Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Kicking off 2019

Work Day 7 of my porch-filled vacation (Jan 1 2019) had 5 more bags of mortar, and that was it. I went back into the office on Jan 2 with a sore back. I finished the brick work on the upper knee walls, added the luan so it's ready to pour, set the first course of brick for step #3, and made some progress on the left wall.

Progress on the left wall, and that column is getting tall

all those bricks on the stairs

First course, step 3

You can see the luan in the upper knee wall. The cat approves.
The online calculators indicated I would need about 750 bricks for this project, but estimating materials for stairs is notoriously bad. We bought 1000 bricks from the Habitat for Humanity Re-Store and thought that would be plenty. These are old used bricks too, with lots of imperfections and markings of old mortar. I'll pressure wash everything when I'm done but this stuff is unique. And it turns out, 1000 bricks is not going to be enough. You may have noticed I'm only working on half of the porch, with the center & left posts, the stairs, and the left wall. I still have the right post, right wall, and the right half of the front to go. So we needed to pick up some more brick. Habitat had some, but it doesn't match exactly. First, it's 10 hole instead of 3 hole, but we did get another 500 bricks for 25 cents each. So we're sitting on 1500 bricks for about $300 total.

had to re-up the brick supply

built the forms for the upper knee walls

During the week we got plenty of rain, so I was in the shed for some woodworking. The columns are going to be at least 36" above the floor, then I'm going to pour the same cap as the knee walls. On top of this I'm going to fasten a wooden cap, so I made those to be exactly square, clean, and routed the top edge. This also means I need to sink J-bolts into the cap to fasten these toppers. On top of the toppers, a 6x6 post to support the roof framing rims, and outside of that I'll use 1" stock to form tapered craftsman style columns. So the position of the J-bolts is crucial. Also, these need to get primed and painted on all sides before installing.

Column toppers made from 2x8 pine, edge glued
I should also mention these are made from a 2x8 that I cut up. It's construction grade, so I had to cut the edges on the table saw to get them straight & square, then added biscuits and glued up the inside edge. Then I cut the ends straight & square, sanded everything, used a 1/4" round-over bit on the router, and sanded everything again. So these are exactly 14" square. The bricks are 16" square, plus the concrete cap will have a 1.5" overhang on each side, so 19" square. I have to be sure the concrete is flat and the bottom of the cap is flat. And the J-bolts have to be positioned so that they don't get in the way of the 6x6 posts or the angled craftsman-style finish boards. This is a crucial piece of woodworking.

This past weekend was sunny and in the low 60's in Raleigh. It was the perfect environment to be outside working with my hands. Saturday 1/5 I got down 12 bags of concrete (that's almost 1000 lbs) including the caps for the upper knee walls.

Cap for the left upper knee wall

Right upper knee wall is capped. It runs into the post

backfill behind step 3 course 1

that's a lot of concrete! Almost half a ton today. So far I've got about 6000 lbs of concrete in this porch all together. When it's all said and done I bet it will be close to 4 tons. Mind you, I mix all of this stuff by hand with a wheelbarrow and a mortar hoe, besides the footer for the block wall that we rented a mixer to pour.

Sunday was all brick, got 6 bags of mortar in there, around 40 bricks per bag.

Standing on the upper knee wall. Yes, in shorts in January in NC

This turned out great, much better than I expected

Right upper knee wall

all poured and clean

Left wall is almost done. 2 more courses plus a brick and a half on the left

The columns are at their final height

Got the edge bricks set for Step 3

I just love this look

Go Tigers! I'm watching Clemson win the national championship in Football right now
I needed the columns to be at least 36" over the wall because I have to attach the handrail to the brick. They have to be filled with solid concrete and rebar to support the weight of the roof. Having 2 out of 3 done to finished height is a huge step forward.

Next, I can finish off the left wall, build the forms for the 2 posts, fill the posts & caps (with J-bolts), and finish the steps. Then start building the rest of the wall to the right of the center post including the 3rd and final post. Mentally, I am so ready to be done laying brick and get into the roof framing on this project! I wanted to finish the brickwork over my vacation. Next weekend they are talking about snow here. Maybe by MLK weekend I can finish this stuff for good.

but I love the look of what I've gotten finished so far.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Like a brick wall

Bricklaying is a slow process. I mean it takes forever to get off of the ground, well actually, it takes forever to get the brickline above ground. It's hard on my old man lower back, bending over to lay brick below the soil line like that.

Getting above ground

Knee walls are taller than the stairs

Like I outlined in the last post, there is a column before a short spacer on the front, leading into a knee wall. The stairs are 8' wide, then the other knee wall has the column behind it. Making the stairs is a long process, I start with a course of brick laid horizontally, then backfill with concrete after that's dried. That takes 12 bricks and 7 bags of concrete. Then add a row of bricks on edge, and backfill that with enough concrete to display the rest of the step and setup the next step. That usually takes 31 bricks and 7 more bags of concrete. it's a little more than one bag of mortar to get all of that brick to stay still too. Since we only paid 25 cents per brick, $4.50 per bag of concrete, and $5.50 per bag of mortar, the cost of each step is around $60. And we need 5 steps.

The knee walls need to stay higher than the steps by at least one course. Eventually, I figured out that I needed to finish the knee walls before getting too high on the steps. Turns out, when you mortar up a brick wall every course drips mortar onto whatever is below it. I learned the hard way how much work it is to clean up that dropped mortar. Don't do it.

Work forces us to use all of our annual PTO before the end of the year so everyone gets a large vacation around the holidays. I got 11 days out of the office, and spent 4 of those days in SC enjoying the Christmas holiday with my family. The rest of the time, I was trying to lay brick. Pictures are taken at the end of the day, could be low light.

Day 1: 

Got some height on the front 2 columns and both knee walls. First step of edge bricks are in

Check out all of that backfill rubble for the steps

Bucket added for height reference

Day 2: 
getting some height on those knee walls

ran out of mortar on the right side

Starting to look like an actual stairwell!

The first two days took 11 bags of concrete and 8 bags of mortar to get it this far.

Backfilled the first step, and you can see I got the vertical rebar in the posts

Got the family to put our right handprints in the wet concrete for the bottom step

Made some progress on the left side wall too

Day 3 started with a rain delay and ended early, it was Christmas Eve after all. Only 2 bags of mortar, but I did also cut some scrap luan underlayment that I had laying around to act as a catch for the concrete caps for the knee walls. I didn't need to fill in the whole thing with concrete like I do the posts.

The posts have to be filled in completely and reinforced with rebar because they have to bear the entire weight of the roof. They will get the same caps I'm pouring for the knee walls.

Right knee wall is at finished height, 1 brick above that luan catcher. The left? I ran out of mortar

Got the first course of the 2nd step laid down

Day 4: After returning from SC I got to work again on 12/29. Got 7 bags of concrete and 4 bags of mortar down.

Poured the backfill behind step 2

Laid down the left knee wall, first few rows of the upper knee wall, and the first time the concrete block has been covered

Post is getting taller too, and made progress on the left wall

This time I was able to set the edge bricks for the 2nd step on the same day as pouring the backfill. Warm day!

you can see the void behind the edge bricks

Got the left column up to floor height too!
This was a big day! Every step in building those stairs requires waiting overnight for it to cure before moving on to the next step. This is the first time it was warm enough for the backfill behind the bottom course to dry enough for me to set the edge bricks on top without having to wait overnight.

Day 5 (12/30/18): 9 bags of concrete. Built the forms and poured the caps for the bottom 2 knee walls, backfill for the 2nd step. Got to watch some college football too.

Forms are made and poured

Drew a heart in the wet concrete

Detail of the forms
To make the forms, I cut 2x4's to go around the cured brick at the same height as the brick. Then I cut 1x6 to wrap around the 2x4 and screwed them flush with the bottom of the 2x4. Turns out, the cheapest 1x6 I could find was the pressure treated deck board. You certainly don't have to use PT decking for this, it was just the cheapest thing I could find. The height difference between the 2x4 and the 5/4 x 6 boards creates the thickness of the cap. Be sure the form is level and fill it to the top.

Day 6 was mostly rained out, but I did get one bag of mortar down and pulled the forms off of those caps.

Caps done, posts are above the floor
And that's all of the work I got done in 2018! It was a really fun year, I got to work on a ton of projects. This porch is probably the biggest impact project yet, and I'm already looking forward to having all of this brick down.