Five Hours of Non-Stop Fun

Well, there were some points when it wasn't quite so fun. We had a rough start because we had beignets for breakfast (I blame Kitt, who alerted us to the existence of Powderface and precipitated this bad behaviour). As you all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I recommend NOT stuffing yourself with sugar right before going out in the sun and doing a lot of manual labour.

First we spent a few minutes assessing how to deal with the base, before finally deciding to remove all the soil, rake it roughly level, and fill the middle with gravel. We used the screed for the concrete to make sure we have an even amount of room all around.

Raking the dirt

Then I went cackling around the yard, gathering up my many cans and pots full of rocks to add to the gravel layer. It was good to use up a lot of that stuff and get it out of my sight. I feel better knowing it's in use somewhere, because my other option for dealing with excess gravel is sending it to a landfill, which seems stupid.

Full of gravel

With gravel laid, we put a piece of plastic down. The plastic keeps the concrete slab from absorbing tons of moisture from the ground (note that that moisture is condensing on the plastic in this photo). Concrete, like bricks, is basically a sponge. It is not waterproof, so to keep places with concrete floors and walls from being damp where they are in contact with the earth you need to use a plastic.

Also in this photo are the dobies, which will hold the reinforcing mesh in place.

Plastic vapour barrier

Our reinforcing mesh was chicken wire. Appropriate, no? Chicken wire is a bit lightweight for reinforcing a slab that has any real structural purpose, but fortunately this is a chicken house, not a real building. We didn't technically need to reinforce the slab at all. In fact, we didn't technically need to have a concrete slab in the first place.

When we'd done the reinforcing, I sprayed the place down with water. Concrete sets in a chemical process, not by drying, so you want to wet surfaces it will be going onto first, so the water from the concrete doesn't seep out into the dry ground.

Also, it's fun to spray water all over the place.

With chicken wire

Then we settled into a nice routine: Noel would put two sacks of concrete in the mixer, get them ready, and I would take them in the wheelbarrow to the slab and spread them out.

Mixing concrete

One thing we learned from last time: we screeded as we worked our way across the slab. If we'd had concrete delivered in a truck, we could have screeded as soon as it was all in the form, obviously, but going as slowly as we were, the concrete was pretty set up by the time we got to the far end. So this time we stopped after a few batches of concrete and screeded everything level on the first couple of feet of the slab, then continued.

After the first screeding

And when we did our second screeding, I went back to the first and troweled it smooth and used the edger to make a nice rounded edge. So we as worked across the slab we were finishing it, too. Not perfect, but good.

Second screeding and finishing

By the time we got to the last foot or so, we'd worn the dogs out completely. Unfortunately, Goldie had chosen a most inconvenient napping spot right where I planned to turn the wheelbarrow.

Inconvenient dog

And yes, she is curled up with a rake there. I will never understand how dogs choose their napping spots.

Curled up with the rake

Anyway, here's the slab roughly finished and ready for me to come back over it with the trowel. I was basically knocking out those ridges you can see from the screeding, and making a smooth surface. You know how in books and on TV they make finishing concrete look so great? Just run this trowel over it and wow, it looks awesome with hardly any effort? That is fake.

Complete slab

The reality is that concrete finishing is really touchy and hard to get looking as perfect as the pros do it. I'm sure that if I practised for, say, eight hours a day for five years I could get that good. But then I'd be a concrete finisher, not just a homeowner. So respect the talented craftsmen, people, because that is not easy work.

Finished slab

After spending a bunch of time fussing over the surface, I gave it a light spray of water and we covered it with plastic to keep it from drying out before it cures. And of course minutes later a dog went walking across it, but that's pretty much the story of our yard.

Covered in plastic

We came inside, had a bunch of water and some preemptive aspirins, and now I'm going to lie around and groan for a while.

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posted by ayse on 05/10/08