Crumbling brick steps

My front steps are brick. After 20 years, the mortar has begun to crumble and some bricks are loose. This is not only unsightly, but dangerous.
What can a person with little masonry experience do, other than call a profe$$ional to replace the whole thing? Is there some kind of thin coating I can put over the horizontal serfaces?
Thanks for your help.
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"John T. Howard" wrote:

Get a bag of ready mix mortar, (read the bags so you get the right kind) dig out the loose mortar with a stick what's got a big nail in it, knocking off any mortar than you can bash loose from the bricks without damaging them, and paste the affected bricks back in. You probably don't want to coat anything, unless the bricks themselves are starting to crumble, in
which case, I think you're hosed, anyway.
--Goedjn
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Yes, go pick up a spray bottle of "Bad bad brick-b-gon" and squirt away!
In no time, your front steps will be as good as new, for only pennies per step!
Also works on fallen gutters, missing shingles and driveway potholes.
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What need to happen is that the loose mortar be chiseled out, and loose bricks be romoved and cleaned up untill you've got sound masonry left. (A pro will be able to tell if this means removing the whole set of steps and starting over). Then get some good mason mix, a small trowel, a repointing trowel, and a free weekend. Mix up small batches of mortar, Wet the existing brickwork if it's too dry (you don't want the existing masonry to suck the moisture out of the mortar) and replace the loose bricks by liberally applying mortar where they go and to the faces of the brick and tapping it into place. Then, using your trowel as a hawk, hold a small amount of mortar and with the re-pointing trowel, cut off a thin line and pack it into the cleaned grooves. Keep on doing this untill the mortar starts to harden. Then go back and tool the joints. This isn't really difficult, but it's tedious and as an amature it'll take a long time. I'd hire a pro for this, as they've got the tools and technique down and can make it go very fast and usually do a very neat job.
And sort of coverup that you do will fail quickly: I don't adivse that. Once the base is faling, you won't have anything sound to supprt the new coating.
Good Luck.
John
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I did something like that this summer. I had never done any masonry, so the beginning was slow. I had four bricks that went loose in one step. When I pulled them out the two steps above and one below fell apart. Initially I tried to clean the bricks and reuse them, but it is a waste of time. I found very well matched bricks at a local dealer for $45. I bought tools and premixed mortar for another $50 and after two weekends the steps were rebuilt. When you look closely you can tell that it wasn't done by a mason, but it is good enough. And a mason quoted me $1500 for the job.
EJ
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