August Fridays With Dad: Building Project

Our erstwhile dad creates a multigenerational building project on the patio.

In the first installment of August Fridays with Dad, I took my two sons out for the father-son haircut, a diner breakfast and an afternoon at our local aquarium. For this week’s adventure, I thought it might be interesting to do a day-long project, one in which we’d introduce some simple tools, a broad design concept and something ultimately that would require us to work together, to labor with our hands and minds and, hopefully, create something that would last and provide the satisfaction that comes with doing a job well.

Tools of the Trade
4 – 4×4 pressure-treated pieces of lumber cut into 4-foot lengths
4 – Solar light caps
2 – Quick-drying 50-pound bags of concrete mix
1 – Wood saw
1 – Post-hole digger
1 – Shovel
1 – Hatchet (clearing of roots)
1 mallet – hammer stakes and braces
1 – 8-inch round form (piece was sold in 4-foot length – we cut into four sections of 12 inches each)
1 – Adjustable pole level
1 – Measuring tape

And Don't Forget . . .
• Know the weather forecast – even with fast-drying concrete, you don’t want to be working in the rain halfway through the project!
• Discuss the design and job responsibilities before beginning the work.
• It’s summer, it’s hot – have plenty of water on hand.
• Measure, measure, level, level – then cut and set!
• Allow the concrete to dry fully for 24 hours prior to affixing the solar caps.
• Be patient and have fun!

The challenge was to find a project that we could rally around, one that wouldn’t take more than a day to complete and yet would provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose. About a month ago my dad called me and said he’d bought some solar light caps to use as decorative fixtures around his patio. Since my wife and I had been focused this year on improving our landscaping, I thought this might be the type of project my sons and I could undertake.  I asked my dad to pick up four fixtures, as well as the post supports on which we would mount the lights. The caps were fitted to mount on 4X4 wood pieces. Knowing that I wanted the fixtures to top out around 3 feet, he went to a Home Depot and had them cut four pieces of pressure-treated lumber to the specification I desired. On Thursday after work my sons and I picked up two 50-pound bags of quick-drying concrete at Lowes, as well as a 48-inch-length piece of 8-inch concrete forming tube, which we would then cut into four 12-inch-length pieces to support the wood beams.

Friday morning arrived and as I was wrapping up a bacon-and-egg breakfast with my boys, my dad pulled up. A cloudy, unsettled weather day was creeping in and I knew we’d have to work fast before the rains fell, potentially squelching our efforts. The four of us quickly assembled the inventory of tools and items we needed.

Fear of inclement weather notwithstanding, I wanted my sons to know that a crucial component for any successful project lay in its design. We therefore took some time to discuss what we were going to do and the manner in which we were going to do it. Each of us would have a task, and those tasks would complement what the others were doing, thereby lending cohesion and structure to our work.

Four holes needed to be dug about 18 inches deep, the circumference of which needed to be a little greater than the diameter of the 8-inch round forms. In other words, we needed to do some earth-moving with manual equipment. Using a post-hole digger, shovel and hatchet (to cut away stray roots), we embarked on the heavy labor portion of the project. The boys dug in (pun fully intended!) and did a great job, showing a tenacity and resolve belying their tween years. Shame on me for expecting them to tucker out quickly! They marveled at their own strength and desire to do a good job, and were particularly pleased when I let them try the hatchet on some easy roots (they were fully supervised). 

Mindful of the rising heat and humidity, we took a water break, sitting down for a few minutes to talk about the project and, of course, lunch. “You’ll get lunch when the job is done!” I said in my best foreman/pirate voice. “Well then, let’s get back to work,” my oldest son said, taking one last gulp of ice water before grabbing the post-hole digger.

Once we had completed the dig, we measured the holes to ensure we had the right depth and length from the patio foundation, because once you pour the concrete “there ain’t no goin’ back!” Assured that we had dug the holes to the proper specification, we fitted the posts, anchoring them using wood stakes and braces. This helped to secure the posts in the ground prior to pouring the concrete. 

With the sky darkening and the wind picking up, we knew we were racing against the clock. Fortunately, we also knew that by using quick-setting concrete, we wouldn’t have to bite our nails hoping that it would set before the rains hit. While the concrete should set for a full day to be properly cured, quick-setting concrete will be sufficiently dry in 20 minutes, which should mitigate any weather-related challenges. We poured the mix directly into the forms and added the pre-measured water slowly. With the weather threat abating, we took some time to clean up the work area while the concrete set. True to the directions on the concrete mix bag, the concrete was setting nicely within 20 minutes of being poured. The instructions also indicated that we could replace the moved dirt and mulch as soon as the drying process started. With the last mound of dirt shoveled and tamped around the post, we looked at our watches and noticed that it took us only four hours to complete this project. “Now can we have lunch?” my youngest son piped up. 

The weather moved in about a half-hour after we had finished the work. Safely inside, bellies full from lunch, my dad asked the boys if they wanted to learn some card games. Happily, they sat around the table with their grandpa, drank some soda and learned the ins-and-outs of bluffing, calling and folding. I looked outside and was happy and a bit surprised at how well this project had gone. I was very proud of my sons, proud of their hard work, their dedication to doing a job well and to having fun learning how to work with their hands. Doing all of this with my dad – their grandpa – was just icing on the proverbial cake!

Affixing the light cap

  Finishing the job

Steve Krementz works for a major software company and is a dedicated MetroKids dad.

Categories: MK Memo