Rebar, rebar, and more rebar.
So for the last few weeks, I’ve been working on a project. I guess we can call it Project Shade. The goal? Provide shade for our kids in the backyard during the hot summers of Utah. We also wanted shade for a nice lunchtime barbecue for our friends and relatives living nearby. You know, like for the 4th of July.
So we had bought umbrellas. But the wind had their way with the umbrellas. Every one of them has been destroyed. They’ve been tossed around, flung into the walls, the ground, upside down, one even shattered a glass table that it was mounted in. I’m so tired of buying umbrellas. I have a pile of broken umbrellas now that I will have to take to the dump.
To stop the endless cycle of buying umbrellas, I decided to do something different. My wife Alice found a nice canopy that would cover our patio very well. She said we should mount it to the side of the house. I disagreed and thought I would like to avoid the risk of doing damage to the house in the event of strong winds. I suggested that we could work with posts instead.
I figured out that I could get metal bases to mount on the concrete, bolt them to concrete, and mount the posts in the bases. Simple right?
So she bought the canopy, I bought the hardware and the tools to install the posts. I got 4x4s, stained them and then mounted hardware to the top of the posts. It was a learning experience. I learned how to stain the wood. I learned how to select the right drill bit to create pilot holes for securing the hardware to the posts. In other words, I didn’t get it right the first time.
Then I installed the bases. The first one went easy. The hammer drill I bought for $50 worked great. The drill bit worked great. Then on the second base, I ran into metal, that would be rebar. On the third base, I ran into rebar again. So I bought a rebar cutting drill bit. That worked great and I was able to complete mounting the first two bases.
To secure the bases to the concrete, I used Tapcon screws and they worked beautifully. But I had to drill at least three and a half inches down and often I went right through the concrete. Unless I hit rebar.
So on the fourth base, I ran into some kind of steel plate. When I was drilling holes for the last base, I saw sparks flying and didn’t think anything of it, but then I noticed that the drill bit felt sticky. That melted my rebar drill bit. I pulled it out and found that it was a twisted piece of a wasted drill bit. Sigh.
A day or two went by and I thought of another plan for that last base to install. I would have to pour concrete into a small pad to mount the last metal base to it. That would cover most of the holes I made in the concrete. And I wished that I had a metal or rebar finder before I started drilling. But pouring more concrete seemed like a better idea than another umbrella.
So I went to Lowe’s again. I got an 80 lb bag of concrete, well this was Quickcrete, which worked, but it probably wasn’t the best for the Tapcon screws. It even said on the box, that the Tapcon screws were not recommended for use with Quickcrete. OK, fine. We’re not talking structural here, we’re just holding up a canopy. So the load would be light.
Then I got some wood, some nails and I had the wood cut to length at the store. I figured I only needed a 12-inch base, so I cut the 2x4 into 4 pieces at 14 inches. Then I was ready to start work again.
I got my trusty hammer and pounded nails into the wood. Then I pounded the pieces together to form a nice little square, 12 inches on the inside. I really enjoyed pounding those nails. Maybe that’s because I don’t pound nails for a living. Anyway, then I put the wood frame around the holes from my last botched effort to mount the base, and I mixed concrete to pour. This was my first time mixing and pouring concrete, and it didn’t come out half bad.
I waited two days to let the concrete cure since I think we used a bit too much water in the mix. Then I drilled the remaining holes, screwed the Tapcons into place and mounted the last base firmly to the new concrete pad. The first 3 screws went into it fine. The last one shattered the concreted just a bit. But it’s snug.
Then I mounted the posts in the bases that I installed. Again, this was a first, and I was learning as I go. Fortunately, wood and hardware are cheap and easy to replace. Still cheaper than an umbrella. Or four. But the 4x4s, which were actually 3.5" on a side, fit well within the bases. Then I secured each post with screws.
Then came the moment of truth. Securing the canopy to the posts. I was worried that they might be too far apart, but not that worried. I even had a backup plan for that, which involved some rope, if need be. But I was able to hook it all together and it was tight, but it worked. The posts moved enough to make it work.
And I look back on everything that I did. Everything that I had to learn how to do, with materials I bought with money I earned doing something else for a living. I was reminded again of why I hire pros when I need them. An experienced professional has made every mistake I made, two or three times already. They have seen all the contingencies that come into play when building simple and complex things with wood, concrete and hardware. They have a truck stocked with the materials needed to get the job done. They know what to buy before they even get to the job site.
I made numerous trips. I broke stuff. I made stuff worse. I fixed my mistakes and replaced the stuff I broke. I learned a few things about drill bits, drilling and mixing cement. All of my mistakes would have been anticipated by a pro.
If I value time more than money, I’d pay a pro to do it. If I value money more than my time, I’d do it myself. But in many cases, I lack the experience or resources to do something myself. Car repairs and maintenance for example, involves a critical piece of infrastructure that gets me to and from work. The last thing I need is to fret over a mistake I made with my car on a Sunday evening after working on the car all weekend.
So while I salute the professionals in my life who I have been able to hire for those tasks I cannot do myself, I did enjoy putting the canopy together without hiring a professional, even with all the challenges I encountered. I felt empowered staining the wood, and mounting the hardware. I felt some exhilaration drilling holes in concrete as I did that in a past career as a sheet metal worker. I enjoyed mounting the posts, my cool stained wooden posts and hooking up the canopy to the posts.
The canopy was a fun project that I may have to repeat again to provide more shade than the first canopy. Just as soon as I can convince my wife not to buy another umbrella. Because if we buy another one, and it breaks, that will be the last one we ever buy. And I might save enough money in that decision, to hire a pro next time.