This is the third post in my mini-WoodblocX build series. It’s the one in which I really get going. The timer restarts at an hour (I can’t be bothered with minutes) …..
The first layer is critical and will take longer than the remaining layers. Get the layout wrong and you’re heading for disaster. And however much I’ve tried to firm and level the ground there will be dips and soft bits. So I have some bags of gravel (for the bigger dips) and sharp sand (for the little ones) ready. If you were building a simpler bed arrangement, it’s a lot easier but I have a total of six different planting areas of differing heights to deal with.
I had pre-prepped the bottom layer of blocX by inserting the dowels. And dowel positions in different blocX of the same size are not always the same. So I armed myself with a few thick permanent markers of different colours and marked each blocX with a reference number of letter which matches my annotated plan.
Layer 1 was always going to be the one where it’s good to keep those of a delicate disposition out of earshot. There was a bit of swearing involved. The plan also shows where ground spikes need to be hammered in. Sometimes you may hit an obstacle underground. As I’ve said in an earlier post, don’t be tempted to simply miss out a spike if that happens. Rather, look for a nearby hole that isn’t filled with a dowel and try that.
Sometimes, when you come to add layer 2, you may find that the hole immediately above the one you’ve relocated the spike to needs a dowel. If that does happen, simply remove the wedge (pointy bit) from the bottom of the dowel before you hammer it in. That dowel will be needed to fix something in layer 3 but as it’s not fixing layer 2 to layer 1, the wedge is superfluous and its absence won’t affect the structure at all.
The heads of the ground spikes fit into the recesses (the “countersinks”) at the top of the holes in the blocX. Just make sure you whack them right in vertically – not at an angle!
When I placed the (pre-assembled) curved bit into position, I decided that aesthetically, everything needed to be a layer higher. When originally visualising what it would look like, I was conscious that what would be a large lump of wood shouldn’t overshadow the shrubs in my neighbour’s garden nor the hedge on the other side of my drive. But I think I was a bit too conscious and a total of four layers looked a bit odd. So I added a layer. This was slightly more complicated than simply buying another pallet-load of blocX. It’s like the alternating layers of brickwork – you don’t want to end up with a gap in one layer immediately over a gap in the one below. This is particularly important when it comes to the capping layer on the top.
The guys at WoodblocX HQ came up trumps in a matter of an hour or so. The layer of blocX was simple, essentially the same as layer 4 but turned round 180 degrees with some changes to the angle bracket positioning in layer 4 and some extra bracket positions in layer 5. Some lengths of capping needed shortening (I could do that easily) but three needed to be longer. So a list of extras was quickly produced, converted into an order and two days later, another pallet arrived. This didn’t hold things up as I could get on with what I already had.
And guess what came with the second pallet:
I could have gone to layer 6 I suppose but the curved planter is right next to my drive (the curve allows for some safety margin for the swing of the car onto the drive). A sixth layer would have risked catching my wing mirror! I know. Gill Heavens is probably thinking to herself that I could have just left the curved planter a layer lower than the rest but that would have looked really odd when viewed from the street where the face levels are 5-4-5-4-5-4-5 creating a nice balanced castellated effect that would please the Knights of Ni.
Now I have a confession. This isn’t my first time with WoodblocX, so didn’t quite follow the plan. There were two reasons for this:
- I was working on much softer ground, even after my car-based compression efforts. Plus trying to totally flatten and even out the area wasn’t that successful an operation. The front and side areas were fine but there were ups and downs in the area to be covered by the three long beds.
- I was conscious of the possibility that anything not fixed into place might disappear overnight.
So I built the front run up to layer 2, higher in some places, with only the “behind” bits that needed to be in place (to attach angle brackets) before I could fix that layer 2 properly.
I timed myself, stopping the clock when neighbours came over for a chat and a demonstration of how WoodblocX works. Out of a total of four hours, one-and-a-half was “idle” time. So two and a half hours of real building and I ended up with this:
Now you may think that I’ve wasted a lot of time but there are other things in life to deal with and at my age, I tend to spread things over a few days and not start at 6 am and finish the job in a single day. I couldn’t take enough painkillers to achieve that. So having got this far (the curved planter in the foreground and the bit of “wall” behind it merely need capping) I retired to the comfort of an armchair and a bottle of wine.
Total sucky sweet consumption so far is four.
And So to Day 2
The speedometer reading is about to go up a fair bit.
It might still be a bit fiddly, particularly on softer ground, as whacking dowels in might push the odd layer 1 block into the ground a bit. But, just in case, I had a couple of planks of wood to hand to push underneath layer 1 while I whacked on layer 2. Once that second layer is in place, soft bits of ground no longer matter because, you guessed it, the construction is now solid. As it happened, I didn’t need to do any supporting as underneath a loose top layer was pretty firm ground.
Getting the blocX into the right positions is now a piece of cake. Just follow the colour-coded plan, such as blue = blocX10, green = blocX4 and so on. Whack dowels in where shown by the bright yellow bits. At this stage, the curved planter is also fixed firmly into place and the buttresses in the longer planters start to take shape. They give added strength in the long runs, just as pillars do in single-brick walls, stopping the pressure of the soil in the planters from pressing the walls out of shape a bit.
Again, I didn’t stick to the proper plan of building layer by layer but, rather chunk by chunk. I wanted to get the side wall in place which I knew would be fiddly to begin with as it had to be at a perfect right-angle to the front; otherwise the long beds wouldn’t fit together. Before whacking the ground spikes on that side into place fully, I knocked them enough to hold things in place and then applied one of the few bits of school mathematics I can still remember – the bit about the square of the hypotenuse in a right-angled triangle being equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. The calculation was close enough – eleven square centimetres out. I was so pleased with myself for the outstanding accuracy that I started sucking an extra sucky sweet. But I have some spare.
By the end of my day 2 time (a total of just over three hours, I had got this far:
So far, I’ve spent an hour (rounded up) on foreplay and five-and a half on the actual build. So that’s six-and-a-half hours in total. You may think I’m dragging it out a bit. OK, I am. I would have worked a lot faster a few years ago but I’m creaking now.
At the outset, I said I’d complete the build (excluding the capping) in under nine hours. I’m expecting to finish in a bit over eight. Then there’ll be a diversion while I install the extras – lining, irrigation pipework and a bit of lighting – before applying the capping
That’s day 2. I’ll cover days 3 and 4 in my penultimate post in this series on Thursday. See you then, I hope.