Unexpected Progress!

The day after my last post about tiling the walkway, we tiled the bottom step to the carport floor and installed a few missing tiles here and there. I thought that that would be the end of our supply of tiles, as I had estimated the job with a very sharp pencil.

But we did have nine tiles left over, just enough to tile the ramp to the back yard with only the tiniest bit of scrap left over:

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To fill out the day, we moved operations to the electric meter wall at the corner of the property. Armando and I had tiled it a couple of years ago, but the stucco at the top of the roof line was too smooth to bond the tiles to. One-by-one and over time, the tiles loosened and fell to the ground. Francisco roughed the stucco with a hammer and chisel, then Anibal painted on a bonding agent, and we cut and fit the tiles. Here is a photo that Cynthia took of the crew:

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At the end of the day our tile crew was all caught up until time to tile the carport floor, and I was about to dismiss Anibal and Francisco for lack of work. But I really didn’t want to lose them as it may be some time before I could get them back.

Anibal and I got to talking; he still had no other work on the horizon, so we decided to start the carport floor the next day. I had previously purchased the rebar for the floor, but we still needed sand, gravel and cement.

There still isn’t a lot of mixed sand and gravel deposited on the river banks, but Ramiro’s brother, who lives next to a river, had the ten-yards that we would need. He promised it for the next day. Then I went to town and ordered 30, 94-pound sacks of cement that were delivered the next day.

The next day, Armando, Anibal, Francisco, and I prepared the carport area for the pour. We have used this area to mix concrete on for five-years. Some areas were quite thick with remnant concrete and mortar, and to level the floor it was tough work with pick-axe, sledge-hammer, and shovel. We used a string to determine the level of the floor and picked away at the high spots and filled the low spots with the chipped-out debris. This took most of the morning. Here are some photos:

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We dug a trench along the front edge of the slab to allow for more concrete here — I don’t want the slab to crack the first time I drive over the edge! In the next photo I am driving rebar into the ground, making support for a 2″x4″ metal cariola form for the concrete:

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When we had the earth scraping and filling done to allow a five-inch concrete slab, we moved on to the rebar. Here Armando cuts some rebar with the angle grinder:

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We measured for the cross-pieces of rebar:

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Then we cut all of the cross pieces:

P1020706-002Now with the grid of 1/2″ rebar, spaced at 16″-on-center, we tied the rebar intersections with wire. Cynthia got in on the action, too, cutting and bending the 300-plus tie wires:

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Here the guys wire the rebar together:

P1020716-001After the rebar was in place, we drove some long pins of rebar into the ground, then I welded angle iron to the pins. Using a string from front-to-back of the carport, we adjusted the angle iron (by hammering on the pins) to set the top of the slab:

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You can see the angle iron — one at either edge and one running down the middle of the carport. We’ll use the ten-foot length of aluminum tubing to strike the concrete level.

Now we are ready for concrete.

The sand and gravel mix didn’t arrive in the afternoon as promised, but I was told that it would arrive early in the morning tomorrow. Tomorrow arrived, along with the men at 7:00 a.m., but still no material, so Ramiro called his brother. It seems that the two-block-long road down to the river was too washed out and the truck couldn’t use it. So, the delay was caused — if you can understand how much work this must have been — by the three men having to physically wheel-barrow all ten-yards uphill on the deeply-rutted two-block “road” to the truck. Uugh!

The truck arrived with the first four-yards at 8:30 and we got right to work. Spreading out the entire four-yards, the men then added the cement,:

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then they mixed and added water:

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They make little troughs throughout the pile to contain the water. Anibal, the oldest on the crew, was assigned hose duty.

After the pile was mixed, Armando grabbed the wheelbarrow and kept at it all day long:

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Anibal and I placed the concrete and struck it off using the angle iron guides:

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We caught little breaks when we could:

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We ran out of concrete when we were almost done with half the floor, and had to wait an hour-or-so for the second four-yards to arrive. Here is the floor half-done and starting on the second half:

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With just a bit left to do on the floor, we waited again for the arrival of two-more yards of sand and gravel. This was a lot of mixing in one day for our small crew:

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The next photo shows the slab ALL DONE! Also, note that the driveway is a mess of sand and cement (this stretches all the way to the front gate), making it difficult to walk into the house without bringing in a bunch of junk on your feet:

P1020759-001So I sent a WhatsApp message to Jesus (man with truck) and ordered four-yards of gravel for the driveway. Yesterday, Armando and I spread the pile. We’ll still need at least another load, but I’ll wait until we are all done with the sand pile Here’s a panorama with the driveway almost all graveled:

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So having the floor slab done was a big surprise for us, we thought it would happen in June or July. But here it is at the tail end of May and it is in and done. Now just to tile it…

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by.

My Shop ~ Part 8 ~ The Floor

The concrete floor for my shop was the easiest and best slab I have ever poured was not without difficulties. All ultimately ended well, but as always, there is a story.

For some time now, we have had a pile of cascajo (cas-ca-ho [the letter a has a soft sound in this word] — river run sand and gravel) taking up space in the driveway. Cascajo is great for foundations and large columns. The mix as it is dug from the river has a range of sizes from sand granules to six-inch rocks. But it is not so great for floors because of the larger rocks. The rule of thumb for pouring a slab is no gravel/stone larger in size than one-third the thickness of the slab. I know we should have sifted the pile, but Armando and his crew balked. They said that sifting just isn’t necessary. If you come across a rock that is grande and causing a problem, just pull it out of the slab and throw it aside.

Additionally, most of the pile had been sitting for months and it was permeated with grass, weeds, and roots. I could foresee a problem when it came time to trowel a nice finish, but again the guys said “es normal.”

Here is a photo of the root-infested pile of cascajo:

I’ve learned to pick my fights with the guys because I can really make a fool out of myself; they usually know things that I don’t. A case in point is when two men showed up to put an internet antenna on the roof of the house we rented when we moved to Panama. They arrived with:

  • the antenna and connecting cable
  • a six-foot length of half-inch electrical conduit
  • a small coil of bailing wire
  • a nail
  • a hammer
  • a pair of pliers

I scoffed to myself. Where was the electric drill? Where were the numerous brackets, bolts, and accessories that they would surely need to mount the mast to the roof? And where was the mast? In my opinion they were missing about $129.95 in essential pieces and parts. But I watched.

They found an old tree stump in the yard to use as an anvil. Then with the hammer they pounded flat about three-inches of one end of the electrical conduit. Next with the hammer and nail, they punched a hole in the flat section, then using the bumper on their small van they bent the flat section to a right angle. Next, back to the tree stump they switched ends of the conduit and punched a hole in the conduit about two inches from the end.

Then using the pliers up on the roof they slightly unscrewed three screws that were holding the metal roofing in place, plus a fourth screw all the way. They put the removed screw through the nail hole in the bent end of the conduit and put the screw back into the hole in the roof that it came from and tightened it down. Then they wrapped some bailing wire around one of the loosened screws, ran the wire up and through the hole at the top end of the conduit, and back down and around the second screw, back up and through the conduit, and down to the third screw. They tightened the screws. At this point the conduit mast was triangulated firmly in place. Then they mounted the antenna dish on the conduit and ran the cable to the router on my desk inside the house. D.O.N.E.

So I am careful. I learn a lot from these capable and resourceful men.

But Sr. Murphy often shows up on the job. In the case of the floor slab in my shop, it seems that my image of troweled-smooth concrete is very different from their version. I like it smooth. Very smooth. I don’t want a sandy surface. They like it flattened out so you don’t trip on any of the ridges. They don’t take smooth into account because it is a long day’s work and anally troweling the floor to a mirror finish is just not going to happen.

There is more to the story, but let’s see some photos:

I held my ground on preparing for the slab. I like a nice level couple-inch layer of gravel to pour the slab on. If you pour concrete on dirt, moisture in the dirt will capillary-action wick its way up into the slab. But capillary action can’t happen through the stones because the spaces between the stones are too large. The slab will stay dry. So even though they thought I was stupid, I had a few yards of one-inch stone delivered. Sammy and I spread it level. Jabo wasn’t sure he liked it:

On Thursday, Cynthia and I put welded wire mesh on the floor to keep the slab from cracking. Here is the floor ready for concrete. My laser level is set up to level the concrete, and in the corner is a wooden bull float that I made from scrap.

The guys mixed a big pile of concrete:

And Armando and I spread it out. Because of the large rocks in the mix, it was difficult to raise the wire mesh to the center of the slab, but I got it raised about a third of the way up. Close enough. I’m using the laser level to set the grade so Armando could more easily screed the concrete. You can see he has thrown out a few trouble maker rocks:

Here Erin and Pancho take a break after using 24 sacks of cement:

In the next photo Armando trowels the floor. After wooden floating the floor, you shouldn’t steel trowel the concrete until all the water has disappeared from the surface. This way you won’t be pushing water around, washing the cement away from the granules of sand. But it was pushing 5:00 and the guys (including yours truly) were tired. So Armando pushed the envelope slightly and troweled while there was still water on the surface. I knew I wouldn’t be happy with the finished product, but it is, after all, just a shop.

We finished, cleaned up the tools, and called it a day. The next morning, Saturday, Armando had work elsewhere, so it was just me arriving on the job. I took a look at the floor. I didn’t like it and gave the job a C-minus, maybe a D. It was rough and there wasn’t enough cement “cream” on the top. It was going to be difficult to sweep it clean in the future.

What to do? It is generally a bad idea to apply a skim coat of cement paste onto a concrete floor because in time flakes will spall off the floor. But our floor was still very green, still hydraulically pushing out water. I’ve read that you have a good chance of succeeding with a skim coat if you catch the slab while it is still only a few hours old. The most common reason for needing to do this is when a surprise rainstorm pops up and washes the cream away just after steel troweling a driveway or a patio slab.

So that’s what I did. I got a steel trowel, a bucket of dry cement powder, a bucket of water, and a sponge. I spent most of the day sprinkling cement on the slab, then adding a bit of water by wringing the sponge, then troweling the paste onto and into the floor. I had to take numerous breaks to stand up and straighten the old Arthur Itis knees. At the end of the day I gave the floor a B-plus. I can’t give it an A because the mesh didn’t get lifted as high as I wanted and also because there were a few dips just a bit deeper than I would have liked. Troweling the top coat was gruelingly difficult for my old body, but I am glad that I did it.

I’m spraying the floor with water a few times a day now, and will continue for a week. This will slow the rate of cure and will prevent a lot of surface cracks. Here’s my finished floor slab just after I sprayed it:

The next time I am in the city I plan to go to Discovery and buy a few gallons of garage floor epoxy. With the epoxy, a quick sweep of the broom will clean the floor “real nice.”

I need to let the slab sit and cure without foot traffic for at least a week, so depending on the condition of my knees, I should be back working on the house windows maybe tomorrow.

That’s all for now.