Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Update on the Never-Ending Backyard Thingy

I decided to take advantage of the good weather yesterday and today to get a little more done on the Never-Ending Backyard Project (which you can read more about here, if you're so inclined). I hadn't had much opportunity to work on it since mid-November, but I had been looking forward to finishing as much of the project as possible over my two-week Christmas break. Sounds like a plan, no? Well unfortunately, life occasionally has a way of scheduling your free time for you.

But I still had yesterday and today to get some stuff done. So the first thing I did was to get some good, fine-grit sand that could make it in the cracks between the cobblestones. Then I used a trowel and filled the gaps between the outer stones and the plastic border pieces that are keeping everything in place.

When that was finally done, I started dumping the sand on top of the patio and walkway and sweeping it in the cracks. And I have to say, the whole thing looks much more finished, much more professional, with the sand in there. Even where there is a ragged edge where a hand-cut stone has a gap with the edge of another one, adding the sand made it look as if I meant to do that.

Now, the next thing to be done was the tamping. And I had been envisioning (since the beginning of the project, back in October 2006) that at this point we would be renting one of those vibrating tamper things. Unfortunately, we've found ourselves a little short on funds this season, what with Christmas and a gaggle of unexpected expenses and all. So I decided on a whim yesterday afternoon to see if I could get adequate results using this thing:

That's right, I took that thing--which probably weighs upwards of twenty pounds, as that bottom plate is solid iron--and I literally pounded the pavement. Probably over a thousand times. I bet the neighbors are really upset with me. I know my shoulders are.

The thing about that tamper is, when you drop it downward (putting a little of your own weight behind it, too) and it impacts the pavement, you want to have it exactly vertical, or bad things happen. If you're just a little off, the handle will tend to give a powerful jerk as the tamper tries to upright itself--and your hands absorb the impact. My hands feel today like a prizefighter's--with several blisters, bruised knuckles, and sore muscles that are crying out for my lovely bride to tenderize them with her fingers. (And no, I'm not entirely sure how the knuckles got bruised seeing as how they weren't impacting anything except the inside of my gloves. Anyone got an explanation?) In summary: Ow.

Oh, and one other thing I noticed after I was finally, finally done tamping down the patio. Take a look, and see if you can spot it:

Did you catch it? No? Well look again, closely. The answer is in the next picture.

Ok, here it is:
That's right, my solid iron tamper needs to be retired now. All those impacts with the stone in the walkway started damaging the tamper. There are even some deep gouges on the bottom of the iron plate. As I was doing the tamping, I would occasionally look down and notice, "Hey, there are some cracks there!" And I would look down a few hundred impacts later and notice, "Hey--those cracks are a lot longer now, and they're starting to join up with each other." Had I kept it up much longer, I wouldn't have been surprised if the thing eventually ruptured and sent sharp shards of iron in every direction.

But--it's done, and the tamping did exactly what it was supposed to. My wife and I have both noticed that the stones in the walkway are a whole lot more even than they had been. They were pretty good before, but it looks a whole lot more professional now. (There are now several cracked pavers, too; but we figure that they lend character to the whole thing, and I'm too lazy to dig them out and replace them.) And the sand that had been swept into the cracks, settled a lot with all those impacts sending vibrations through all the stones. In some places, the gaps between the stones reappeared, with the sand in between them compressing downward by a half-inch or more.

So when I was done with the tamping (and after a good lunch), I got out there and swept a bunch more sand into the cracks. Then I decided to see what would happen when I watered down the walk. After all, we're expected to get a whole lot of rain in the next few days, and I was curious to see what it would look like when we got back from our trip. (I know I could have just waited and seen, but then--I'm the kind of guy that often can't resist reading the last page of the book first.)

Hm.... Basically, I'm going to have to sweep more sand in before I put on the lacquer sealant. The sand is still pretty loose, at least near the top, and I fully expect the rains to wash a fair amount of it out. We'll see what happens.

Anyway, here's something of a before-and-after. The first picture is one that I took back in November, after getting all the stones in place. You can see that it looks nice and orderly, but that there are gaps in between the stones--especially the angled ones, which were cut with a hammer and chisel.

Now this last picture shows the same corner up a little closer. Note how the sand in between the stones gives it a somewhat more "finished" appearance:

So, what more remains to be done? Well, I need a dry weekend to come along first. After all, this fine sand will only flow into the remaining cracks if it's not wet. The final sweeping in of sand should only take an hour or so. After that, I need to apply the sealant. I'll brush it along the sides of those gray stones, and then apply it with a roller (on a pole, of course) to the tops of the stones. Hopefully that won't take too long, and I'll be able to apply a couple of coats in the course of one day. After the sealant is in place, all that remains is the backfill--digging up all the excess dirt that I excavated early last year, which I dumped in our proto-garden area, and lovingly building up the surrounding earth until one can only see the tops of the stones rising above the ground.

And I have a bit of a deadline--my wife really, really wants to have a vegetable garden this year, and so I need to have the whole thing done by the end of February. Now that may seem like a lot of time, until one realizes that this is our rainy season, and I'm not even guaranteed one dry weekend between now and then. And I suspect my bride will be really put out if she can't get her garden in. So I'm really motivated to get this done. After all, I have to sleep with her.


timeless said...

Uh...when you put sealant on the lovely sidewalk, pour it OVER thickly all the sand first, and let it get all sealed up before doing the surface...or you will have sand in your brush and it will get on the surface!!

Timothy Power said...

Um... This is very, very useful advice, actually. Too bad that you left it on January 20th, after I did the sealant on the 18th and 19th. But it's good advice nonetheless!