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How to Build a Strong Retaining Wall

Updated on July 30, 2011

List of Tools

Before you begin, you need the following items for this project:

  1. Landscape Blocks
  2. Gravel
  3. Sand
  4. Landscaping Fabric
  5. Tamper
  6. Level
  7. Shovel
  8. Block Adhesive
  9. Myriatic Acid
  10. Hammer
  11. Chisel

Do It Yourself

With the proper equipment and materials you can build a strong retaining wall yourself. It is hard physical work but with effort you can ensure you get the look you want and a wall that will last 20 or more years. A retaining wall can make a sloping piece of land become a useable level area.

There are many applications for retaining walls such as walkways, around garden beds, and landscape decorations. You can build your retaining wall from almost any kind of material including wood, stone, or even old railroad ties. The blocks you purchase in the store that are interlocking are the easiest to install. Interlocking landscape blocks are pre-cast concrete blocks that gradually slope back as you build. Both Flat face interlocking landscape blocks and rounded blocks can look very nice.

Continue Reading Below for Step By Step Instructions on How to Build A Retaining Wall:

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1. Start Digging

Start by digging. You want the first course of blocks to start below the ground level. Use a shovel and dig about twice the width of the blocks and at least the depth of the blocks. Place a layer of gravel or sand as a base and tamper. Tamper means to pound the sand flat. You want a nice level area to place your first row of blocks

2. Square and Level

If you place a wall next to a building make sure you are square to the building or house. To ensure you are square place the first block on the ground. Smooth out underneath the block until your block is level. Use the level tool for the first row of blocks.

3. Use Landscape Fabric

Place a layer of landscape fabric behind the first row of blocks. Preference is given to twenty-year fabric. The purpose of the fabric is to hold back the sand that you use as backfill. The fabric prevents the sand from eroding through the blocks. Roll the fabric out to the width of your row and cut with a knife.

4. Fill Behind Your Blocks

Use fine sand as your fill behind the blocks. Fill in behind each row of blocks as you. The next row of blocks you place should be staggered from the first row. To ensure this is done correctly you need to cut a block in half. Use your chisel and hammer and score along the middle of the block. Score means to tap the chisel along the top of the block gently. The block will break where it has been scored. If you have never scored a block before, it may take you a few tries to get it right. Continue to build your wall. Place the blocks, fill behind them and ensure they are interlocking and level as you go.

5. Clean and Glue Your Blocks

When you reach the height you like it is time to think about using the block adhesive to glue the last row of blocks or caps on. The capstones will give you a nice clean finishing look. To ensure the blocks are clean you can use diluted Myriatic acid. Let the cleaned blocks dry and then add the adhesive and put the caps in place.

6. Topsoil and Landscape

Now for the finishing touch, fill in the top row with topsoil and use your level tool. Plant some grass seed and enjoy your new strong retaining wall.

Avoid going taller than 4 feet. If your wall needs to be higher than four feet consult a professional for recommendations.


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    • profile image

      tg 6 years ago

      you must add some use of retainingwall

    • Roseann Cole profile image

      Roseann Cole 6 years ago from Midwest USA

      Thanks for you comments. The same principals behind building this retaining wall can be applied to flower beds and walkways. Essentially anything under 4 feet can be built this way and you will have a very solid wall for many years.

    • toddclayton profile image

      toddclayton 6 years ago from Birmingham, AL

      This is a pretty good instruction on how to build a residential wall. You are right about consulting a professional on walls greater in height than four feet. Any wall that will be over four feet needs to have an engineer look at it. Though this is costly in most cases, it can save in the long run. And, if you build these walls right, they will last a lifetime.