I am an inveterate DIYer.
I gained that disgusting habit long ago as the teenage owner of a ’51 Ford Custom. That jet-black, two-door was so simple to repair and keep running that the false sense of confidence it gave me remains embedded in my psyche to this day. I am liable to hurl myself into just about any hands-on project almost on a whim—cold-bloodedly. This in spite of entreaties not to do so from my wife. I can’t shake the urge.
Getting the itch once again, I recently hurled myself into yet another heroic weekend adventure—replacing the aging concrete walkway leading to the front steps of our 85-year-old, two-story, wood-frame house with pavers. Why let the fact that I’ve never done a paver job before stop me, right? It’s a small walkway, after all, just 7 by 10 feet.
“Hey, we already have the pavers,” I reminded my wife. I bought hundreds of them—red, grey and few tan ones, too. There they are, I pointed out to her, gesturing to the neat 2-foot-high rows of pavers bordering our concrete driveway. That’s where I stacked them soon after bringing them home in my since-departed 1997 Chevy Blazer. It took me several trips back and forth to the local Lowe’s to get what I felt were enough pavers for this long-delayed project. (I bought the pavers in the fall of 2009, if I recall correctly.)
“This time it will be different,” I promised the wife, telling her I am enlisting the aid of a contractor friend who has helped us with previous projects at our home. “We will bang out this project almost before the dust from the broken concrete has a chance to settle on our open, round front porch,” I remember saying.
As hope rarely trumps experience, this so-called paver job has turned out not to be a weekend project, but a weekends (plural) project. Starting without the necessary tools and materials (what DIYer does?), we’ve had to rent or buy what we’ve needed as the job progressed. To this point, we’ve rented an electric jackhammer to break the concrete walkway and a gas-power paver tamper to make a firm base for our pavers. The rental store is located 5 miles from my house. The crusher run we’re using for the base came from a Unilock building supply store in an adjoining city 14 miles away. We picked up the cement sand we are using to set the pavers at a building supply house closer to home.
The trips back and forth to get equipment and supplies slowed our progress, but we have had our share of other unanticipated time-wasters. More on this later.
My contractor friend says a half-ton pickup means his vehicle is rated to carry half a ton of equipment or material. But when the front-end loader guy at the building supply store said “oops,” adding a choice expletive while dumping the concrete sand into the bed of our truck, we had the disquieting feeling that we had gotten more than we had bargained for. We had a similar feeling earlier the same day when we picked up the crusher run from the other supplier. “I think we need a bigger truck,” my friend commented on that occasion.
As it turned out, we could load enough of both products into the back of the contractor’s half-ton without the front wheels of the pickup leaving the ground. Or, thankfully, without breaking a spring or other mishap.
Challenges? Yes, we’ve had our share. Neither of us anticipated the concrete walkway would be such a bear to break up and remove. In some places the concrete was 5 inches thick. We piled the broken pieces in a huge mound in my yard (a job in itself). When we removed the walkway we discovered it had been poured over a base of slag—baseball-sized to cabbage-sized chunks of jagged, rust-colored material. We dug out the pieces one at a time. In the process we cut and removed several large roots from the nearby silver maple. That we expected.
In the spirit of full disclosure, the remainder of the project is now firmly in the hands of my friend. As I write this he is just outside our front door on his knees in the sand. With a 3-foot-long level close at hand, he is pounding in the pavers with a heavy plastic hammer.
Like all DIY projects, this one turned out to be twice as challenging, took twice as long and it cost twice as much, as I had expected. When am I going to learn? And, yes, I am paying my friend as he is a dear friend of the family, and I want him to remain a friend.
My final job with this particular project is to load and take the mound of broken concrete and crusty, jagged slag to the local landfill. It is just 5 miles from my house. It will cost me $40 a pickup load to dump it. I figure I have three loads. I will make sure I don’t overload the bed of the truck. I don’t want to risk breaking a spring or having the front wheels rear into the air like a bucking horse. I won’t need or be using a bigger truck.