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Mortar is a workable paste which hardens to bind building blocks such as stones, bricks, and concrete masonry units, to fill and seal the irregular gaps between them, spread the weight of them evenly, and sometimes to add decorative colors or patterns to masonry walls. In its broadest sense, mortar includes pitch, asphalt, and soft mud or clay, as those used between mud bricks, as well as cement mortar. The word "mortar" comes from Old French mortier, "builder's mortar, plaster; bowl for mixing." (13c.).
Cement mortar becomes hard when it cures, resulting in a rigid aggregate structure; however, the mortar functions as a weaker component than the building blocks and serves as the sacrificial element in the masonry, because mortar is easier and less expensive to repair than the building blocks. Bricklayers typically make mortars using a mixture of sand, a binder, and water. The most common binder since the early 20th century is Portland cement, but the ancient binder lime mortar is still used in some specialty new construction. Lime, lime mortar, and gypsum in the form of plaster of Paris are used particularly in the repair and repointing of historic buildings and structures, so that the repair materials will be similar in performance and appearance to the original materials. Several types of cement mortars and additives exist.