Rubble Foundation Complete!

David's picture

3 weeks, and 13.5 cubic yards later, we finally put in the last bit of stone for our rubble trench. By the Gods am I glad that's over! I went into it with high hopes of getting it done quickly. I built up a machine-like mentality figuring it's a no-brainer type of work. Fill buckets with stone, pour into trench, tamp and repeat. Unfortunately it didn't go that way.

We started off strong. The first load of rock was 9 cu.yds. which was dumped near the freshly dug foundation. With my arms pumping and my legs trudging the first lift of stone went in just as predicted, rough and tough but easy enough. But that was when the wrench fell into the gears of my machine-like mentality. The first lift was around 8" deep. Just enough to cover the french drain by a few inches. With that layer in, it needed to be tamped before I could add the next lift. I knew ahead of time that we didn't have a tamper, but figured I could make one easily enough. I had a few options around to make one, but I didn't want to spend too much time on it. The quickest tamper I could come up with was a trunk of a tree. I found an old fence post that, I felt, was a good diameter (maybe 8"). I trimmed up the ends which ended up being at about neck high, and I was ready to put it to use. That son-of-a-gun was a beast! If you think you are in good shape, a few minutes wielding this tamper will prove otherwise. After the first few hits, I knew this was going to take some conditioning to use. I wish I could put it into words just how difficult this part of the process was, but I can't. There's a picture of the back breaking beast below, if you'd like to make one yourself, and give it a whirl.

But I couldn't stop now, and I wasn't about to let this tamper get the best of me. So away I went, pounding inch by bloody inch. I must have rocks for brains because when I was done tamping with it, I felt it just wasn't enough. I wanted to really, positively without a doubt, get those stones packed as tightly as I could. So, I made another tamper. A smaller, less heavy tamper. I took a potato masher... no, not the kind you use to mash boiled potatoes. I'd really have to wonder about my sanity if I had used that. No, this is a tool used to mix drywall mud, aka 'potato masher'. I nailed a hunk of 4x6 to the face of it, and went around the foundation, re-tamping the whole thing. I figured the post drove the stones home, and the masher snuggled them together. Satisfaction achieved.

Ahh, now back to the rock. After tamping, shoveling and hauling buckets of rock was going to feel like a cake walk down Easy Street. And wouldn't you know it, Easy Street turned out to be a dead end. After the top layer was taken off for the first lift, the rest of the pile of rock had sand and dust in it. I couldn't pour this into my foundation! The drain was bound to get clogged with the first rain. I figured I had ordered it wrong, so when I called up for the next load I asked if I could get it washed. Apparently that's just how it comes. The guy said maybe when the loader scooped it up, he picked up some the ground with it. He told me he'll let the guy know next time to take care not to get any sand.

So here I was with a pile of rock that was half sand (exaggeration). I tried different ways of separating the two, none of them proved to be very effective. First I tried shoveling it all in the bucket. When I dumped the rocks out I poured until most of them were out. This left some rock and most of the sand still in the bucket. Scooping the rest of the rock out with my hand, I saved the trench from a lot of sand. This definitely took way too much time, and plus, there was still a lot of sand getting poured in the foundation. So then I looked around for a screen. I found some good sturdy screen, but the holes were too big, so I added a screen basket that had smaller holes but was really thin wiring. Together they worked but it was still very inefficient. Toss a shovel full in the basket, give it a shake or two or three, then pour into the bucket. Do this several times and you had a nice clean bucket full. The basket was just too small. Next I tried washing the rock myself. first I got two empty buckets and filled one up with water. Then I grabbed another bucket and drilled holes into the bottom of it. I filled it up with rock/sand and suspended it over the empty bucket. I then poured the water over the rock, letting the sand wash out through the drilled holes. The empty bucket caught the water. It worked pretty well, The stone were pretty well rinsed off, and any left over sand stuck to the bottom of the bucket. But the process to longer than it was worth. I suppose a hose with a sprayer would have worked too, but we were to far from the spigot and plus we are on a well. Lastly I tinkered around with a wooden pallet. Most of the spaces between the slats were pretty good. A few were to tight and a few more were too big. But over all it was decent enough to use as is. Taking it apart and re-aligning the slats would have taken even more time. So we propped it up on buckets, dumped a few loads of rock on it, and raked the rock over the edge leaving the sand to fall into the cracks. This was, by far, the best method we came up with. The time required wasn't so bad, and the quality of rock was good. I continued to grumble about it because it cut our progress in half, but it was what it was. Next time I'll have a screen for the job.

Well, we pressed on. Filling buckets, dumping buckets and tamping. We ordered an additional 4 yards to finish the job. They even threw in an extra yard of sand to go with it! Aren't we lucky!? On our last lift, we laid out some landscaping fabric in the trench and also laid out some plastic over the building pad for a moisture barrier, then filled in the last of the rock. The night of the tempest had a positive side to it. With all the rain I was able to see that the foundation drainage worked. The dry well, was no longer dry. Not only that, my sample miniature stone wall with clay mortar held up nicely as well. I was surprised and pleased with it's performance.

All together, this portion of the construction was by far the worst. I'm so glad it's over and done with. In the future, a traditional tamper and a metal screen will be part of my arsenal of tools.


I must have read every other word of rock and bucket! LOL!!! Nice pics... <3

Verify me........

By Sister (not verified)
David's picture

Yeah, I guess this one was a bit long winded. I just wanted to make sure everything was covered.

By David
Criddles's picture

I always wanted to start a blog on something of my life...but unfortunately it's not very interesting and I wouldn't keep up with it...Im sure I would eventually bore myself with my own blogging....LOL!!!!! Im glad you started this so we can keep up on your adventerous life and see Phoenix grow!! =)

By Criddles

I'm so happy you are blogging your life. Phoenix is such a beauty and I'm so glad we get to see her grow up even though we're so far away. Looks like you all are doing amazing things. What a beautiful life!

Take care,
Your Cousin Christina

By Christina (not verified)
David's picture

Hey, thanks Christina! Yeah, sign up and check in on us whenever you get a chance. We try and post at least every other day, or so.

By David
Rachel's picture

Your pictures are great and the description gives an exacting picture of riding through the 10th level of hell. I actually LOL'd when I read "They even through in an extra yard of sand to go with it! Aren't we lucky!?" :-D

By Rachel
Rick's picture

That looks like a lot of work! More and more I am liking the idea of somehow renting out a backhoe for a lot of this work. Maybe with all the time we need, it won't be so bad...but since our house is designed to be half-buried, doing it shovel by shovel sounds Zeus awful.

By Rick
David's picture

Yeah, it's a lot of work, but it's very rewarding. I swear I'm beaming after we complete each stage. Plus, I'm as fit as a fiddle. No back aches, leg cramps, sore muscles or nothing. But the most important thing about all the digging is knowing that if I find some land that doesn't have access for a backhoe, or I can't afford it, I still can make it happen. There is also timing to consider, but that's another thing I will learn. Can I build a house in one season, especially without machinery? I intend on finding out.

As far as digging out your house, I think if Zeus is on the shovel and Odin is hauling buckets, the two of them could get it done lickety-split.

By David
Rachel's picture

Hey, I found this site and am saving it for reference. I figured it would be helpful information for you, too. It's: Enjoy!

By Rachel