The house my parents moved to when I was about 13 has had a concrete path around the back yard as long as I can remember. And, for as long as I can remember, this path has had a dreadful corner on it (more on that later). Other spots on the path have developed trip hazard spots as well, and about twenty years later it finally got bad enough that my parents agreed to pay me to try and fix it.

Well, that's not quite what happened. They also wanted a basketball court and parking area added next to the new driveway, and couldn't find any contractors willing to do a job that small, so they hired me to put the slab in.

The path repair was thrown in as an afterthought, but that's the part that really caught my interest. In any case, here's the story of what I tried, and how it turned out.

Breaking Stuff

The first step in any repair project is to finish breaking the stuff that's in the way, or is already broken anyway. The cracked and mis-aligned segments of sidewalk had to come out, so I scored the concrete with a diamond saw.

And then rented an electric jackhammer from Home Depot, busted the condemned sections to splinters, and cleared out the debris.

This is the "dreadful corner" alluded to earlier. A tight turn, sloped the wrong way, which keeps getting loose dirt washed across it by the sprinklers. My parents had me build the stone retaining wall you see here, maybe six years after they moved in (so twelve years ago), which mostly solved the erosion problem.

Now I'm tackling the slope problem, so you can finally run or ride around the path without wiping out here every time. Also, putting in a culvert to finalize the storm-drain solution that the upper retaining wall started.

As long as we're breaking stuff, let's clear all the unwanted sprinkler pipes, plants, and general garbage out of the work site for the slab.

Okay! Now the hard work is done, everything else should be easy.


Turns out we're about a tenth of the way done with this project. Next comes...

A Bunch of Ground Work that I Don't Have Photos Of

Why not? I don't know. I guess I was working instead of taking pictures or something.

So, the next thing was to actually level the site. For that, I rented a mini skid-steer front loader and had a grand old time driving it around and moving dirt. The kids all took turns sitting in my lap and we probably did the work of ten men or more. I also rented a soil compactor, but it mostly seemed to just spread dust around and hurt my wrists.

After that I took a week off to let the soil settle, and let my wrists recover.

Then it was time for the gravel delivery, which I think was basically free? I was astounded by how cheap "base" gravel is. Also astounding is how difficult it is to move. I spent the weekend shoveling, raking, and leveling gravel, and then took the next week off to let my back heal.

Now the site is level, so I need to frame it. About twenty lengths of 2x3 lumber and a line level later, and that job is done too.

The fun part! The welding! This was completely unneccesary, but in theory it adds a bit of strength to the pad. I only welded the corner joints, since that's the weakest part of the slab anyway. The rest of the rebar I tied together with a couple turns of mild steel wire. Then we rolled out a few hundred feet of wire fencing for "mesh" and the site is ready to pour!

Well, almost. There's one more thing to do first.

Flush-mounted Tie-down Points

I convinced my dad to let me put in a few flush-mount flip-up tie-down anchors. Just in case we want to anchor a sun shelter, or guy down a tower, or whatever. They actually came in pretty handy for erecting the basketball hoop. At this stage, I needed to figure out a way to keep them from popping out of the slab, and filling up with water. I ended up going with welding four re-bar legs onto the corners, and hot-gluing a pvc pipe below the drain hole to extend down to the gravel.

I didn't know at the time, but I can say with hind-sight that this is plenty strong. With the tie-downs ready, it's time for...

Pour Day

I sub-contracted out the pour to a local concrete finisher (Greg Quigley, for anyone else in Ventura County who needs concrete work done). But I ordered the concrete myself, and as a result, ordered too little.
How much too little?

But soon enough the cement truck returned, and the slab was finished.

And this time, because we had too MUCH concrete (of course), I wheelbarrowed some of it over to the gaps in the sidewalk (with Dad's help), and finished those as well.

To match the existing sidewalk, I gave it a salt finish which, as the name hints, involves sprinkling salt over the cement and pushing it in a bit.

Now just wait for the concrete to dry, and it's all done right?

Nope Again!

Two days later, I came back and cut the relief seams, so that if, by some chance, the slab settled unevenly (Protip: Slabs always settle unevenly) the cracks would follow straight lines and look fairly nice.

This part was kind of fun too, as the seams look really clean, and it's not often I get a chance to cut rock.

There's still the basketball hoop foundation to dig, the hoop to position and level, the foundation to pour, and the backboard and hardware to install. But of course.

I Didn't Take Any Pictures of That

Partially because Dad and AJ did a lot of the work, and partially because I didn't have a camera handy at the time.

And then I spent about two months slowly and painstakingly building retaining walls from cobblestones. This consisted of:
Cutting stones to shape when they didn't fit.
Chipping bits off of stones with a hammer and chisel to get the fit just right.
Cleaning cobbles when I accidentally set them down in the dirt (because the wall gets weak if the moarter sticks to the dirt instead of the stone).
Turning on the hose.
Mixing moarter in small batches.
Carefully taking the wall apart so I could put the moarter in.
Immediately forgetting how to put the wall back together.
Trying (and failing) to keep the front face of the stone clean while one hand was covered in grout.
Trying and failing to not drip moarter on the new slab, or the existing path.
Placing the slippery oddly-shaped moarter-primed rock on top of other oddly shaped rocks.
Doubting my recollection of how to put the wall back together.
Doubting my skill as a mason.
Considering running away (to join the circus?).
Noticing the rocks slowly slipping out of place.
Trying to get the rocks to stay where I wanted them.
Waiting for moarter to set.
Turning off the hose.

Oh, also my fifth child was born somewhere in there. Anyway, once all the walls were done, I poured the new walk (also not shown) from a pallet of miscellaneous broken cement bags (not shown) that I got for 90% off from Home Depot (unvisible) and mixed with an electric mixer (nope, no pictures) that I rented from the local U-Rent (Why would I take a picture of the store?).

The Finished Product

So, in the end:

The flush anchors turned out perfectly.

The path slopes gently in the correct direction.

The water drains under the path (through the gravel patch on the right) instead of over it.

The other trip hazards have been all smoothed out.

The slab is all in place, with a little staircase joining it to the walkway.

And the upper retaining wall is tied in nicely with the existing dry riverbed.

All in all, a job well done!
Now, time to relax.

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