Little Creek Maple Farm

Our adventures around the homestead.

Replacing a Retaining Wall


Well I wish I could say I planned on replacing the small stone retaining wall that encircled our awesome looking precast concrete stair in the background of the above picture, but it was a spur of the moment idea that took close to 4 spring weekends to complete.  Unfortunately the above picture from last year is all I have and you really need to squint to see the loose laid retaining wall.  I love natural rock, but there was something about this wall that I did not care for.

During one trip to our local Lowe’s we decided on some retaining wall blocks that we though looked good and that would go with precast stair.  I picked up 10 or so blocks and we were on our way!

Gardening 2013 2013-04-20 013

The project started off fairly quickly as I started pulling down the old loose laid stone wall.  I was fortunate enough to basically be re-constructing the wall in the exact same space as the old wall and there was a nice compacted gravel base that I could work with.  I believe you are supposed to tear everything out get a level gravel base and then build your wall, but I had other spring gardening chores to do so this project was going to run 20 blocks a weekend.  I started at the high point of my wall and figured I would work my way down and to the left of the wall.

Gardening 2013 2013-04-20 012

As you can see I also had some older over grown plants and shrubs that were not going to be part of the new landscaping plan.

Gardening 2013 2013-04-20 009

From the above photo you can kind of see how old and unkempt the old wall looked.  I was ready for it to be replaced by the crisp chiseled faces of the concrete blocks we picked up.  Not to fear I had other plans for all the stone I pulled out of here.

2013-04-27 001 2013-04-27 001

Another weekend and a few more blocks.  The project involved some basic tools like a small sledge hammer a masons chisel for splitting the blocks (at this point I only needed to split one block) and a couple levels.  I found that I almost always used a small torpedo level and my 2’ level.  I did occasionally break out the 4’ level but that was more fore alignment than checking for level.  You can see from the photos that the blocks had a small lip on the bottom.  This lip helps you to align the block so that each course sets back about 3/4” from the previous one.  For the very first course or starter course I simply use my mason chisel and knocked this edge off so the first course would lay flat on the compacted gravel base.  Compacting the gravel base is pretty straight forward as long as you have a manual plate tamper and some good compactable gravels.

2013-05-19 001 2013-05-19 001

After a couple more weekends any maybe another 50 block I was finished.  This end had a lot of cuts.  Surprisingly it was pretty easy splitting the blocks with a  mason chisel.  I would measure the distance I needed and transfer that dimension to the top of the block.  I would then start my chisel on the top of the block at the front chiseled face (the mason’s chisel is 3-4” wide) and hit the chisel with with enough force to leave a mark.  I would then slide the chisel 3” down towards the center of the block so I was in line with the previous mark and hit it again.  Next I moved the chisel again all the way toward the back and I would repeat this on the back side of the block, and the bottom side of the block and I would repeat the process until I had a well scored line on the three sides of the block.  With all of the sides scored well I laid the block flat on the ground put the chisel in the middle of the score line on the top of the block and gave it a few good hard strikes and the block split exactly on the score line.  It takes a block or two to get the feel for how this process works, but it is a piece of cake!

After I got everything laid out I went back remove a couple course of block and put in a layer of landscape fabric between the block wall and the existing as I filled the 4-5” space behind the block with 3/4” gravel.  With any luck this layer of stone will help ensure adequate drainage behind the wall and the landscape fabric will help keep the gravel from silting up so it continues to drain freely for many years to come.

Overall I am pleased with the end result.  One word of caution, buy all your blocks at once if you can.  Lowes was actually selling last years discontinued blocks as regular product without telling anyone.  This would have been fine if the manufactured did not change color blends and if someone else did not buy the majority of the two pallets they had on hand before I could finish my wall! Luckily I was able to lose most of the older blocks in the layers that were covered up by dirt or they were close enough to the bottom that you could not tell a discernable difference.


May 22, 2013 - Posted by | Gardening, Home Maintenance | , , , , , ,

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