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View Full Version : Tips and tricks of hand leveling of retaining wall


GWhunter
08-20-2011, 08:07 PM
So I'm frustrated as hell and hope someone could provide some insite. I'm building a retaining wall using Allan block 18" blocks, I built a smaller wall with the same material (but and inside corner so no corner blocks) a few years back and it came out great. This wall on the other hand is driving me crazy. I've started over twice since the blocks show every imperfection and I can't just leave it. I'm following the video instructions from Allan Block except one( and it could be the issue).

The wall starts at a foundation footing with three block then 90's and goes another 10' then 90's again. The footing side is the lowest point of the wall so that's where I started. I excavated a 18" trench, added 3/4 crushed stone and compacted(here's where I'm not following allan blocks instructions). I'm using a hand tamper not a plate compactor. After I tamp I take a 4' level and add/tamp where needed. I then set my blocks and level front to back side to side. So far so good, I've been working on this wall as time allows so days pass between installation. The corner blocks are narrow compared to the straight blocks. I then place the next block and level and make sure the seam is tight and not open top or bottom. The corner blocks are where I seem to be having issue. I get them level/tight and proceed to the next course and then have seem/level issues. I can't figure out what the problem is. I've checked for debris and rechecked level of the base course. I'm starting to wonder if it's imperfections in the block or me. I'm using a torpedo level on the blocks and 4' level for the course. These blocks get filled with 3/4 stone and then backfilled and tamped. Of course the imperfections get magnified as the courses continue. The original base course is only 15 blocks since the wall is built into a hillside. Can anyone offer any pointers on what the issue may be? I'm sure using a plate compactor would help but I'm already $$ into this with the gas concrete saw purchase. I really appreciate any help you guys could offer. I'm so FRUSTRATED with this project.

Matt

DVS Hardscaper
08-20-2011, 09:39 PM
Holy cow that's alotta reading and And the bulk of it all lumped in one paragraph.

My attention Span is not that long.

Any chance you can condense that and maybe bullet point it and maybe show photos?

.
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GWhunter
08-21-2011, 10:08 AM
Thanks for your super helpful reply. The long and short is the outside corner blocks are giving me fits trying to get them level front to back side to side.

They have a different foot print than the rest of the wall blocks and I'm not sure what the problem is. It seems like setting an leveling would be a no brainer but by the next course I need to fool with the corners again.

I can snap a few pics today.

Matt

Snyder's Lawn Inc
08-21-2011, 10:14 AM
what size of rock you are using to back fill

GWhunter
08-21-2011, 12:24 PM
3/4 clean stone, as AB recommends, I think the corner blocks are defective. If I set a wall block and corner on the pavement the corner is 1/16 higher than the wall block. I've tried several of the corners to see if it was just one. They all seem off, I got these delivered in two shipments.

Is it possible they changed there molds? I've had the blocks for awhile so there's no way there taking them back. I'm starting to think that the reason I had no issues on the other wall(which was inside corner) was no corner blocks were used. I'm going to talk with a mason tomorrow and get his take. I'm new to hardscaping but the leveling process shouldn't be this much of an issue. I grabbed my camera to take pics but the batteries are shot. So no pics till tomorrow.

westcoh
08-21-2011, 12:59 PM
The corner blocks are defective. Every AB wall I've ever built with the corner blocks has had the same problem, in that the 90 degree corners are not quite as high as the rest of the wall blocks. Only way to fix it is to shim the corner pieces on every row. Another reason I avoid using AB whenever I can.

scagrider22
08-21-2011, 01:44 PM
Every time I use the Allan Block corners they are taller than the Blocks, on the last job I had to grind them down. I think I may look into Techo-bloc, but they do not have many dealers in Ohio.

Bru75
08-21-2011, 05:11 PM
Not being a smartass, so don't take this the wrong way. Rent a plate compactor, or later on you'll wish you had.
The money to rent one is nothing compared to what it will cost to rebuild after everything settles unevenly.

GWhunter
08-21-2011, 05:39 PM
Guys thanks so much for the vindication. I knew the corners were the issue but chalked it up to a inexperianced installer. On the compactor, I did use one for the base course trenches, but AB says to compact the backfill twice every course. No more than 8" lifts. I've been doing 4" lifts and tamping with a rotary hammer tamper. I've got one rental place close and they've had it on rent everytime I call.

Why the hell does AB not fix the problem? Oddly enough they have no video placing corners. Overall all the blocks seem inconsistant. I have tight seems and level tops but to my eye it looks like the lines are off.

Matt

SVA_Concrete
08-21-2011, 06:53 PM
since when was a 1/16th of an inch a huge problem with wall block??

absolute average.......there is no perfect world.

we use the plastic strapping that holds the block together during shipping and a pit of landscape pl glue to shim as needed.

GWhunter
08-21-2011, 07:31 PM
since when was a 1/16th of an inch a huge problem with wall block??

absolute average.......there is no perfect world.

we use the plastic strapping that holds the block together during shipping and a pit of landscape pl glue to shim as needed.

First off, I'm a perfectionist and second if I have that 1/16 on every course by the time I'm 4' up I've got a major eye sore. It's not like just alittle extra concrete the entire block is 1/16 to an 1/8 off.

Matt

scagrider22
08-21-2011, 07:54 PM
since when was a 1/16th of an inch a huge problem with wall block??

absolute average.......there is no perfect world.

we use the plastic strapping that holds the block together during shipping and a pit of landscape pl glue to shim as needed.

If the corners were a 1/16-1/8" shorter then shimming would work fine but they are taller so that means you would have to shim the whole wall and not the corner. It starts to become a big problem on the 4th or 5th coarse. I just built a set of steps out of Allan Block Europa last week and they were a nightmare, Ive been building walls with Allan Block for a long time and they do have issues with block consistency.

DVS Hardscaper
08-21-2011, 10:25 PM
Guys thanks so much for the vindication. I knew the corners were the issue but chalked it up to a inexperianced installer. On the compactor, I did use one for the base course trenches, but AB says to compact the backfill twice every course. No more than 8" lifts. I've been doing 4" lifts and tamping with a rotary hammer tamper. I've got one rental place close and they've had it on rent everytime I call.

Why the hell does AB not fix the problem? Oddly enough they have no video placing corners. Overall all the blocks seem inconsistant. I have tight seems and level tops but to my eye it looks like the lines are off.

Matt

What is a rotary hammer tamper? Never heard of that....
,

Snyder's Lawn Inc
08-21-2011, 10:33 PM
What is a rotary hammer tamper? Never heard of that....
,

Looks like a Jack Hammer hadnt seen one used one since the 80s

DVS Hardscaper
08-21-2011, 10:38 PM
1/16th of an inch is nothing to lose sleep over. And 1/8th isn't alarming. A couple months ago we had wall caps that were 3/16th of an inch different. And 3/16th was the breaking point for me. It was very noticable, so i took the caps back.

You need to understand the corners are made from a different mold than the block.

The molds get worn out. As they get worn out, the block gets taller. This is not an Allan Block issue, it's the manufacturer issue (the people that bought the manufacturing rights).

We do not use allan block. I don't like it.

I'm a diehard Cornerstone user. And Cornerstone doesnt make corners. But our local manufacturer has a "universal corner unit". Works for us.


.

DVS Hardscaper
08-21-2011, 10:42 PM
Looks like a Jack Hammer hadnt seen one used one since the 80s


OK, thanks. Definitely not the right tool for the job.




.

Lite4
08-22-2011, 07:36 AM
We used AB for one job. It was the last we will ever do with them. Extremely inconsistant block. I went so far over on my man hours just cutting and shimming The stupid thing.
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GWhunter
08-22-2011, 11:16 AM
DVS, what's the deal every post you make seems to be a smart ass usless remark. From your post's I understand your consider yourself gods gift to hardscaping, but here's the deal. If you've got nothing helpful to add don't bother posting in my thread.

To the rest of the crowd thanks alot. As to building with AB, what do you guys tell your customers in regards to the end results? This wall is for a family member so it's not a paying job persay. But that still doesn't mean I want an eyesore for results. What are you using for grinding the blocks? A angle grinder? I got 4 courses up yesterday and the results are ok but I still don't like the lines. The level says there good but the eye doesn't lie.

Matt

DVS Hardscaper
08-22-2011, 01:01 PM
DVS, what's the deal every post you make seems to be a smart ass usless remark. From your post's I understand your consider yourself gods gift to hardscaping, but here's the deal. If you've got nothing helpful to add don't bother posting in my thread.

To the rest of the crowd thanks alot. As to building with AB, what do you guys tell your customers in regards to the end results? This wall is for a family member so it's not a paying job persay. But that still doesn't mean I want an eyesore for results. What are you using for grinding the blocks? A angle grinder? I got 4 courses up yesterday and the results are ok but I still don't like the lines. The level says there good but the eye doesn't lie.

Matt


Matt,

I have a saying: "you only see what you're looking for"

And that saying goes for anything in life, whether it's for help at an online forum, or a prospective job, or a date.

I am dead serious in my responses to you in this thread. You wrote a book in the initial post wanting help. Ok, well so your got your feelings hurt when I told you it was way too long. If you want help, help us help you, don't make us work to help you.

This is text, it has no tone or expression. You can take it for what you would like. You can let others influence your opinions and thoughts if you so desire.

You said you're a perfectionist. Yet, you failed to utilize the correct tools to do the job! Hey, your responses, not mine :)

In many of your responses to others you are defensive. If you're not sure where, let me know and I'll coPy and paste for you.

If you want help, let us help.

Otherwise lose the ego and allow yourself to learn from veterans. We have better things to do than pissing matches. You wanna know how to do this or not


.
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GWhunter
08-22-2011, 01:56 PM
DVS, no ego here can you say the same? All but one of YOUR replies were of no use at all. I understand you can't read in paragraphs fine then don't read, everyone else's post were short sweet and to the point.

I was the first to admit to not using the plate compactor the entire job. I wish I could have but I made due the best I could. I agree it could cause me issues down the road. However it's not the issue I came here for help with.

Can you say 100% of the time you jobs came out perfect? I doubt most can, I do strive for perfection so I'm sure you can understand my anoyance to unproductive comments. I'm not looking for a pissing contest either but I often read the forums and your comments are 95% negative. I just don't need it in my thread. If your intention is to help it's not coming across that way. Maybe it's the lack of inflection that makes it so. Anyways lets move on.

I've been looking at buying a plate compactor, since renting is not reliable enough. I've got a few other jobs coming up that I could use it for. Any recommendations? I'd love to find a used one with forward and reverse. But it seems the used units are beat with a near new asking price. Any particular ones to stay away from? Is there alot to break on them? They look straight forward enough. Thanks

Matt

DVS Hardscaper
08-22-2011, 02:07 PM
I write short and to the point. I do this as time allows. I'm not gonna sugarcoat it.

We contractors have people call for an estimate. They describe their entire backyard while you're trying to get all their contact info and can't possibly have a clear understanding of the grade they're describing along with where they buried feefee 11 years ago. It's the same with reading people's requests for help. Make the request as easy to envision as possible, and supply photos. When requesting help, help us help you.

In the beginning I had all sorts of thing I stressed over. If I were to worry about 1/16" then I'm in the wring biz. We used to measure and measure just to install edge restraint. Over time you learn easier methods and we learn that what we're stressing over become a minor issue when the job is done.

My worries today - baby sitting employees and contending with challenging clients.


.
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GWhunter
08-22-2011, 02:59 PM
I write short and to the point. I do this as time allows. I'm not gonna sugarcoat it.

We contractors have people call for an estimate. They describe their entire backyard while you're trying to get all their contact info and can't possibly have a clear understanding of the grade they're describing along with where they buried feefee 11 years ago. It's the same with reading people's requests for help. Make the request as easy to envision as possible, and supply photos. When requesting help, help us help you.

In the beginning I had all sorts of thing I stressed over. If I were to worry about 1/16" then I'm in the wring biz. We used to measure and measure just to install edge restraint. Over time you learn easier methods and we learn that what we're stressing over become a minor issue when the job is done.

My worries today - baby sitting employees and contending with challenging clients.


.
Posted via Mobile Device


DVS, I'm done with the back and forth. Maybe I'm missing something here. You and SVA both suggested 1/16 is not a big deal. I whol heartedly agree but I'm not taking 1/16 over the entire wall that's per course. Obviously it adds up to inched once the wall is high enough. So are you saying that an inch off on the wall(that is noticeable) is acceptable? One point heard loud and clear is that AB is not a good source for blocks.

I will definatly go elsewhere next build. Unfortunatly I'm stuck with them for this wall. Does anyone have another brand they like that's in my area? I see Versa lok alot. I'm in NE CT
Anyone have experiance with them?

Matt

OutdoorCreations
08-22-2011, 04:39 PM
All I use is CST Versa Lok. You can make walls, double sided walls, steps, outside and inside corners with them. They have corners too, but I just hand split the full pieces.

All I use now is the weathered finish. When I first started I was using the standard finish, but started running into all sorts of problems finding extra pieces from my supplier. Seems no one in my area stocks the standard finish. Plus, the weathered finish is a little more forgiving when it comes time for your caps if you are off by 1/8" or so.

SVA_Concrete
08-22-2011, 06:35 PM
DVS, I'm done with the back and forth. Maybe I'm missing something here. You and SVA both suggested 1/16 is not a big deal. I whol heartedly agree but I'm not taking 1/16 over the entire wall that's per course. Obviously it adds up to inched once the wall is high enough. So are you saying that an inch off on the wall(that is noticeable) is acceptable? One point heard loud and clear is that AB is not a good source for blocks.

I will definatly go elsewhere next build. Unfortunatly I'm stuck with them for this wall. Does anyone have another brand they like that's in my area? I see Versa lok alot. I'm in NE CT
Anyone have experiance with them?

Matt

assuming you are using the 8" AB corners it will take 16 courses, or 10.6 feet of wall height before you gain a full inch.

and likewise over 20 feet of wall height before you are at inches off

keep an open mind and listen, you may learn.

i will agree that DVS is a bit Devious at times. :)

Bru75
08-22-2011, 06:40 PM
I've been looking at buying a plate compactor, since renting is not reliable enough. I've got a few other jobs coming up that I could use it for. Any recommendations? I'd love to find a used one with forward and reverse. But it seems the used units are beat with a near new asking price. Any particular ones to stay away from?Matt

I use a Multiquip 5,500# reversible compactor, was about $4,000 new. No complaints, the Honda engine always starts on the first pull.
You might get lucky and find a good used one, just keep looking.
Whatever you get don't go cheap and it will last you a long time. Reversible compactors are definitely worth the extra money, especially in trenches.

Bru75
08-22-2011, 06:44 PM
Does anyone have another brand they like that's in my area? I see Versa lok alot. I'm in NE CT
Anyone have experiance with them?

Matt

Versa-lok is good stuff, one of my favorites to work with.
Techo Bloc is a pleasure to install, but more pricey.

GWhunter
08-22-2011, 08:10 PM
assuming you are using the 8" AB corners it will take 16 courses, or 10.6 feet of wall height before you gain a full inch.

and likewise over 20 feet of wall height before you are at inches off

keep an open mind and listen, you may learn.

i will agree that DVS is a bit Devious at times. :)

I use a Multiquip 5,500# reversible compactor, was about $4,000 new. No complaints, the Honda engine always starts on the first pull.
You might get lucky and find a good used one, just keep looking.
Whatever you get don't go cheap and it will last you a long time. Reversible compactors are definitely worth the extra money, especially in trenches.

Versa-lok is good stuff, one of my favorites to work with.
Techo Bloc is a pleasure to install, but more pricey.

SVA, thanks I can do the math. IMO 1/4" grabs my eye's attention. Maybe I'm just aiming too high. I'm keeping an open mind, as I said I'm by no means an expert at hardscaping and I truly appreciate all the great replies. LS is a real wealth of knowledge.

Bru, thanks for the review of the MQ unit. I think for my uses I won't be able to justify a reversable unit. I've been keeping an eye out on CL for a decent used on but I can buy a decent one with a Honda and water tank for $800 so I'm not spending $700 in a beat POS. I think as the weather here cools I may score a deal.

So the versa lok is good stuff, I've got a local dealer that stocks quite abit so I'll look to him on the next project.

Matt

scagrider22
08-22-2011, 09:29 PM
If your building a wall or steps without outside corners I would still use Allan Block, just dont use the Ab series as they are not very durable. I install a lot of Allan Block Europa Dover, they are durable and the install is fast and easy, the only time I have issues is when I use the corners, sometimes they are fine and sometimes they are a 1/4" taller and that can be a big problem after 3-4 coarses. Ive used every kind of block except for Techo, the Versa Lok is ok, it is very versatile but I dont like the alignment pins and if your building steps they are only a 6" rise and that is below code here. The Allan Block makes 7.75" steps.

As for the plate compactor I recomend buying a new one, also I would wait until you can afford two of them to get a reversable one because of the weight.

DVS Hardscaper
08-23-2011, 09:44 AM
No going back and forth, bud.

I will say maybe this topic is mis-titled?

GWHunter, of course 1" is not acceptable.

You learn to improvise as you go. Some brands I stay away from because there is too much improvising. Other brands such as Cornerstone and Mesa are more user friendly. Although, the block isn't made by the brand name, it's made by independant manufacturers who buy the rights and pay royalities. So in MD the Allanblock could be flawless, but in PA it may need shims out the ying yang, because they could be different manufacturers not affiliated with one another.

This wall block in this 4 year old, 7' wall had a manufacturing flaw, which we did not realize till we were about about 3.5' complete. We had to improvise. No one can tell, not from the photos and not visible in person.

http://www.outdoorfinishes.com/images/services/walls/retaining%20walls/retainingwall2-lg.jpg

2brothersyardcare
08-23-2011, 02:48 PM
DVS, I'm done with the back and forth. Maybe I'm missing something here. You and SVA both suggested 1/16 is not a big deal. I whol heartedly agree but I'm not taking 1/16 over the entire wall that's per course. Obviously it adds up to inched once the wall is high enough. So are you saying that an inch off on the wall(that is noticeable) is acceptable? One point heard loud and clear is that AB is not a good source for blocks.

I will definatly go elsewhere next build. Unfortunatly I'm stuck with them for this wall. Does anyone have another brand they like that's in my area? I see Versa lok alot. I'm in NE CT
Anyone have experiance with them?

Matt

Cambridge!

GWhunter
08-23-2011, 08:03 PM
If your building a wall or steps without outside corners I would still use Allan Block, just dont use the Ab series as they are not very durable. I install a lot of Allan Block Europa Dover, they are durable and the install is fast and easy, the only time I have issues is when I use the corners, sometimes they are fine and sometimes they are a 1/4" taller and that can be a big problem after 3-4 coarses. Ive used every kind of block except for Techo, the Versa Lok is ok, it is very versatile but I dont like the alignment pins and if your building steps they are only a 6" rise and that is below code here. The Allan Block makes 7.75" steps.

As for the plate compactor I recomend buying a new one, also I would wait until you can afford two of them to get a reversable one because of the weight.

No steps in this wall. There will be stairs the follow the outside of the wall. Not sure on the materials yet, thinking granite treads with 30" of pavers behind them. Was also thinking stamped concrete since there's a set of concrete stairs on the other side of the driveway. That will be a spring project at this point.

So Cambridge is good stuff?

Matt

scagrider22
08-23-2011, 08:13 PM
No steps in this wall. There will be stairs the follow the outside of the wall. Not sure on the materials yet, thinking granite treads with 30" of pavers behind them. Was also thinking stamped concrete since there's a set of concrete stairs on the other side of the driveway. That will be a spring project at this point.

So Cambridge is good stuff?

Matt

Stamped concrete should be a four letter word! :laugh:

GWhunter
08-24-2011, 05:33 PM
Why do you say that? It does seem, waaaay overpriced for what it is. I've seen it done and it looks like a cash cow. The "stamping artists" just waited till the crete was the right consistancy and then took the stamps and coloring and started from one end and just flipped the stamp over. And they charged like 8k. I'd really like to got he granite step route but it's pricey as well and I'm not sure how it will hold up with the pavers behind it on a hill.

Matt

STL Ponds and Waterfalls
08-24-2011, 08:39 PM
Your earlier question for grinding is an angle grinder with a diamond cup grinding wheel. You can get them in 4",7", and 9" sizes.

Building walls will take shimming once in awhile. You can use pennies, shingles, plastic straps, anything that won't breakdown. These guy's have been around the block and will be helpful, but still can get under your skin once in awhile.

Stamped concrete can be a challenge sometimes. Especially when it blows up on you and you can't get a stamp to work. Also if you over work some colors it will fade on you QUICK! Also stamped can be very slick if a high solids sealer is used without and grit/traction aid.

Your out east so you have a lot of nice stone at your disposal so get creative with the step risers and treads.

SVA_Concrete
08-24-2011, 09:19 PM
Why do you say that? It does seem, waaaay overpriced for what it is. I've seen it done and it looks like a cash cow. The "stamping artists" just waited till the crete was the right consistancy and then took the stamps and coloring and started from one end and just flipped the stamp over. And they charged like 8k. I'd really like to got he granite step route but it's pricey as well and I'm not sure how it will hold up with the pavers behind it on a hill.

Matt

we poured a small stamp job today as a matter of fact, pouring out the finish load tomorrow. on the job at 5:45, rolling to the next job at 10:30, those few hours of pouring and finishing 7 cubic yards of concrete require a bit of prep work.

ill put up some photos once it is complete.

there is a good bit of knowledge, experience, and pre-planning that go into a stamped concrete job. Whats the humidity? temperature? saturation of the subgrade? sun angle? shadows? travel time on the concrete -- (traffic)? ad mixes, previous days weather, windy or calm, how much hand work involved in the stamp pattern, obstructions to stamp around like houses, grills, posts, columns, lights, fences, etc etc etc etc etc.

there is no "lets call it a day, im hot and tired we can get it tomorrow" and "lunch" means nothing to a concrete finisher.

go work on a stamp crew for a day, you will get a whole new appreciation for the work we do.

you could go with a set of stamped concrete steps :)

STL Ponds and Waterfalls
08-24-2011, 10:33 PM
I'll tip my hat to that SVA. When I was doing concrete it made me lose my lunch a few times. Concrete can be worse than Mother Nature!