Friday, September 7, 2007

The Walkway Is Taking Shape

With Tonya having had a week or so to get accustomed to wearing the cast, I've been able to get outside more to work on The Project™. I'm actually at the part now that I've been trying to get to for most of the last twelvemonth, the whole point of this exercise: the cobblestones!

And Chris, if you're reading this, if you look off in the distance, in the center and on the left, that is the terrace. I did that about two summers ago. I don't remember it taking a year for me to finish, but it sure felt like it.

This picture is the reverse angle from the first one. It was taken from a very similar angle to the second photo in this post, so you can see how far I've gotten. Basically the walkway is about half-done, but it's the easier half; I've got a T-intersection still to do and an odd-angled corner to turn. Both of those will involve cutting lots of stones. And while I'll likely rent one of those wet-tile saws when it's time to do the patio, I've just been cutting stones by hammer and chisel on this part of the project, since there aren't too many to cut. Still, the project goes a lot faster when you don't have to cut any at all, like with today's work; and so the remainder of the walkway will take a bit more time than what I've done to date.

This picture (and the first one) gives you a pretty good look at the pattern. Unlike my wife (who likes things plain and boring, if you ask me), I like to put a little pizzazz into my creations--thus the two-tone pattern. We picked a color for the center of the walk that matched the existing stones in the terrace (see first picture); I wanted something that would offset it and give a good visual marker for where the edge of the walkway was, thus the charcoal gray.

And the pattern is random--Tonya and I both agreed that we liked that. Although it's not actually random. True random patterns are hard to do. Try it some time! Try to design a pattern--or, say, take up crazy-quilting--and try to come up with a truly random pattern. Not only is it really mentally fatiguing, but it winds up making patterns that don't actually look random. Poisson Distribution and all that--you wind up with clusters of blocks all the same size and in a semi-orderly orientation here and there, looking like there are patches of order in the middle of what should be randomness. It doesn't actually look random, and it doesn't actually look very good either. No; I created several small "template" patterns, consisting of roughly half-a-dozen blocks apiece, that look random; then I just vary these template patterns as I go--this time flipped side-to-side, this time flipped top-to-bottom, and so on. So it's actually a semi-regular pattern that looks totally random, but actually has a fairly uniform distribution of blocks of different sizes.

I've been thinking how ironic it is, though, how fast I can put the stones in. I mean, having this nice cobblestone walkway and patio is the whole point of the project, and I'm halfway done with putting in the walkway after only three sessions. Why then has this project taken all year?

Prepwork! Arrrgh! Some things can't just be left as an exercise for the student, after all. And no matter the project, the prepwork always, always takes longer than you expect. So it is on my project: I wanted to put in stones. But that means preparing the ground; we wanted walks and a patio that wouldn't buckle from all the tree roots in the ground. That meant concrete. But that meant that I had to dig out the entire zone where we wanted to put the stuff, down about ten inches. And good heavens, that's a lot of dirt I just pulled out of the ground. Where do I put it all? And of course, then you have to build the forms in the holes you dug out. And you don't just put the concrete straight into the ground; it needs to go on a bed of gravel for drainage and settling purposes. But that gravel needs to be tamped down firmly. And concrete needs to have rebar and mesh and stuff in it, if it's going to resist the tree roots. And... Oh my, this is getting expensive, isn't it? So I'd better do it myself instead of hiring a local company to do it. Of course, that adds several months to the duration of the project. But now that the concrete is in... woops, now I have to put in edge-barriers to keep the stones in place. But they overhang the edge of the concrete slabs; so I have to back-fill to provide a semi-level base for the edge-barriers. And then I have to put a thin layer of sand on top of the slab so that the cobblestones aren't directly in contact with the concrete...

And once I get the stones in, of course, that's not the end of the project either. Then I get to rent one of those vibrating tampers to get everything to uniform height; and then I need to sweep sand in the cracks between the stones, to prevent them from ever moving again; and then I need to apply a sealant to protect the stones and to keep the sand from washing out; and then I need to back-fill up high enough against the stones to cover the edge-barriers.

All told, I think this job will be about 85% Prepwork, 2% The Work, and about 13% Finishing Work.

But I'm in the middle of that 2% now, and it's worth it. :)


Chris said...


Impressive. I'm especially amazed (based on personal experience) at how you've stuck with the project for so long. Maybe I'm suffering from adult-onset adhd, but I really have problems with projects that last more than two weekends.

I have an upcoming project (waiting for the Fall before I start) similar to yours. New front walkway and a fish pond. The latter will entail much moving of dirt. Good news actually, since I need to backfill the retaining walls put in around the playground.

Keep up the good work. Sounds like Tonya is coping admirably with her one-footedness. Let her know we're thinking of and praying for her.


Timothy Power said...

Chris, here's how I stay motivated. I'm not sure I recommend it, but it works for me.

Start your project by digging a really big, really ugly hole in your yard. Note: it has to be really big for this whole thing to work.

There! Now any time you get bored with the project and want to quit, you keep getting pulled back to reality by the presence of this big, ugly hole in your yard. You can't ignore it. It's driving down your property values. It's driving down your neighbors' property values. And eventually your wife (who normally wants you to spend more time with her and the kids), will actually start saying things like, "When are we going to do something about that big hole in our yard? It's really ugly."

And I also find it helps not to "count the cost" before you start the project. Geez Louize, I had no idea how much this blasted walkway would cost when I started digging that big ugly hole in my backyard! But once it was there, the only thing to do was to keep dumping more money into it. (And I still don't know quite how much more it's going to take to finish it, but I know that at least fiscally, we're finally over the hump.)

After a while your motivation comes from a sense of guilt, which is one of the most powerful motivating forces around. Works every time, which for me comes around usually once every two years or so.