Building a Retaining Wall (pt2)

Waking up today was not easy.  It was one of those mornings where everything hurts - legs, back, arms.  At least I know yesterday's wall-building was an effective workout.  And there was still quite a bit more to get done today. Where we left off yesterday, we still needed to cut the blocks for the side, add the top layer of blocks, and also level out a whole lot of dirt inside of the retaining wall.
Not too shabby for a days work
We started with cutting the smaller bricks so that we could easily add the fourth line of the wall.  There was a gap on one side of the wall where a full brick wouldn't fit, so we needed to cut a smaller piece to even out the wall and not create a giant gap.

Brad and I own a cheap, Ryobi wet saw from when we did the backsplash tile in our kitchen about a year ago.  (We also used it when we built our paver patio, so we're really getting our money's use out of the thing.)

When we built the patio, we purchased a masonry blade for both wet and dry saws that works great.  I'm not really sure if you can actually cut bricks like ours dry.  It made me nervous to think about it.  We stuck to the wet saw since I'd seen so many online videos of them being cut only with wet saws.

Although I'm sure you're not really supposed to do this, we had to remove the top guard above the blade in order to fit the bricks through the saw.  We could have rented something big and fancy from Home Depot that probably would've done a much better job, but, since we already owned this wet saw, that made it free.  And, I really can't resist free.

Since there was that handy-dandy line on the back of the brick, I lined the saw blade up with that and then adjusted the sled on the side to guide me as I pushed it through.

While I love my awesome wet saw that has done me pret-ty good over the last year, it comes with a few problems when it comes to this kind of work.  The first problem is that I get completely soaked from not having the guard on.  While I'm definitely not a girl that minds getting a little dirty, this is concrete stained nasty water.  Eww.

Ducking away from the spraying water

The second one, is that the blade isn't high enough to cut the brick in one pass, so I had to run it along the bottom, then flip it over to do the top section as well, and it still didn't completely go through.

In a last ditch effort, I did one additional notch on the lip-side of the block to see if it would break apart any easier.

No dice.  It wouldn't break apart.  So, I grabbed the chisel that I used to take off the lips of the bottom bricks and jammed it in between the two sides.

A few easy taps later, I had my two pieces.

Voila.  A perfect fit.

With the ends cut and in place, we started on the fourth and final line of bricks on the top of the wall.  Since the wall is the maximum hight the manufacturer recommends at 4 bricks tall and that's where everyone is going to want to sit, we needed to secure the top layer with caulk designed for the outdoors.

Since I'm pretty sore and exhausted, Brad was really sweet and offered to let me caulk while he fetched and placed the bricks.  Sweet deal.  He may have regretted this decision as he was lifting these 22lb. bricks while I said fun, 5th-grader things like "so... are you waiting for my caulk?" and giggled.

With two people, it probably took us about 15 minutes to get the final layer of blocks up there.  I was feeling pretty good about myself looking at our finished block wall, thinking that it was the perfect height for sitting and all of the gardening I was going to avoid doing.

The most beautiful retaining wall I've ever seen
And then, I remembered we still had to even out the soil inside of the retaining wall.  Which meant digging.  Lots and lots more digging.
Brad the Bobcat
Brad hates it when I tell other people this, but he is a really good digger.  He always tells me not to say anything because then everyone in the neighborhood will be asking him to dig holes. But, he's a machine when it comes to the shovel.  He usually is able to shovel three loads to my one, which makes me both incredibly thankful to have someone who is really good at this and really jealous of his mad digging skillz.  (Yes, with a z.)  I basically spend the entire time digging wishing for Ana White's snort. After digging for what seems like 10 hours (but was probably 30 minutes), we had finally leveled out the dirt.

I'm just going to ignore the giant mud marks on our back wall for now and hope that it rains sometime soon to naturally wash it all off.  (Who am I kidding?  I'll probably be out there next weekend with the hose and a sponge.)  But, for today, while my body wants to kill me, I am thrilled with this.  And, if we're looking back in time to before we started on this project, it's a pretty big improvement from this:

The giant pile of extra dirt
Close up it sorta looks a little bit like a mini castle.  Which got me to thinking about how exhausted I am and how even more tired the peasants who built actual castles must have been.  That just sounds like it would've been terrible.
Moat, anyone?
Anyway, here is the cost breakdown for the entire project which took us a day and a half to finish: Retaining wall bricks plus delivery: $450 Leveling sand, chisel and hammer, caulk, and caulk gun: $45.50 Wet saw and masonry blade: free (already owned) Shovels, level, and sledge hammer: free (already owned) Returning excess 75 bricks: -$120 (how did we overestimate so much?) Grand total: $375.50     Not bad, considering our overall budget for the project was $500 and the cost of just getting bricks from the local stone yard alone would have cost us at least $700.  More importantly, we have now covered up the really giant, really ugly mess of dirt leftover from the patio excavation and am much less afraid of going into the backyard.

Pin It

DIY Club

6 Replies to “Building a Retaining Wall (pt2)”

    1. Hmm… that’s a really interesting thing to consider – thank you so much for bringing it up! There isn’t anything planted in there yet and I can still move the dirt around. I’ll definitely consider adding a vapor barrier back there when we put in the drip system!

  1. I was just wondering how long your retaining wall was? Your project has inspired me and i was just curious on you dimensions? thank you

  2. Hi! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *