My Last Shop: Part 5 - Construction
by Michael Smith
Mountain Park, GA
Hello again, this is the fifth installment of my experience with building my last shop. To bring you up to speed I am a retired California high school woodshop teacher now living in Mountain Park, GA near my two grown children and their families. Not counting the woodshop where I taught this will be my fourth and last (probably) shop.
Finally! I'm ready to start construction. The old shed has been torn down and moved off the site. I selected a contractor to put in the foundation and slab and he called on a Sunday night to ask if it was OK to send the crew Monday morning to dig the footings and make the form. "Oh Hell yes! Come on, I'm ready." So first thing Monday morning a truck pulls in and a guy gets out and dumps wire mesh, rebar, plastic sheeting and drives off. Two hours later another truck pulls in with a Bob-Cat tractor on a trailer. He drops that off of the trailer and drives away. Then, about lunch-time the crew drives in and sets to work.
I already have the corners staked and the perimeter marked with spray paint. The foreman asks me if I want the slab to have a slight slope so water will drain out. "No, I want it dead flat. This is a shop not a garage." Then he asks if I want a slope at the doorways so water will not splash in during a rainstorm. "No, I want the edge of the slab nice and square. This is a shop. If it rains the doors will be closed." Lastly, we get to the most important question, for me. How do I want the floor finished? So I tell him, "I want the floor like glass. I want to be able to sweep the floor with a dust mop. Can you do that?" He allows that he can leave it as smooth as glass. (I may have insulted him with that last question) All right let's get to work.
The Bob-Cat charges around from side to side digging out the footings and the crew cleans them by hand with their shovels. I was amazed - in five hours they had the footings dug, forms made, rebar tied in, sheet plastic put down and they were ready to leave. But I had one problem: In my mind the re-bar was put in incorrectly. The re-bar was joined at the corners of the footings and in all of my experience doing construction work the re-bar is supposed to bend around the corners and be tied (wired) somewhere other than at a corner. So I ask the foreman about this and he says it's OK, not to worry. I call for an inspection (remember, I have a permit for this work) and the crew leaves for the night.
The next day the inspector comes and the first thing out of his mouth is, "This ain't right." He picked up on the re-bar too. After some discussion, he says that if I'll get the re-bar set right and take a picture with my phone, he'll go ahead and give us the green light to pour. Boy! That's the first time an inspector has ever cut me some slack. I call the contractor and pass on the instructions. Later in the day, another truck comes through and drops off four sticks of re-bar.
Two days later, a different crew and foreman shows up with rubber boots, concrete tools and a big 36" power trowel. One guy sets to making the re-bar right and I talk with Eduardo about my glassy finish.
It's 8:30 AM and the first cement truck comes into the yard. The truck backs up to the forms and with every chute he has on the truck he starts dumping his load. I don't understand most of what's said but gestures are enough for the driver to do what he needs to do. When he's finished, I have a place set aside for him to clean-out the chutes. This is not my first rodeo (as they say) and I don't want the driver to leave that mess wherever it's convenient for him and inconvenient for me. That truck leaves and another one arrives with another load of cement. The process is the same as before. When the second truck is finished Eduardo tell the driver how much more concrete he needs to fill the forms full. Another five yards is all we need. How does he know this without measuring and calculating? Maybe this is a "Use the force Luke," moment. The driver calls in the order, cleans out his truck and then leaves.
The workers are busy talking and smoothing the concrete. I know what they are doing as I've been-there-done-that myself. I just don't know what they are saying but I have a feeling it's not about how to do a wonderful job for Mike Smith. I think they are talking about women they have known. Maybe it's their mothers or sisters? It must be, it's happy conversation anyway.
The last truck pulls in and empties. Ooooops, this time the driver says there is a little concrete left in the truck. "Not to worry," I say. I have made up some forms with scrap two by fours into two foot squares. I throw these down on the driveway and tell the driver to fill them up and I'll use them for stepping stones or pavers. He fills every form I have and still has some concrete left. OK, you just have to take it back to the yard. I don't want it dumped out on my property.
Back to the workers, they are busy setting bolts and screeding the concrete. Eduardo has a long handled float and is making progress smoothing and raising the "cream" on the surface. Jesus has an edger and is going around the perimeter between the bolts. Most of the men leave at lunch time leaving Eduardo and Jesus. It's a cloudy day and the concrete doesn't seem to be setting up. Hmmmm, this could be a problem. I can see Eduardo getting nervous and talking on his phone frequently. I know what this means. It means the concrete is staying "wet" and it's going to be a long day.
Eduardo gets in his truck and leaves so I ask Jesus where he went. "Home Depot" is my two word answer. Soon Eduardo comes back with two sacks of cement and starts throwing the cement powder around the surface of the concrete dusting it evenly. Then they get out the float and start working the surface again.
Eduardo knows my concrete is not setting up and I think he is resigned to that fact. As the sun goes down I get out the two construction lights I have. It's a good thing I have temporary power out here because these lights pull 1500 watts and a skinny long extension cord would not last for long. My wife, Margie, calls me in to dinner and as we eat I ask her to make up a plate for Jesus and Eduardo.
They were happy to get the dinner and when they were finished they took up the hand trowels again. Finally, after they eat they fire up the big power trowel. Now we are getting somewhere.
The two men finally leave at 10:30 PM. The floor is not as smooth as I wanted but I know they did the best they could. As we all say, "It is what it is." Now who ever thought that up?
Michael can be reached by email at