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Retaining wall questions (1st wall)

Discussion in 'Hardscaping' started by JLC, Jul 29, 2007.

  1. JLC

    JLC LawnSite Senior Member
    from IA
    Messages: 467

    First off, sorry for the long post. I own a lawncare company and for several reasons we are doing a couple of feaseability studies to determine whether or not to enter the landscape/hardscape market. In regards to retaining walls my business partner and I have done a lot of research over the last couple years on them. We've attended multiple classes from our Keystone rep and are familier with theirs and the NMCA standards.

    We have lined up a trial job to help us put our knowledge to practice and get a feel for the work before making a large commitment going into next season. The job is for a family member replacing two rr tie walls. One is 80 feet long and mostly 3 feet tall. The other is 30 feet tall and 3 feet tall at it's highest portion (about 10 feet of it). We did the 30 foot wall first and did it "by the book". The area we struggled with was setting the base course of block on our leveling pad. Our leveling pad was on average within an 1/8 to a 1/4 of level according to the laser. Most of the blocks laid without having to do much more than smack them a couple of times with a deadblow, but some seemed to take what felt like 10 minutes to set each. In the end the wall is complete and is level and done right, however...

    Before starting the 80 foot run I was wondering if this time to set the first course is normal or do you experienced guys think we should try to get the grade better/dead on. I've heard of guys through my supplier who use 1/2" of screeded lime fines (3/8 or smaller) to give some room to smack the blocks perfect, but didn't know if this would cause problems down the road. This seems to be a grey area as to whether it is acceptable or not. We are trying to nail down somewhat of a system to build our confidence going into next season, should be decide go ahead with this.

    Enough rambling and thanks for any advice/ help in advance.

  2. JLC

    JLC LawnSite Senior Member
    from IA
    Messages: 467

    I also wanted to mention, my hats off to you guys doing this day in day out. It's hard work, and my partner and I are strong guys.
  3. waltero

    waltero LawnSite Member
    Messages: 206

    I try to get the grade on the base to be almost perfect. I do it by using rails on both sides (front and back) of the wall. I use concrete forms that are flexible to allow me to do bends and curves. If you go to Versa-loks website you can see a video that shows the forms being used. It takes a little longer but I try to get the base as close as possible and I only use a very small amount of sand when I need it. I believe that you can go up to 1/2 inch on the sand but I would try to get the base closer to level so that you wouldn't need that much.

    You will find that this takes the most time.

  4. PerfiCut L&L

    PerfiCut L&L LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 458

    JLC: As is with most hardscape projects, the prep is the most important and most time consuming portion of the project. With retaining walls, your first course is more or less considered prep for the rest of the wall. Think of your first course as an extension of the sub base. If its not done correctly, you're going to see it in the wall exponentially based on the number of courses you go.

    So to answer your questions. YES. The first course is very time consuming. It does take some one on one time with each stone to make sure they are level, left to right, and front to back.

    Unfortunately, theres no tricks, or magic mallet that will make this step go quickly. Only time, experience. Good luck with your future endeavor in hardscaping. Look forward to seeing some of your work.
  5. forestfireguy

    forestfireguy LawnSite Senior Member
    from nj
    Messages: 601

    Welcome to SRW walls, base course are miserable. There is a toll out there that we just bought, save loads of time, it's a mini-screed, kinda. You set your first block. The set the screed thingy off that first block, then screed as you go......
  6. Mike33

    Mike33 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,649

    I feel the way you did was just fine. We level with laser until a step area if needed, than level block for block. There will different opinions here such as forms and etc. The bottom line is level is level the method you choose dont matter as long as you get them level and feel comforable. Good luck to you and i think your the first to ask a reasonable ? with out asking what to charge.
  7. JLC

    JLC LawnSite Senior Member
    from IA
    Messages: 467

    Yeah, I've read a lot of posts about the how much to charge and stuff like that...I can figure that out...I don't think the forum needs another one of those questions lol. Seriously though, thanks for the constructive input on my first hardscape question, I'm sure I'll have more, and then will hopefully be able to return the favor to someone in my shoes down the road.

    I watched the videos in the link posted by Waltero. In one of the videos, versa-lok allowed the use of a thin bed of sand to aid the leveling process. That surprised me because I'd think if you did this you'd want something like lime (about the consistancy of sand, but angular) as I'd think it would stay put better than sand. Do you think this would be OK, or does it open a can of worms?

  8. B. L. Landscaping

    B. L. Landscaping LawnSite Member
    Messages: 176

    I would have to agree with forestfireguy that the mini screed or stone screed google it and you will find it saves alot of time. Get your base as close as possible, set first block set screed and put a minimal amount of sand to level each block there after this tool works very well.
  9. Mike33

    Mike33 LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,649

    Im old school stubborn to change at times. I level with the stone no sand or dust. The guys using forms and screeds thats great i respect there way they are giving 100% to perfect there product.
  10. ChampionLS

    ChampionLS LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,066

    If room permits, you can simply rake out a berm of QP (2a Modified Stone), compact it, and then use screed rails (1/2" gas pipe or EMT Conduit) to set the leveling pad. We use a laser to level the pipes and top it off with Screenings. You can then simply place your blocks anywhere on the pad and not have to do a thing!. Very fast.

    If your in a tight area, or need to make curves, we frame the entire wall leveling pad with either cheap wood, or Luan strips to make curves. We'll fill in 95% of it with QP, and tamp. The final amount is Screenings that is screeded along the forms. After the base block is laid, we remove the forms and backfill as the site requires. Well worth the time.

    Another note:
    I do not believe in leveling "each block" as you go along. That is not leveling. Just because one block is level next to another does not mean they are all at the same elevation. The wall will be wavy, and it worsens as you go up! Take the extra time and build a leveling pad.

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