Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scary, but It'll Do

Yesterday afternoon around 5:00 o'clock I drove down to my local True Value to wander around and see what they could do for me.

I asked the assistent, whom I found stocking some shelves, if they had patching cement for concrete.

No, not for my third floor stairway ceiling, for my front step. I had a parent of a trick-or-treater Thursday night [my borough always does it on the Thursday night] express doubt about the safety of it, commenting ominously, "Somebody's liable to sue you over this." And it was getting really bad, so bad I put a board over the cavity so no small witch or ghoul would fall in.

"It's right here in this aisle," he said. "Here's the kind you want, in this bag." Then, "Wait a minute," he said. "This might not work after all. The temperature has to be above 50 degrees for twenty-four hours after you apply it."

"Well, it's 68 degrees outside now . . . I don't know what it's supposed to do tonight . . . "

"Let's check The Weather Channel." He led me to a laptop, brought up the site, and look, the low last night wasn't supposed to get below 58 degrees. But tonight, it was supposed to get down in the 30s.

The assistant expressed his doubt as to whether I could get the job done in time, but, said I, "It's tonight or never. I have to get that step patched before somebody hurts himself on it."

So, quickly, quickly! One 40 lb. bag of patching cement, one 5-gallon bucket to mix in, one trowel for the application! Pay for it, throw it all in the car, and take the fastest way home!

And yes, I did get the cavity filled. In the light of day I see it was not a pretty job. Not my usual level of craftsmanship. But it'll do.

The first thing was to pull out the rest of the loose pieces of concrete tread. When I washed out the dirt from the resulting cavity, the sand and gravel aggregates kept running out as well. If this was June or July, I think I would have kept the hose trained on that rotten concrete till it all washed away and gave me the excuse to put in a whole new pair of steps. But winter's coming, so I stopped at the first semblance of solid material and hoped-- hoped!-- the cement would adhere.

Then, even though I borrowed a concrete block off a neighbor to hold a board against the broken step to make a kind of form, it wasn't much use. The remaining concrete was sticking out cockeyed so I couldn't get the board to sit squarely against it. I ended up throwing the board on the grass and just using the concrete block, on end, to keep the patching cement from slumping out the front side of the cavity.

Couldn't mix too much cement at once; had to consider the capacity of my old Black & Decker drill with the paint-mixing attachment on it. Even in the light of the setting sun it was plain that my batch wasn't going to fill all the hole.

So I got clever. Or stupid, you take your pick. I filled the cavity up just high enough so I could lay the broken pieces of original concrete back in, mosaic-style. Couldn't find them all, and there's cracks between them that'll have to be filled with all-weather caulk or something to keep the water out. But it's level, right?

Not quite. A couple of big pieces weren't sitting high enough, and the riser surface of the step was all pitted and spalled. So there I was at 7:00 last night, for all intents and purposes in the dark, mixing up another batch of patching cement, this one half the size of the first.

Half the size, and nowhere near the stiffness. I glopped it onto that riser with my gloved hand (faster than the trowel) and it slumped down on the step below like a tired teenager. The concrete block kept it in place in the middle (and it seems to be stuck there at the moment), but otherwise . . . ? Gaahh.

The finished job is pretty ghastly-looking. My only excuse is my race again time, the weather, and potential liability claims. God willing, next spring I can get a set of front steps put in that're good looking and permanent. In the meantime, hey, the patch is hard! And the reinserted pieces don't seem to be going anywhere! It might even bear weight! And be halfway safe even when the snow covers it!

It's awful, it's ugly, it's hideous, the After picture looks like it should be Before-- but it'll do.

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