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Retaining Wall (almost) Complete!

retaining wall
Our retaining wall

I mentioned that the second thing I did all weekend was “finish” our retaining wall, so I’ll explain a little more. I started digging the 55ft section of wall along our pool on May 2nd, and it took about 5-6 hours of digging over 2 days to square out the area for the retaining wall bricks and level it out. That was by far the hardest and most tiring work of the whole project.

Pulling in a close second to the digging would be hauling 3 half-ton loads of gravel in my truck, shoveling it out, wheeling it to the backyard, then hosing out the truck bed. It doesn’t help when I fall back first onto the wheelbarrow though. I gotta say that shoveling gravel is not the easiest job.

And bringing up third in the tough jobs would be hauling about three-hundred 22 lbs bricks (counting the first wall I completed) for a total of 3.5 tons. Luckily on the last 2 loads, and one of the other ones, I had my neighbors help. I thanked them with a restaurant dinner, but we each used an Entertainment Book coupon so I really paid for 1 meal (plus my own).

I will say that I’m very proud of Stacie for how much work she put into the wall after the digging was done (that was all me). She helped unload bricks from the truck, haul them from the front (one-by-one), use the mason chisel to knock off the lip on the bottom row of bricks and lay down the gravel. For such a small girl to carry so many 22lb bricks is quite amazing to see 🙂

How Much Did It Cost?

I calculated that just this wall, with about 210 bricks and a ton of gravel (literally), along with a few tools like a mason chisel, heavy hammer and a tamper, cost about $500. The two walls together cost about $700 so far. But we have 30 bricks left over that will go towards finishing the first wall the rest of the way to the patio and also starting the third wall which will be a small one. And I’m not counting the gas used to drive to Home Depot or the stone yard about a dozen times.

What Tools and Materials Did I Use?

I already mentioned a few, but in order to complete this wall, these are the materials I needed. I’m using Amazon links simply because it’s easier to search for and show you some sample results:

  • Mason chisel – It’s a heavy-duty chisel that’s a MUST for splitting the bricks
  • A heavy-duty hammer to be used with the chisel. It’s like a mini-sledgehammer
  • A Tamper – It’s used to flatten the dirt or gravel
  • Latex-coated work gloves – Another MUST for working with bricks (and dirt). You DON’T want to grab the bricks bare-handed because they’ll shred your hands pretty quickly. After handling 300 bricks numerous times (load onto cart, load onto truck, take off truck, transport to wall), I can assure you that the $1.50 gloves at Home Depot (I got them at the stone yard) are perfectly fine.
  • A flat shovel used to dig a flat, level ditch
  • A regular (pointy) shovel that breaks through the ground more easily than the flat shovel
  • A wheelbarrow to transport the dirt, bricks, gravel, and yourself (after you’ve fallen on top of it). The last homeowner left one for us, but after hauling so much over the last month, it’s about dead.
  • Bricks…duh. We used 12″x4″ tapered “castle wall” bricks rather than the normal square ones
  • Gravel. We put a base layer under the first row of bricks and then between any gaps between the bricks and a layer behind each row to aid in drainage and keep the dirt from running out the cracks. We just used the cheapest gravel, which at our stone yard is called “Blue Chip”. It costs about $15 per 1/2 ton.
  • A tarp to store the gravel on so it doesn’t get embedded in the dirt if that’s where you’re storing it. I also used another one in my truck bed to protect the bed and make unloading and cleanup easier.
  • A 36-inch level. You want a 3-foot one so you can level at least 3 bricks together, not just two adjoining ones. The last homeowner left a 48-inch one for us.

Those are just the tools I used for our wall, but yours may differ depending on the type of wall, size of the wall and whether we even built it right or not.

So Why is It “Almost” Finished?

I won’t be happy with the wall until the following things are done:

  1. Add capstones to the wall to hide the gaps and gravel between each brick. It’s merely for aesthetics, not functionality.
  2. Fill in the dirt behind the wall to level it all out. We might also have to remove some plants or at least try to “jack them up” so they’re not slanting
  3. Add a layer of mulch. We’ll get the mulch for free from the city, but it’s probably 2 loads and I have to shovel all of it into the truck and then unload it by hand.
  4. Either before or after getting the mulch, we need to plant new shrubs and other landscaping to make it nice and pretty. We’re not in a rush to do this just yet because we want to do some analysis on what plants will work best in that area (and not throw leaves/flowers into the pool when it’s a little windy).

So it’ll probably say “almost done” for some time, but I just can’t let myself say it’s done until at least #1-3 are done.

And if you ever need help with your retaining wall, don’t ask me because I don’t want to touch another brick for a long time, unless it’s to work on my own walls!

About the author

Clever Dude


  • What a cool project! And the end (well, almost end) results look incredible! I’d love to do something similar with our backyard, but I just don’t have the energy for it, and the weather is already hot and sticky. Maybe I’ll save this for a fall project.

  • Looks great… when’s the pool party?!

    And don’t worry about the rest of us asking for your help, it looks like Nick is willing and able!

  • @SingleGuyMoney: I’d love to, for a very high fee! I had all intentions to level out the dirt today, but neither my mind nor my body cooperated when I got home from work. I think I’ve had all I can take of bricks for now and it’s time to move on to Pergo flooring.

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