If after finishing digging up the trenches for the retaining wall on Good Friday you had told me they would be full of concrete within a week…. I would have told you that you had sawdust for brains. Yet that is exactly what happened, but you need all your stars lining up.
The day after the big dig, I excitedly started laying steel bars in the trench, only to quickly realise there was no way known I could do this on my own. I’d lift one end of a 6m long bar to sit it on a chair, then walk to the other end to do the same, and the first end would fall off, entailing walking back and forth so many times that I reckon I’d walked over 150m just to set four bars down! Then, trying to tie the L shaped bars that reinforce the wall to those bars on my own simply proved nigh impossible, I would at least need one person to just hold the bar while I tied….. and being Easter, the chances of anyone helping were very slim indeed….. I started thinking that this job would easily take me a month, and I better get used to the idea.
Monday morning, Caleb, a friend’s teenaged son who lives locally and could use some spare cash, came to help me. Then, out of the blue, this American wwoofer who had contacted me some weeks before but didn’t know when he’d be in Tasmania rings me up, all excited and wanting to get stuck into some construction work…. “Your timing could not be better” I told him, and he was here by lunch time keen and eager. Best of all, he had way more concreting experience than I ever had, and he literally took over, becoming my project manager!
Nico is not only a great concretor, he’s also amazing company, and we’ve been chewing the fat every night over a well-earned cider. How this guy came into my life so unexpectedly just blows me away. Sometimes you’ve just got to get lucky……
Retaining walls work a bit like you standing in a strong wind…… think ‘back to the wind’, and your feet on the ground stopping you falling over. The pressure on your back wants to topple you over, but your toes strain against the wind’s force, all you need is a heel and toe joined to strong enough calf muscles to make sure the whole leg is stiff enough to avoid the embarrassment….. that’s exactly what the L bars do, and the concrete is the muscle.
I then came up with what I can only describe as a brilliant idea. The top of the footing has to have a layer of mesh no more than 50mm from the top surface. How to set this up so you can place it while busily pouring wet concrete? My solution was to tie it to the bars at the right height, and in just three places at the top so that one of us could just run around behind the formwork, cut those ties, and drop the mesh at its lower ‘hinge’. Then all I’d have to do is sink it into the concrete with the vibrator. Worked a treat…..
Once all the steel was in, the formwork to stop the concrete falling into the drain area had to be put up. I had bought 8’x4′ sheets of formply to cut into 300mm high boards and made a load of pointy timber stakes to hold them up with, but the stakes refused to penetrate the hard clay… what to do? Nico said, ‘in the states we use metal form spikes’, but I’d never heard of them here. So I rang Nubco where I bought the steel, and they suggested 600mm star pickets that Bunnings sell. Sure enough, Bunnings had a whole lot in store at $5.80 each. I wasn’t keen on either driving that far let alone patronising Bunnings, so as we were approaching Huonville in the ute, I suggested Nico ring Mitre 10 there to see if they had some…. and they did. Not only that, they were on sale for $3.95 each (I needed 60 of them!), and I walked out with a bunch of screws, a new level and heavy hammer for less than what the pickets would have cost at Bunnings. I’m on a roll!
Before we knew it, it looked very close to the job being finished, and I rang the concrete crowd and ordered the runny stuff…. I still can’t believe it all went so fast.
We spent Friday morning finishing the formwork, tying up loose ends, adding chairs where necessary, and cleaning all the loose rubbish out of the trenches, which we finished nearly an hour and a half before the first truck arrived..
The whole West wing of the footing was poured from the first truck. The new concrete vibrator I bought myself worked a treat, most of the concrete finding its own level from being quite violently shaken.
The second truck arrived to pour the ‘pointy bit’ in the middle of the house, and that’s where the work on the hottest April day in over 50 years started in earnest….. because the chute was too short to reach, and poor old Nico had to rake and shovel the stuff into the corner while Caleb barrowed concrete from the truck to the edge of the trench, almost losing the wheelbarrow one time when he got too close, and the wheel fell into the wet concrete! Much frantic pulling and pushing from the three of us (while the truck driver never even lifted a finger) got the wheelbarrow back out again, but let me tell you we were all sweating! Swinging the heavy petrol powered vibrator at full arms length was hard yakka, but concrete waits for no man, and there was no stopping. And passing out wasn’t an option either….!
After it was all over, Nico said to me that sometimes you buy something, and you think to yourself, that was a good purchase….. but that concrete vibrator must be the best thing I ever bought according to him!
Needless to say, $3700 later it all ended well…… but we were all exhausted, and the entire affair reminded me of why I swore I’d never do it again after the last time.
In my last post where I mentioned this, I stated that if I didn’t save myself $10,000 by doing it myself I’d eat my hat. Well, at this stage it looks like I may well save closer to $20,000. Of course we still have to pour the slab over the top of all this work, but it’s hard to imagine how concretors can pay themselves as well as they do all the same…..
Time for a couple of days rest now…….