Building a Wall

The project that has consumed my weekends for several months is complete. The wall is finished. I poured the last bags of concrete this weekend, I stacked the last rocks into place.

Retaining Wall
Fitted local stone makes up a small retaining wall,

It is done!

Thus I have spent many a weekend digging, more digging, hauling soil and rock, then pouring concrete. I found that about ten bags of concrete was a good work session, about as much as I could do in one go. It is also as much as I wanted to load in the vehicle, 600 pounds a heavy while safe load for the Explorer.

Other work sessions were simply fitting rocks. Selecting likely rocks, spinning them about and finding reasonable fits, tossing aside those that did not fit. With a single layer added to ten or twenty feet of wall I could then spend the next work session pouring concrete and cementing that layer of fitted stone into place. Rinse and repeat.

While I have commented in previous articles about the futility of building walls, this particular wall should not be controversial. This wall divides nothing more than my driveway from the landscape.

The wall is 3½ feet high at the tallest. If I went four feet or taller it would require a building permit. As the permit department on this island is hopelessly inefficient and behind in processing, I might get a permit to start sometime next year. Better to keep the wall a few inches shorter.

How structurally sound is this handmade wall? Very. I learned backyard engineering from my father, a professional civil engineer, building various structures, including the occasional wall. As my mother will gleefully comment, anything we built is heavily over engineered. This wall is no exception.

The foundation of the wall is pickaxed into bedrock along much of the length. The base is up to 18 inches thick. In the tallest part where it cuts close to my neighbor’s retaining wall there is rebar reinforcement. There is a lot of concrete, I went through around sixty bags of cement mix.

Retaining Wall
A newly built retaining wall along the driveway

The result? Not bad if I say so myself. While I have seen better fitted rock around this neighborhood of rock walls, I think I did well enough. I knew I could not match a tightly fitted wall, I did not have the practice or enough of the right rock.

What I did do is emulate the loose stacked walls that are common in Waimea, including a century old wall that surrounds much of Keck headquarters.

With the oleanders trimmed back and the space behind the wall filled with mulch from the county green waste facility, it looks pretty good. Need to find a couple plants to put into this newly created bed.

Completed? I may extend the wall further into the back yard, but it will be a low thing, not much more than a curb separating the walkway from the landscaping. In any case that will wait another day, maybe another season.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

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