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Do it yoursef guide

When you are looking to use a slope effectively while at the same time prevent soil erosion and depletion of the slope, the method to do so is to build a Retaining Wall. This is a stabilizing structure that holds the soil in and helps retain the shape or contours of the land. In order to do so, the wall must be substantial and sturdy in structure with the ability to take the lateral pressure caused by sloping. Collected water also exerts pressure, so this must be allowed to seep through. While the whole process may be best addressed by a professional, it is possible to follow a do-it-yourself approach to making a Retaining Wall. 

Click on our infographic to see when a retaining wall is actually needed:

Retaining wall types

How To Build A Retaining Wall

A good starting point for making a Retaining Wall is to collect do-it-yourself manuals and the necessary tools or implements to perform the task in hand. A design or drawing for the wall that describes the height, length, depth, style, pattern, etc. will form the basis and guiding light for the work of making a Retaining Wall.

Tools Needed

Some essentials that comprise the retaining wall tools of the trade include the following: 

  • Safety glasses
  • Gloves and dust mask
  • 4' level and torpedo level
  • Tape measure and string line
  • Chisel and rubber mallet
  • Hand Tamper (or plate compactor)
  • Shims and broom
  • Round and square shovel
  • Masonry saw

Strategize, Plan & Measure

Based on the drawing of the wall to be made, the appropriate retaining wall system is selected. The actual measurements on site need to be carried out; this will determine the exact location of the wall. The layout of the wall will have to be marked using stakes and string. Surface vegetation and debris in this marked area will have to be removed. The type of Retaining Wall system being used will mandate the size and design of the material to be used in the construction like concrete blocks or stone or timber and how these have to be placed; it is advisable to follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions as closely as possible for best results. 

Digging/Excavation Process

The marked area must be dug to the specified width and depth to create a base trench as per the design being followed. Starting at its lowest point level, the excavated base has to be pad so that it is ready to support the first course of blocks. For this a layer of base rock has to be compacted in place; this could be gravel, road base, or crushed rock (1⁄4 to 3⁄4 inch in diameter). Typical base fill of 6 inches allows the wall to flex slightly with ground movement. A hand tamper or a motorized compactor may be used to tamp this base down in place.

Build the Retaining Wall

The first layer of blocks is placed on top of the compacted base as per the selected system’s design and instructions. For example, some retaining wall blocks may be placed horizontal; others vertical, and interspersed with smaller stones. Check the level and alignment of each block frequently as you go along. A string line placed along the back helps ensure that the blocks are flush and not out of line. A rubber mallet may be used to “fine-tune” the placement of the blocks as desired. 

After completing the base course, a drainage zone may be created between the blocks according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. The area behind and in front of the base blocks will now be filled with soil to plug gaps; this will have to be compacted in place to prevent movement after construction. 

When compacting is completed, any remaining pebbles or debris will have to be brushed aside in order that the next course of blocks rests properly on the base course. The next course of blocks is usually installed with a 3-inch stagger from the course below to allow structural integrity to the wall. Level and align this course, compact the wall, and place drain field and backfill as was done with the first course. The remaining courses are laid likewise in short height walls.

In making tall walls, every two course is interspersed with a grid to reinforce the wall. Sweep off debris and roll out the grid on the top surface from behind to the front of the wall. Pull the grid tight to remove any slack and stake the grid into place. Place the third course on top of the grid. This is repeated till the desired height of the wall is achieved. Ensure drainage and backfill and compacting is done appropriately at each step.

 While the above process looks tedious, those opting for a do-it-yourself technique have the satisfaction of having created a retaining wall landscape effect by themselves and following the right guidelines makes the job easier than it appears. So go ahead and give it a try.


Gallery of Retaining Walls in


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