to operate it but still, you need to make sure that you know everything about it before you leave the rental place. It is suggested that you use a hose to hook up to the saw and make your cuts wet. Wet cuts are easier and less messy to make and you get to see what you’re doing more clearly than when you cut dry, which is very dusty and hard on the saws.

Really carefully now, mark the area on the brick column where you’ll be cutting (make it about 1/4" larger than the outer dimensions of the locking mailbox you are about to install). If your brick column is filled with debris, then you will want to start the cut right at the very top course of bricks (you will be removing the top course of bricks). This is so you will have access to chip out the debris. If the mailbox is hollow, then you can leave the top course in place and cut below it.

Let the cutting begin! Time to start the saw and cut. You can make a 1/2" deep cut first to get your line straight before cutting all the way through the brick. Go right to the corners of your markings on the brick column but do not go over.

It is normal to have overcut areas where the round saw blade does not go completely through the brick at the corners. Just make sure that you don’t make your overcuts go past the corners where you marked the size of your locking mailbox. These overcuts will be visible after you install the mailbox and you wouldn’t want them there as they are not at all nice to look at. You may encounter this problem: If you go right to the corners with your round saw blade, then the saw won’t go completely through the brick at the corners and you won’t be able to remove the cut portion of the brick face.

Here’s the solution: Use your reciprocating saw. You will need a carbide blade for your reciprocating saw. Carbide blades can cut masonry. Use the carbide blade on your reciprocating saw to finish cutting out the overcut areas that your diamond bladed round saw couldn’t get. When you are done, you should be able to remove the cut section. You should have an exact square!

The Inside of Your New Mailbox Needs Some Preps

Removing the face of your brick column that has a hollow interior will require you to build a wooden platform inside for the new locking mailbox’s resting place. You may use Redwood to build this platform.

If your mailbox is filled with bricks, mortar and other debris, you will have to carefully chip the debris out. You can easily do this with the use of a hammer drill with a chisel bit. Again, if you don’t own one, you can rent this tool or borrow it from someone you know. Be very careful not to pry against the outer brick when chipping the debris out. The outer walls of the mailbox are weak since you have removed the top course of brick and the cap. If you pry against them, they might break. Chip out debris enough for the mailbox to fit fully back inside. You will want to have the mailbox protrude out the front of the brick column about 1".

Finally! Install Your New Locking Mailbox

The last and final step is of course, to install your new locking mailbox. For hollow brick columns, you can rest your mailbox on the wooden platform you built. Most locking mailbox designs come with 4 holes in the bottom for mounting. Use lag bolts and washers to mount your mailbox to the wooden platform. This will securely hold your mailbox into the brick column.

For debris-filled columns, hollow out debris right below the mailbox. Get some mortar mix and add water. Create a bed of wet mortar in the hollowed out area and set your mailbox on this bed of mortar. When the mortar sets, the mailbox will be secure.

You can also use cedar shims to make your mailbox equidistant from the brick (from the end bricks or outer bricks) on both side of the metal mailbox. This will further stabilize, center, and secure the mailbox in the opening.

When the mailbox is installed, then slide the concrete cap back over the top of the brick column and mortar it into place.

Expect to see an unsightly gap around the mailbox where you made your cuts (you will also see the shims you put in to center and stabilize the mailbox). To cover the gap and the shims, you can make a trim around the mailbox out of Trex brand decking. Rip a piece of Trex in half with a table saw. Then rip it in half thick-wise so you have pieces of Trex that are about 1/2" thick and 1 1/2" wide. Carefully cut and miter the corners and screw the Trex together like a picture frame just big enough to fit around the locking mailbox. Paint the Trex with your desired color and then glue it to the brick column with construction adhesive. If necessary, use clear silicone to fill the seam between the Trex and the brick to keep the water out.

Sounds like a lot of work? Before you give up on the project, think about the hassle of tearing down your whole mailbox and the expenses that entail when you opt to re-build a new one. Doing it yourself is much cheaper and when you see the fruit of your labor, the satisfaction is priceless!

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