A Valuable Exercise

It was a dark and dreary night. The wind was blowing fiercely. No. Scratch that.

It was a wonderful, star-lit night with a gentle breeze blowing to keep the bugs away.

Dawn is about 6:30 this time of year, but I woke at about 5:00. Something was niggling me, and I had to take care of it in the dark. It is just about time to weld the steel plates to the tops of the columns, and I wanted to verify that all the concrete columns were the correct height. I don’t want any surprises when the containers arrive.

When I set the tops of the columns for the concrete pour, I used a 360-degree laser level. It projects a red line on whatever the laser strikes. The level has two settings; one for inside where the line is visible, and one for outside in bright sun. The bright sun setting uses a hand held receiver unit, and it is this setting that I used to mark the forms for the concrete pours.

The laser level is now a discontinued item, replaced by a newer, better, faster unit. About a year ago, the hand held receiver for my level failed. I called the company. A human answered, the owner, actually. He had some leftover receivers stashed in the bottom drawer of his desk, and he promptly sent one out to me. But when I was using the new receiver to set the level for the columns, I noticed that lights blinked oddly, and the up/down indicator arrows seemed to be inconsistent. Ah, now I know why the unit is discontinued! I did the best I could, but I didn’t trust that every column was the correct height. And you can’t just stand back and look at the columns by eye, because the slope of the ground deceives the eye.

So I wanted to use the inside setting of the laser, negating the need for the receiver, and this had to be done in the dark. As I said, I woke up this morning at 5:00. I threw on some clothes, grabbed the laser, tripod, and a black Sharpie marker and walked to the job site. The stars were out all bright, and a crescent moon was bright enough to see the outline of the entire moon. The roosters around the neighborhood were busy with pre-dawn preparations for the day. I really enjoy the solitude of the night when I am awake.

I set up the tripod and the laser level inside the first set of columns and projected a line about six inches down on the columns. I marked each column with a sharpie at the red line, then checked the distance from the line to the top of the columns. I failed to bring a tape measure, but a twig I found on the ground worked just fine. This set of seven columns were all within an eighth of an inch of each other. Not bad considering that concrete shrinks as it sets up. I plan to trowel on a thin layer of non-shrink grout on the tops of the columns and tap the steel plate into place nice and level and at the right height.

Then I moved the tripod to the center of the second set of columns, adjusting the location so that the laser struck these nine columns plus the four for the single 20-foot container. I marked each column with the Sharpie, then went around with the twig. I liked the twig. No batteries, no flashing arrows. It worked well and if I need a replacement I don’t have to call the company.

There is one column that we all thought was about six-inches too tall, and I planned to cut it off with a concrete cutting blade in the angle grinder. But lo and behold, this column was spot on. The problem was its neighbor; six-inches too short. There is one other column that is also six-inches too short. I remember having to over-fiddle with the laser receiver on these two columns.

But all the other columns are within tolerance. So I think that I will cut about eighteen inches off the bottom of one of the column forms, place it on the short columns one at a time, and pour the missing six inches.

I plan to drive a concrete nail at each of the marks on the columns. Then, years from now, I can place the laser under the containers and check to see how the footings are faring.

It was a valuable exercise and I am glad that I did it. Errors are bound to sneak in here and there. We just have to pay attention to The Voice of the Niggler within our heads.

Time for my morning oatmeal. Sorry, no photos. It was dark.

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