Stone Borders

I had a little project that involved 10 tons of Alabama strip rubble.

Our house came with some sections of the back yard that had gorgeous stone separating the flower beds from the rest of the yard. It has been around for a number of years and could use a little help in spots, but the age and moss make it look really wonderful.

The trick was that not all the beds had it. On top of that, out front they had used some really basic concrete border stones. It was done well, but compared to the really nice stuff in the back, it felt lacking.

I went through the yard and measured out every place where I thought I would want a stone border. Luckily the neighbors had info on where I could get more stone. I had to make a special order and buy it from Alabama sight unseen. I over-bought, but didn’t want to run out! My process was to dig up any border that was there, till the edge if needed, dig a trench about 6 inches deep, fill it with paver sand, and pound in the first layer of brick.

Along the side of the house I heavily altered the path of the bed to straighten the edge. It took a lot of tilling, but was eventually a nice rock bed. A lot of rain comes over that corner of the house, so the rocks should help prevent erosion.

After a lot of digging through the pile looking for the right stone I got more organized. I started unpacking the whole pallet and sorting the stones by size and whether they were good for the base layer, or not.

As the project went on I kept adding new areas to the list. Originally I wasn’t going to do any transitions from the flagstone walkway we have, but broke down and did it. Basically every place I found this black plastic boarder I dug it up and replaced it with a stone border.

I didn’t take many pictures of the process because I was too sweaty and covered in sand most of the time. The project started in mid May and didn’t finish until late October. Lots of evenings and weekends! All told I put down 8 or 9 tons of stone with another ton getting stored in the side yard, and some fraction of a ton being given away. That came out to around 550 feet of trenches dug for the stone to go into. Roughly 4 tons of paver base sand placed in the trenches to give the first layer a stable footing, and another 2-3000 pounds of sand to help fill in around the first stone. Because some of the rock borders got expanded I needed more egg rocks (looks like small river stones) to rejuvenate areas and fill them in. That was another 4 tons of rock. Speaking of which, here is what 60 bags of egg rock looks like in my suburban.

At 3000 pounds I was 50% over the stated cargo capacity. The suspension was completely bottomed out. Oops! Good thing I got all the other runs of rock and sand in 20-30 bag increments.


I don’t know how many hours I worked on it over the nearly 5 months, but I will never do that again! It was worth it all though. The new borders really help separate the various trees and beds from the rest of the yard, and the walkways look stunning with that rock border. I trenched everywhere and packed in the first layer. Once I had the first layer in everywhere, I came back and used landscape adhesive to glue on a second layer of stone. That gave the first layer time to settle in more with the weather.

The front turned out well, and I had enough to lay some of the longer more interesting looking stones along the walkway and edge of the driveway. At the end of this slide show you can see where I stored my extra stone for some future flowerbed expansion.

In the back we added all new border around the shed, expanded the area across the back of the pool deck and planted 2 new citrus trees.

  • 5 months of work
  • 550 feet of trenches
  • 10 tons of Alabama strip rubble
  • 5 tons of base and paver sand
  • 4 tons of egg rock

Did I mention it was a lot of work? I am hoping after a year or two that the rain will settle in the sand and make it all look a bit more natural. The colors of the stone are really pretty, but a few touches of moss would make it all just right.

Taming My Gushing Gutters

I have done a lot of work to keep my porch from flooding recently. I jetted the drains, cleaned paint off of channel inlets, added additional piping to take water away to the back yard, and cleaned up a rotted door. All the work to clear the channel drain in the pool decking has helped the water move away more quickly, but when it rains hard a ton of water still floods down onto the porch. Here is the issue.

I have a really big section of roof across the back of the house that drains down to the pool area. If we get a mildly heavy rain coming in, the water coming off the roof has so much speed it shoots right over the gutter. Here is a shot from a low angle on the roof. You can’t even see the gutter.

To fix this issue I am going to install some gusher guards. They are usually for the corners of roof where you funnel a lot of water together and get high flows. Instead I am going to install them flat along that back section of gutter.

At first I was only able to find a few packs of the guards in town. I did a little over half of the gutter run back in August, then got distracted with hurricanes and work. I did get to test my theory out though. We had a duck drowner rain storm and I was able to capture this shot.

The area to the left of the red line has no guards, the area to the right does. Some water still gets past the guards on the right, but is largely captured. This is mostly due to the supports used between the pool enclosure and the roof line. I couldn’t fit a guard over them, so they let water skip right over the gutter. I don’t need to capture 100% of it, just enough to keep the deck from getting flooded badly.

Eventually I was able to pick up the remainder of the guards and get them installed. Now the entire long stretch of roof is covered.

If I repeat the low angle shot of the roof line, you can see the water will hit those guards and be guided into the gutter instead of jumping right over. Hopefully I can stop dealing with leaky items for a while.

Leaky Pool Problem

It seems that I am stuck in a bit of a leak rut right now. I fixed the suburban just in time to realize I have a pool leak. There is a great test where you put a bucket on your pool steps and fill it to the same level as the pool. After a few days if the level is lower in the pool than the bucket, then you know it is a leak, and not just evaporation.

I did that and attempted my own leak detection tests. 30 minutes in the pool with a mask and syringe of ink didn’t turn anything up, so I called the pros. They told us it was under a pony tail palm tree in the back planter bed.

I don’t know if the plant was to blame, but it was right on top of the problem area and a lot of roots grew around the pipe. We pulled the two shrubs and saved the palms to another location. I started digging to find the water line, and sure enough. Those leak detection folks knew what they were doing. It was right there under the little palm. The elbow has some kind of issue.

I plugged all the return lines into the pool with plumber’s putty because the corks I could get were too small for the job. After that and letting the system drain down I was able to cut out the bad elbow. It is tough working at arm’s length in a muddy hole.

I drained the last of the water, cleaned the pipe and installed a new elbow. A compression fitting went between the horizontal pipe and the new elbow.

After letting the cement cure for a while I pulled the plugs to let water in, and eventually fired up the pump. No more leaks! The elbow was under some kind of stress and had a growing crack on the bottom side.

The back looks a little sad without the plants, but I bet we will get some potted plants going in no time.

Hurricane Dorian

Though the storm’s impact will be felt for years to come in the Bahamas, hurricane Dorian has left us with little negative to report. Honestly the only thing is that, Nigel, our beloved new lime tree was felled. Not sure if it had an issue with the trunk, or if we didn’t have it staked well enough. Someday I will get a real lime tree to grow big and tall and give me lots of limes.

I have updated the hurricane guide with a few minor pointers. One piece of advice I have in there is to do a practice run of your shutters at least once to make sure everything fits right. Sure enough, I had put it off and ended up needing a lot of work to get everything in place. There is a screen that goes across the back of the porch. The anchors in the pool deck were all completely full of crud. Some even had broken off studs that required me to drill them out.

I spent hours clearing them out with a pick and compressed air. Thankfully there was plenty of time to work on this. A Fast moving storm would have induced a bit more panic. The other issue was that the two screens used to come together into some kind of bar at the corner of the porch. That doesn’t exist anymore, and the screens don’t really mesh together.

I just used some rope to lace everything up, but it was a hokey solution. I am going to get some kevlar cord that doesn’t stretch and has a high test load to pull it all together next time.

Our shed seemed pretty well built, but I cut a piece of 2×4 and ripped an edge so it would go over the door threshold and push the door shut securely. I also marked where screws should go so as to best tie them into the frame of the ramp. This is easy to install and remove, and guarantees that the doors will stay shut.

While I waited out the storm I had a lot of time on my hands. I spent it putting all the hurricane hardware in order. It was in a loose bucket, and is now in organized bins. This has the bolts, nuts, anchors and install tools I need to put up the back screen. Including instructions would be good too!

Going through all the hardware I ended up throwing out more than half of it. Someone had used a #2 philips bit or something. The heads all had some damage, and many were heavily stripped out. Replacing this will mean an easier install next time.

Conclusion: If you haven’t checked the hurricane hardware for your house, assume something is going to be wrong with it. Even if you have, and it has been years, it is worth a check.

Sprinkler Tools

I have been doing a lot of trenching and digging in my yard in service of a rock border project that has been going on for months now. One result of that project has been a lot of sprinkler repair. I have broken pipes underground while cutting up roots, and tried to dig straight through hidden sprinklers. That plus regular sprinkler maintenance has been a new chore for me. The last house didn’t have them and I am learning on the fly what I have and how to fix it.

Most of this is pretty routine plumbing, but repairing or replacing sprinkler heads is a bit different. They are buried, and often very overgrown with grass. Once you get to them, they tend to be tough to pull out of the ground. To help with all this I 3D printed some tools.

First up is a large hole saw looking device. A 1/4-20 bolt fits in the center and gets chucked up in a drill. It has a 3in ID which encompasses all my sprinkler heads. I had a sprinkler that needed to get an extension put on it, so I used it as an example. The bit breaks up the soil and grass around the sprinkler head making it easier to fully expose and extract.

Even with the grass broken up it is still hard to get a hold on those sprinklers without doing a lot of digging. To help with that I made a tool that grabs onto the ribs around the head and provides a good handle. It made extracting the unit very easy.

That one is designed for a Toro 570 series sprayer. I also have some Hunter PGP sprinklers that rotate on their own. Those are a lot bigger and require a different tool to extract. All the designs are bundled together on a single thingiverse post.

Rotted Back Door

One of the lingering repair issues on our new house was a rotted back door jamb. It is on the porch well under the roof line. A thing I noticed though is that when it rains really hard the gutters over flow and water backs up to this door on the pool deck.

This showed up on the home inspection. I probably shouldn’t have let it go this long, but what can I say? I started chiseling away at the rot and found it was pretty heavy down low, but didn’t go too far up. The 2x4s in the walls ok. They must have some kind of treatment to help prevent rot.

Once I was done putting out the rotted stuff I squared everything up so I could start putting new material back in.

I went with a foundation of pressure treated wood with PVC wood on the outside. The thicknesses didn’t all match up in places. I don’t really care that much, this will definitely not rot.

I did some heavy calking to fill all gaps and painting to keep the wood that is left in good shape. A lot of the door seal is missing at the bottom, but I haven’t seen anything splash against this door, just the rising tide of rainwater backing up. The closet is not under AC, so the seal wouldn’t matter for that either.


I fixed the door rot, but really the root problem is water backing up on the porch. I fixed the door 2 months ago, and it took me working off and on all that time to fully address every aspect of the problem.

First off, the gutters often fill with leaf debris which causes them to backup and overflow on the porch. I have been keeping the gutters clear, but still get overflow sometimes. As it turns out, when it rains hard enough, the water has a lot of velocity coming off the roof, and it can skip out of the gutter.

Next up is the channel drains in my deck. In doing some reading, paint isn’t good for them. I noticed in places the deck paint had completely covered the drainage slits. I used a pressure washer with the narrowest stream to strip the paint off the channel drain.

That was an improvement, but they still didn’t drain well. I picked up a pressure washer drain jetter hose. It is a pressure washer hose with a bullet shaped fitting on the end that shoots water forward and backwards at an angle to help you break up clogs and flush out drains and gutters. It was messy work, but I managed to flush the years of sand and sludge from my deck channel drains.

More improvement, but still not all in the clear. It turns out a root had grown up inside the side of the drain near the rotted door. The channel would move water, but was half full of roots, and didn’t drain as quickly as it should. A lot of work later, I got the roots cleared out.

With gutters clear, paint off the drainage slits, sludge out of the channels, and roots cleared out, it seems like they drain well now. Even if it doesn’t work perfectly every time, this should flood my porch a lot less than it has in the past. I will keep an eye on the water level and check the bottom of that door for cracks. The joys of home ownership.

Maple Closet Shelves

I am starting to mix in house projects and longer term goals along with my shop infrastructure work. We pulled all the built in organizers out of the master closet when we were renovating. It was basic white particleboard and appeared to be rather old. We cleaned up all the walls and installed brackets that supported a continuous closet rod for hanging clothes. This gave both of us ample hanging storage space. The bracket is designed to have a shelf above it. I wanted something nice, and waited until now to build it.

Actually like a lot of my projects I started this a few months back and got side tracked by other house issues. I got the only 10 foot maple boards they had at the local lumber place and went to town planing them.

Buying rough cut wood is a bit like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. In this case, some cool mineral darkening and nice figure.

This is an interesting transition project. I started it with my old Hitachi planer and ended it with my new Dewalt planer. The old planer has been donated to a co-worker that is starting to fill out his shop and could put it to good use.

Goodbye old friend

With the boards cleaned and flattened I needed to work on the edges so I could joint them together in a panel glue up. I preserved the length as long as I could knowing that the ends would eventually get cut down some. Planing a 10 foot board by hand is hard work. I had to employ a helper to keep the board propped up. I haven’t had a power jointer in years, and I don’t see how it would have helped me in this situation.

After much time spent with my #7 jointer I glued the two shelves together and was ready to continue the flattening. This time with the new planer. The main reason I bought this one was because it was reviewed well, and there was an available helical cutter head for it. The two are a match made in heaven. No matter what, the thing produces a clean surface, no tearouts, and the carbide inserts will last a long time.

There is some really pretty figure in the wood. Another advantage of the new cutter head is that it makes really short shavings. You can see them wizzing around in the first stage of my dust collector window.

After a very minimal amount of sanding and clean up of the ends, I routed a round over on all the exposed edges.

With the boards in their correct shape I applied a coat of boiled linseed oil to protect the wood and give character. These will not see heavy use, so a tougher film finish shouldn’t be needed. The oil really pops out some of the birds eyes and other grain variation.

Unfinished above, oiled below

Once the oil soaked in and dried I installed the shelves. They don’t hold a lot now, but probably will as we collect junk in the future. With all the clothes in place you can barely see them. I almost wish I had used pine instead of this gorgeous wood. Oh well, it should be a good shelf for generations. The next owners certainly can’t say it was made of particle board and falling apart.