Anyway, I now have approved plans so I got to work. I already had a level gravel pad. First, I measured where the footings will go. I used "marking paint", which is spray paint that sprays upside down. Then I dug the footings.
I started out using a cheap cutoff saw with a metal cutting blade to cut the rebar to size for reinforcing the footings. The saw later burned out - literally, with flames coming out of the motor. I was reminded again that cheap tools don't pay.
I used bricks to keep the rebar well embedded in the concrete that will be poured.
A friend loaned me his rebar bender/cutter which I used to bend the vertical rebar that will tie the footing and the pier together, since they will have to be poured separately. It's amazing how easily it cuts the thick rebar. I bought one of these myself shortly thereafter from Northern Tool.
I used a laser level to get the height of the footings right. This is much easier than setting string lines. Just set up the tripod level, set the sensor at the right height on the ruler and place the ruler on the top of the footing. The sensor tells you whether it's high or low. I tried to get it to within 1", and I did a final adjustment when I placed the concrete piers. With the holes dug and forms in place I called the county for the first required inspection, which went smoothly. The main points the inspector checked were the depth of the footings and the arrangement of how the vertical rebar tied the footings and piers together.
I created the forms for the piers and hung the vertical rebar from the Simpson post bracket into the concrete footer. The placing of the pier form could be approximate at this stage, since there's room for adjustment between the bracket and the vertical rebar.
I built a "chute" for the concrete so it was easy to do the pour alone. My tractor came in handy to hold the bags of concrete at the right height so I could just tip them into the mixer.
After removing the pier form, the vertical rebar is embedded in the footing.
I just did the corner footings first. I carefully leveled and squared the corner piers next. It was then easy to run a string line and pour the footings and piers in the middle.
Each pier needed some fine adjustment for height (using bits of cardboard or wood underneath the form. I locked each pier into place by placing screws through the pier form into the footing form. I also made very fine adjustments to level the bracket by inserting twigs between the horizontal bar holding the bracket and the bracket itself, which was done once the pier had been poured but the concrete was still wet.
After removing the forms, we have a nice pier and footing. I used each pier and footing form three times to save myself the time and expense of building all twelve forms. The OSB form sides held up pretty well, although there was a slight bowing of the sizes on some of the middle piers that were poured last. I just used duplex nails (which have two "heads" so that after hammering into place there's still an exposed head that can be grabbed by the claw of a hammer) to attach the 2x4 brackets on the forms. After each use, I pulled the nails, disassembled the forms and reassembled them for the next pour.
The next step was to pack the dirt back around the pier and footing. The dirt had to be added in six inch "lifts", meaning six inches at a time. I used my tractor to move the dirt around, but I still had to pick out the bigger rocks by hand so that the dirt would compact well, and I had to get each lift approximately level with rake and shovel so that the compactor had a level surface to jump on. I'd then wet the dirt and let the water soak in, then compact it with a "jumping jack" -style compacter that a friend loaned me. If you're not so lucky to have a friend with lots of tools, these can be rented. This machine is a bear to operate. It weighs about as much as I do, and it jumps all over when running, as it's supposed to. It takes practice to learn how to guide it without fighting it, and it's even harder to work in the small space around the piers, without having it smash into and ruin the piers. Getting the moisture level right is a challenge too. You can make it easier on yourself, although more expensive, by using base rock for fill instead of dirt. Base rock will wind up more solid, and is more predictable and easier to compact. However, I'm cheap, and I needed to do something with the dirt.
I did use base rock for the top layer of fill, so it would match the rest of the gravel pad. Later, I'll go over the area with the box scraper on my tractor, in order to make the area more even.
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