Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Building a Patio Wall, and I'm Stumped

A couple years ago, I dug a hole I haven't gotten out of yet.  It all started when I went to a party hosted by a friend I used to work with.  She lives in DC on Capitol Hill.  Has an old townhouse with a great walled courtyard out back.  It's really all her fault.  I figured I could build a nice L-shaped brick wall out back and create a nice courtyard for us to enjoy.  So I started hand digging footers for a foundation.  SWMBO calls it the big dig (and not affectionately).

Well, I finally finished the digging, and this Spring I moved about six tons of gravel to use to level out the bottom.  I have the lumber and rebar, now I just need to frame up the footers in order to pour cement.  But these 90-plus-degree days have made it awful to work outside this summer.

Meanwhile the area I'm working in is overgrown with weeds.  It's slow going even with a weedeater.  So I've been gradually trying to kill the weeds by leaving them covered with tarps.  It's not a pretty picture out back, but I can envision what it will look like when done. Now I'm aiming to build the footer forms in early September.

I'm still torn between building a brick wall, or holding out for some period-correct screen blocks to use for the wall.

The problem with screen blocks is, they don't seem to be available any more, at least nowhere here in the Washington, DC area.  And shipping a big supply of decorative concrete blocks from California or Florida might just be a little pricey.  I may end up finishing the footers and putting up a wood fence, at least until I can find some of these screen blocks. (There's a great list over at Retrorenovation - but unfortunately, I have found nothing close to me.  I plan to try Lowes locally and see if I can persuade them to stock something.)

There's another project waiting for attention in the area of the future atomic patio.  We had a humongous tulip poplar tree cut down because it was old, too close to the house and dropping huge limbs a random moments. The tree guys had to bring in a crane to get at it.  They did a good job and even left me a tall stump.

Can you guess what I want to do with this stump?


  1. I know exactly what you wanna do with that stump! CARVE A TIKI!!! Better oil up the ol chainsaw. I have seen people out here in CA using old palm tree stumps for tikis. The wood is fiberous and easy to carve. I think your stump would make a great tiki, that is if thats what you wanna do with it. If not, well I may have just given you an idea! Sorry Mrs. Uncle Atom!

  2. Well of course Amber would immediately know the answer! Driving around here in Florida I see all kinds of parrots and tikis carved out of stumps and they are so cool! In Biloxi there's an artist who chain-sawed still living but kinda dying tree stumps (courtesy of Hurricane Katrina) into neat dolphins and eagles and stuff. Very interesting to drive along the road and see all these carvings on the median. Would the good wife go along with a giant tiki in your backyard???

  3. Well, it didn't take long for you two to figure out the master plan! I've been collecting photos of favorite tikis. SWMBO is OK with it, but I don't think I dare start carving the tree before the footer forms are built. I'm leaning toward an Easter Island style carving, but I am concerned about butchering the job. I have some short logs from the same tree that I haven't split, so I'll probably sharpen the chainsaw and try my hand at carving a log first.

  4. Those gals are so clever. I was stumped! (pun intended) A carved tiki sounds terrific. I also love screen bricks and am keeping my eyes open for them so when we finally get around to building our mcm dream house, we'll have a supply ready. The only problem is, we may be too old to be toting concrete blocks around by that time! Good luck with the project.