Just Another Pretty Face: Pouring Footings and Columns

In my last post (Close…), we got the batter boards erected and started digging a few holes for the concrete footings and columns. The holes are one meter (39.37 inches) by one meter by one meter deep. There will be a total of 20 footings/columns. We have dug seven holes so far, and we decided to pour the footings and columns for these holes before they cave in from the water.

The newly-dug holes filled with water in just a few hours because of the high water table. When we were ready to pour the first footing, we got a pump from my tool room. But the pump was troublesome in that it needed to be primed each time it was to be used, and that might be 40 or more times. Too arduous. So I borrowed a pump from an acquaintance. But that pump had damaged carburetor seals from gasoline left in the tank for months, maybe years. So we decided to use a pump with only one moving part. This pump is also known as a five-gallon bucket. You should have heard the guys laugh when I told them it had only one moving part. They commented that that may be so, but the engine (them) had many moving parts! It was a lot of bailing. A one meter-cube hole contains 264.172052 US gallons, or 52.8 five-gallon bucketfuls. The process is to stand at the rim of the hole, bend over, dip the bucket, stand up and dump it. Repeat until half the hole is empty, then put an upside down bucket in the hole, stand on it, and continue bailing until you can stand on the dirt at the bottom of the hole without the water coming over the top of your boots, then bail some more. While Armando was bailing, Manuelito mixed a batch of concrete.

After the water was out of the hole, Armando dumped two wheelbarrow-fulls of stones into the hole, and working quickly to stay ahead of the water, I stacked stones up in the corners about six inches high. Then we lowered the rebar reinforcing mesh onto the corner rock piles, effectively suspending the mesh about six inches off the bottom of the hole. Next we lowered one of the rebar column armatures onto the rebar mat, and using a plumb bob and the strings on the batter boards, we centered the bottom of the armature and tied the armature to the mat to keep it in place while we poured concrete.

Next came the yell from Armando: “Manuelito! Concreto!” and on came the first wheelbarrow-full of concrete. Armando and Manuelito estimated the amount of concrete spot on. The plans call for concrete footings a foot deep, and we ended up at about fourteen inches. I stayed in the hole bailing water and working the concrete around the stones and rebar as the guys dumped the concrete, and there was some talk about how much fun it was to dump concrete on the boss; I’m glad we aren’t building in Chicago or Brooklyn.

Columns: By the time the concrete footings had set hard enough to stand on, the holes were again full of water. So we bailed again, this time the holes being more shallow because of the concrete footings. After bailing, I applied (with a brush) a coat of cheap vegetable oil from the supermarket (thanks for the tip, Jim) to the inside of the forms, and then screwed together the two halves of the forms. The oil allows us to remove the forms without the concrete sticking and damaging anything, and will make a nice pretty face on the concrete. Next we placed the forms and poured the columns, again using the batter board strings as guides for locating the forms. I used my laser level to mark the height of the concrete; I drove a nail through the form at the mark, and we poured to the nail.

At this point, we have seven footings and four columns completed. Tomorrow we will continue on, pouring the last three columns before moving on to digging seven more holes.

Here are some photos of our progress:

Concrete overshoes. See the stick of wood running down through the center of the column armature? It has a wire wrapped around it at the one-foot mark so I can see how much concrete is in the hole. By the way, I am not wearing long Johns. We have a lot of chiggers or no-see-ums, and they love my elbows. So I cut the toes off a pair of socks and stuck my arms through them. Very effective and, I think, quite a fashion statement.

Here is one form. I painted the forms to give the boards more protection from the water.

When we removed the forms, a pretty face was revealed.

The next day:

Here is a good overview shot: Four columns are done and backfilled. Three columns await stripping of the forms, and Armando, Abdiel, and Manuelito dig three more holes in the background.

That’s all for now, Happy New Year!

10 thoughts on “Just Another Pretty Face: Pouring Footings and Columns

  1. After I dug the footing for the retaining wall about two feet deep twenty five feet long, water filtered in and each morning it would be close to full. I used my wet and dry shop vac to pump the water into a wheelbarrow emptying it out of harms way when that took to much time I took a garden hose and siphoned the water out which worked fine till leaves plugged it up. Being a one man show I always had plenty to do while it drained. So both ways worked, faster with the shop vac with someone else to use it while I pounded nails. Bob

  2. Oh ya, the trench was two feet deep 36 inches wide the acctual footing was 32″w x 12″deep 36 feet long the wall 9 feet high 7 inches thick. I conected the flex hose of the shop vac to a four foot long piece of PVC with duct tape to reach the bottom.

  3. Hi, I really enjoyed your blog. I live in Panama, also. Right now I am in Boquete and have some land near Caldera, and have been thinking about buying a container to on my property. In what part of Panama are you living? I would love to stop by and check out your project when I get in your area, and any tips would be much appreciated. I don’t plan on building a house to live in every day, just a “cabin” when I am on the farm. Thanks in advance, and best of luck in the rest of your project.

  4. fred, you’re pretty damn clever with the column forms. i didn’t quite get it on your last post but now that i see it it makes sense. d

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