Having established that we have enough stone for the Front Retaining wall, and gotten a reasonable image of what it will look like, we now have to take it all apart, and put it back together with mortar holding it in place.
I could do that myself, but I'm not certain that my skills extend this far. We want it to be level, and straight. The steps should slope slightly so that water will run down the steps, not sit on them or pool at the back of a step. And we want each course of stone to be offset from the previous one, to form a "stair step" effect, so that it does not look as imposing. I can understand how to do the offset, but after a course or two, it seems the center of gravity of the wall will not be over the stone. I can shovel dirt behind it, as I go, to keep it from falling over, but I'm not sure if that is the best solution. How are stair-step walls done?
So, given the amount of work necessary to get this far, and that this will be a major feature of the front yard, which every ones sees as they come in the house, I figured I should look at getting someone else, a professional, to do it.
Basilio Ramirez (512-293-0886) of Ramirez Concrete Work & More was recommended to me. He came out on Wednesday to look at and discuss the project, had an estimate by Thursday, and could start by Saturday. $1650.
On Saturday, Basilio showed up with Jorge, and a pickup truck of sand and masonry cement. They mixed the sand and cement in a wheelbarrow to make mortar. They were very comfortable with the mortar, and had lots of time to work with it. They first took the walls apart, then put wet trails of mortar down the middle 1/3 of the cement support for the wall, placing the stones on top of that and positioning them. Then the same for the next level, and the next.
If there was a problem (at one point there was a vertical joint between two blocks that was over another vertical joint), the blocks could be removed, the old mortar scraped off (and by "old", I mean 5 minutes or so), put back in the wheelbarrow with the other mortar, mixed a little, and then more mortar was applied and the stones re-laid, in a different order to shift the vertical joint.
They kept at this, stone block after stone block, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mortar, until all the stones were set in place. Then, effectively for cosmetic reasons, on the outside of the wall, they went back and put mortar in the vertical joints, and filled out the horizontal ones to match the front of the blocks. After this "icing" was applied in all the joints, they used a wooden-handled wire brush to smooth the mortar off and clean up the joints. Using the wooden handle to sort of shape and smooth things, and the the wire brush to clean off any extra.
They didn't bother with the inside of the wall, since it was going to be filled and covered with dirt -- no one will see it. Other than the top course of stone; they did do the top course on both sides.
That was it. They got there around 7:00 AM, and were done by 2:00 PM.
I checked on Sunday, and the mortar seems very hard. On Monday, I will start to move dirt from the mound that I have from the trench back to fill up the retaining wall.