Monday, May 24, 2010

Retaining wall fun

This weekend Susan was out and about on a girls' weekend so I had the run of the domestic estate! So I decided we needed to do another home engineering project. I enlisted Kyle and one of his friends to do the heavy lifting (trying avoid ripping the stitches out of my chest) and we started work on a retaining wall. It was good fun to do something productive and be outside in the gorgeous weather. Of course, since I didn't lift much of the 3,000 lbs of rock that had to be moved my fun factor was probably higher than Mark and Kyle's! We made a pretty good dent in the project this weekend and will probably finish next weekend. I'll post pictures of the final product. Here are a couple of pics of the project so far:
  •  Another nasty side effect of Bleomycin is that it makes your skin more sensitive to the sun. So I dosed up with some UV 50 sun block (greasy but otherwise not too horrible), got the hat on and a nice wicking, light weight long sleeved shirt and I was reading to face the elements:

  •  I've bought this laser leveler and I've been desperately trying to figure out a use for it. Initially I thought it would be a great way of leveling out the initial trench - twine and a string level are so old school! But of course the damn laser isn't strong enough to be seen in daylight. I got a picture of the laser at dusk. The laser is on the right and the little yellow bands on the sticks are the level points. But to level the trench, we used - you guessed it - twine and a $4 string level. I won't document how much the useless laser level cost to avoid any more domestic angst on that front :)

  • The first stone is in place and level!

  • On Saturday, we had to refuel the 6'-4" engine that is Kyle's body. Here's what he ordered from the Lazy Dog. Obviously his participation in the vegan program is still a bit spotty :)

  • One problem that turned out to be much more time consuming than we thought was that we picked some field stone that's not completely level. I think it will look great when we're done but if you don't have level surfaces of blocks with the same height, you find yourself in the business of being a stone sculptor. That part was pretty fun - scoring and chiseling a 4" stone gave us the chance to buy more tools (the real, hidden motivation for any engineering project) and we also got to do some interesting team building. When you're holding the chisel and your family member is about to hit it with a a 10lb sledge hammer you find yourself wondering if there are any unresolved issues between you that you should be talking about before the down strike of that sledge. Luckily all fingers, toes and such remain unscathed through the stone sculpting exercises. As Kyle said, building the wall is a bit of a real world Tetris game. And when each cube is about 45 lbs and you move 3,000 lbs in an afternoon, there's some part of your day that will probably look like this: 

  • We've prototyped the wall just to get a sense for what blocks need work. The final product will be a tighter stacking than this but here's a snapshot of the prototype wall as of today:

Many people would consider this to be a strange thing to do with a free weekend but if you're thinking that, you're missing the engineering bit! Or maybe you just have a richer social life than I do :)


  1. Great to see the wall project underway. This looks like ancient Roman architechture. Are you an outdoor craftsman and warrior? Speaking of ancient civilizations, we continue to pray and sing Chant and Polyphony for your continued success and recovery. Dancing with NED (no evidence of disease) is tremendous news indeed!

  2. well, you know me. I find almost any engineering project to be fun. Definitely learning a bit about stone working from this one. I don't know if this qualifies as Roman architecture or anything; just hoping it makes is through a few winter frost/thaw cycles without tipping over :)

  3. Sounds like you are still taking good care of yourself and keeping the male Florentine clan well occupied. The retaining wall looks stellar! Love you.