Capping It Off

The retaining wall is finished.

Just in case you missed me, I confess to being busier than usual. Destroying my body.

First there was the deck removal. Then the grading. [Hired out!] Then setting the base course of the wall. [Also hired out!] Installation of a french drain just downhill of the wall. Then stacking the second course. Then ordering a few more block. Then back-filling with gravel. Then placing the rest of the second course. Then setting the cap block. Did I mention the blocks weigh 75 pounds each?

We had a problem with this house, in that it rests at the bottom of a slope. Water always finds us. And while it doesn't run right into the house, the moisture in the foundation is not a healthy thing. So diversion was a high priority. A french drain alone would have done a great deal to ensure that surface water didn't reach the house. However, in order to lay the drain correctly, the grading of the land behind the house needed to be adjusted so that water striking the ground near the house would


flow towards the drain and away from the foundation. That meant heavy equipment, and if you're going to mess up your yard with heavy equipment, I'd advise doing it only once.

So. Deck removal. Grading. French Drain. Retaining Wall. Pouring of Slab to replace deck (and build future sunroom).  Carting of lots of loose stone from the front drive to the back. And then the caps. Cap block are cement block that cover the main masonry units to finish off a wall and cover the holes in a decorative manner. The particular masonry units we used are designed to be placed without mortar--they clip together so that pressure from the soil behind them cannot push them off each other. Cap block are then glued to the top course. The difficult part of that is cutting the cap block to fit the design of the wall. And you know I just couldn't do a straight wall. The Horror.

There are two curves in the wall. The main curve embraces a firepit and seating area. [

A portion on right in picture with decorative kitties, above

.] This curve is very acute for the dimension of the block (each is 18" long). Before the concrete crew left with their lovely 14" concrete saw, we got them to cut the angles on the cap block for this section of wall. For them, the job took about 30 minutes. I couldn't ask them to cut the rest because we didn't--at the time--have all the block we needed to finish the wall. The second curve is much more subtle and was necessary to keep from taking out unnecessary amounts of soil and plants.

My 7" masonry blade mounted in a standard circular saw was not anywhere near as efficient as the 14", as it required two cuts per block. The blade simply wasn't large enough to cut all the way through the block in one pass. That meant turning the block over and attempting to exactly match the path of the blade the first time through (with an increasingly dull blade), then grinding (4" grinder with its own masonry blade) down any bumps so that the caps would fit together nicely.

I did go to the chiropractor today.

For those wishing to build their own wall, I have this advice: don't buy cheap masonry blades. You will probably need them for grinding down any irregularities in the block that keep them from seating snugly as well as cutting ends to fit curves. In the photo with the grinder, the "segmented" part of the blade is a full 15mm--meaning there are little chunks of diamond fused to the blade for a deep amount of cutting/grinding force. [

In the photo, the green paint marks the end of the diamond grit.

] Also, the blade will have either slots or holes designed to carry the dust out of the cutting area. Cutting, in masonry, is a misnomer. The blades really are all grinders, but we mount them in tools that work like saws. Unfortunately for me, I didn't purchase as good a 7" blade as I did the 4". So the last bit of cutting was grueling.

Another bit of advice. Wear every bit of the safety equipment I'm wearing in the photo. Chips will fly. The dusk mask must be at least an N95, to keep the masonry particulate from finding its way into your lungs.

The retaining wall is finished. Amen.

A One Bird Argument for RESPECT

2010 Woodland Steward Series