Sunday, April 3, 2016

One Small Step, Finally!!

The barn went up around 2005 and we, my wife and I, have been living here on the property full time since 2010. In all that time there has been nothing outside the front door of the barn, the door used whenever the main doors are closed, except loose gravel and a few dollops of leftover mortar that added up to about a platter sized pad.

Now you have to understand that one of us in this household is upright-challenged. And I mean seriously challenged. (One day this person was just standing there at the washing machine and suddenly, for no reason either one of us can figure out, fell flat on their back, dragging half the crap on the nearby shelves down with them!) I won't say which one of us it is, but she once fell off a curb in the city and spent the next two months in a wheelchair as her busted ankle 'healed'. (I put healed into quotes because it has never been the same since.) Another time she was walking across the meadow near the pond and stepped in a 'hole' so badly that it took two surgeries and a bunch of titanium to put her leg back together. (We went back later and never could find the infamous hole she stepped in. . . We also had quite a knock-down-drag-out that time with the nurse who insisted, despite the fact that we own a wheelchair (Yep, that's how bad it is.) and had it right there at bedside, that, she was not going to be allowed to leave the hospital until the nurse saw her take a couple steps on crutches. I mean we're talking about someone that goes ass over teakettle, followed by an incapacitating meltdown, at the mere sight of crutches propped in the corner!!)

So you can imagine the sort of obstacle that step from doorway to uneven gravel poses, especially when she has to negotiate it multiple times a day and often in the dark. But despite all her hints and requests, I sat around on my butt and did nothing about it until threatened blessed with an impending visit from my octogenarian mom, who is also upright challenged. (Though only slightly and she does have the excuse of age.) All the sudden addressing the issue became a priority.

Here I've removed the discarded mortar 'platter', outlined the new step with some handy stones, visible only if you know where they are, and started trenching for the forms. I was careful to leave the ground under where the step goes undisturbed since it's had years to compact down into a nice stable base.
I had some leftover PVC baseboard that I used for the form. We wanted something other than just a boring old rectangular step so I threw one of the PVC boards on the dash of the car where it could warm up nicely
and take a bend. After pulling it into something of an arc with the strap I threw the whole thing back on the dash for another hour thinking that would set the curve.
But as you can see, that didn't work so well. As the PVC softened all the 'curve' migrated to the middle so instead of an arc I ended up with a point.
This certainly wasn't the kind of project that lives or dies on exact measurement and close tolerances, but the pointy shape still bothered me so it was back to the workbench to see if I could salvage the situation. With a few braces and clamps I forced a bit more curve into each of the overly straight legs and set it with a heat-gun. My 're-curving' efforts were only somewhat successful (One leg curved nicely, but with the other I overdid the heat-gun and left it with a bit of a kink.) but my supervisor was so excited that I was finally doing something about the step that she signed off on it anyway.
I staked the forms in place, carefully leveled everything, making sure I had a half-bubble down-pitch from the door out to the end of the form so water wouldn't just lay on the finished step but would run off, and screwed from the stakes into the forms to lock everything into place. Then with a square-nosed shovel I carefully shaved soil and gravel out from inside the form until I had a pretty consistent two inches of depth.      That's not very thick for a concrete step but the the base it will be resting on is pretty solid and I had plenty of rebar to help hold it all together. Since I wasn't going to drill the barn-slab and epoxy pins into it to lock the new step to the slab, after tying the rebar into a stable grid, I drove four one foot-long lengths of rebar down into the ground and tied the grid to them as well. The idea is that these 'cleats' will at least help keep the step from wandering on down towards the pond in the first heavy rain.  In the process of pinning the rebar I lifted the grid up off the ground with a few stones so it would end up roughly in the middle of the pour.
Finally, after a few intervening rainy days, it was time to pour. If you look closely at the far wheel of the mixer you can see that it's laying over on it's side. That happens when you accidentally set the tractor bucket down on top of the mixer wheel when parking in the barn they both share. (Doesn't everyone have their own mixer??  Well we've built almost every stick of this place ourselves and that often included the need to mix cement and mortar, besides the mixer also works great for mixing our own garden and potting soil from inexpensive ingredients.) One reason for the shallow depth of this pour is that I was trying to do it with only the two 80 lbs bags of cement you see there on the cart, though I did have two more bags on standby just in case, because the last thing you need during a pour is to run out of concrete!!
My calculations were spot on and the pour took exactly two bags with no leftovers. I'm always leery of adding too much water to the mix, which weakens the resulting concrete, (Its amazing how little water is required to take concrete from not quite enough to 'oh crap way too much!') but this time I erred slightly on the dry side and it took a whole lot of heavy handed floating to get the aggregate pushed down and the surface to a slightly pebbled texture. The texture is good since it will provide grip even when wet, but it did result in a little loose, sandy-looking material and couple pits over in one corner. - - And once again perfection eludes me. . .
After two days of keeping the step covered in heavy plastic to make sure it didn't dry out (water curing), I unscrewed the form-boards from the stakes, drove the stakes deep into the ground (A whole lot easier than trying to wiggle and wrestle them up and out!) then gently tapped the form-boards loose.
Grabbing a handy chunk of leftover concrete from an earlier project which has had years to cure therefore is much harder than the fresh pour, I used it to round over the sharp edges of the new step. Here I've already done the edge running from top to bottom in the photo and am about to start on the front edge. Here you also get a good look at the result of the dry mix. The surface is slightly pebbly and, even though I used my saws-all with no blade in it to vibrate the form-boards during the pour, the sides of the step are still a little rough looking. No big deal since they will be mostly below grade anyway.
Once the sharp edges were eased I back-filled around the step which was designed to sit just proud of the gravel drive around it to minimize the tripping hazard. A little tamping with a bit of water to help things settle, and all that's left to do is put the plastic back over the step and let it water-cure at least one more day.
Certainly not an earth-shattering, or even slightly sexy, project, but one that will improve the quality of life around here and was shamefully overdue.


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