Versa-Lok Blocks to Build Retaining Walls
Versa Lok Retaining Wall Blocks
I’m here with Jim from Versa-Lok and what we’re going to be talking about today is different retaining wall blocks. How they go together, where you would use them and when you want to choose between the different styles of blocks. Let’s say hi to Jim first. Jim, what do you do with Versa-Lok?
I’m the Midwest sales manager for Versa-Lok. I’ve been working here for twelve years now. Versa-Lok is not only a Midwest company but we’re also national and international, so we should have blocks all around the country, wherever you guys are looking. I know Stan has been a customer of ours for years and like he said, we just wanted to show you folks what choices you have with blocks and some ins and outs of the block that we’re going to be doing.
So we’re going to focus on Versa-Lok today. Why, because it’s personally my favorite block. It will be my go-to block on almost every project. I have used Anchor, I have used Keystone, I have used all of the other block brands but when a customer asked me which one that I’d recommend, these are the ones that I usually go to. I want to show you why I personally prefer Versa-Lok. Jim, you probably know all the functionality of each one of these blocks actually better than I do because my specialty isn’t that high end and complicated retaining wall projects.
What I like to do is, I like to get in and bust out a thousand, five thousand, ten thousand square feet, long, tall engineered. Where a lot of guys like to do columns and seat walls, and yes I’ve done those. Is it my specialty? No, but I can do it. So let’s talk about what the difference is between blocks so you can do it. What we have here is a Versa-Lok standard unit. One of the things I want to show you about this block is that it’s a solid unit. If you do this with a hollow block, that sucker is going to bust apart on you. It’s solid here. (front) It’s solid here. (back) You’ll notice that it’s perfectly flat (on both sides), OK. Why is that important?
No Nubs or Lips
You don’t see any nubs, you don’t see any lips. So the question you probably should have is how these things go together. That’s an important feature with these blocks and one of the reasons why I like them. Alright, so the way that these blocks connect, this is what I love about them, is pins. What we do, we’ve got four pin holes, we have slots in the bottom and all you literally do is drop these pins in and now you’ve got a connection. You’ve got a block that isn’t relying on a little concrete lip to hold it together. You’ve got actually a spike going through one block and hitting into the next block below it.
Which means that when you get frost movement or ground movement, what happens is that spike sticks. You can see this block is not going to move forward or backward. I’m not a sales person for Versa-Lok but my reputation, my company rides on it. You can see these spikes in here, that’s how solid of a connection that they make. This block has this much movement. It’s never going to, but it can have that much movement and still be rock solid.
You know one thing too, Stan, that I just want to interject here is a big part of the reason why guys like us. Like you said is, it’s because of the pins. You did good there about showing that you definitely want to bump it up a little bit but the other good thing that you can do when you’re under construction here is before you pin, you always want to try to set your block off maybe about a foot or so, and then slide it into place. So you got where your block is and then you’re just going to slide it into place, then pin them.
The reason for that is if there is any minor, we like to use a real technical term called “concrete boogers”, on the top, we slide those off and then you’ve got a really nice solid level unit that you’re working with.
So this block can be used both in residential and commercial applications. It’s a little bit more expensive than the competitor block which will be a hollow core block, but I prefer it hands down because I feel that it’s faster and allows me to stack the blocks higher because I’m not core filling. Let’s look at the square foot unit that they have over here. This will be similar to what you’ll find used in a lot of commercial applications. When you’re bidding toe to toe and you’ve got a giant retaining wall, your competitors are going to be using the least expensive block possible and oftentimes it’s going to be a hollow core block. The reason the blocks themselves are less expensive, is that there is less material. There’s no concrete in these voids right here.
But what you’re forgetting and you’re missing as a contractor is, you’re then responsible for filling these voids. That’s a big thing. It averages about two hundred pounds per square foot to fill voids and to put drainage aggregates in on walls like this. So when you going dollar for dollar, head to head, toe to toe against your competitors, you may have to go with a block like this. Now, these are still good blocks. They’re still equivalent to whatever else is on the market but you can’t stack. I want to show you this. Now, Jim, you can tell me if I’m wrong here but when you have these cores, you’ve got to stack one block and then you have to core fill it.
Where on a Versa-Lok standard unit, you can stack up to three blocks high before you’ve got to backfill that, giving you the ability to go higher faster with fewer lifts, which means you’re installing it quicker. Still, head to head, toe to toe, this may be the block you have to go to. This is also a pinned unit, so on this unit, you line up the panel which you can see here with the slot in the unit below it, you make sure you’re lined up and they slip right in.
But it’s important too, Stan, like you said, you want to make sure when you’re selling a job and if you’re going up against a competitor or if you’re selling the hollow core block, they’re designed to have the gravel in each course. You don’t want to cut corners here because that’s how it was designed, that’s how it’s engineered. The weight of the block is really important. So if you’re cutting corners you’re not filling the block, you’re not doing it right. A lot of it too is, with the gravel in there, that helps connect the blocks below it. Where, as you said, Stan, you don’t need the gravel with standards.
If you don’t core fill this block you’re missing an important point in the connection method because the gravel, the core fill itself, look here, let’s get it straight. Let’s not call it gravel, let’s not call it classified. You’ve got to have the three-quartered clearance. It’s got to be drainage aggregate. We’re not using p-rock, we’re not using river rock, we are using an angular stone which lines up. So a good example is, we’ve got river rock behind us, as you see these circular stones if you’re using these, shame on you. What you want is, you want to use granite or an angular stone because it automatically locks in place. You can see just by placing it, this stone is not going to move.
Fill that and that binds everything together. So that’s the benefit of using these blocks. It’s a little less expensive, it helps you be on the same page as your competitors but if you’re going to go to residential and you’ve got a customer that’s willing to pay a little bit extra, hands down, for me personally, Versa-Lok probably doesn’t mind what block you buy as long as you are buying Versa-Lok. For me personally, you’re going to find me using these but let’s talk a little bit more about these blocks here. This is the standard non-weathered, this is a Rose Creek weathered. What they do is, this kind of gives the block a little more character and I want you to see they intentionally beat the hell out of these blocks. So what they do Jim, they take them through a tumbler is that right?
You know we actually have an inline tumbler on these. It doesn’t matter, it’s the same concept. We’re taking the block, this nice clean block and we’re roughing up the face to make it look more like natural stone.
So if you have a house that has some character, not modern designed, maybe. I have a log home. I used Versa-Lok block weathered units because I didn’t want anything that looked brand new. You can see the weathered mosaic pattern, it kind of gives it a little character to it. Across the way over there you can see the standard unit in non-weathered the lines are sharper, they’re crisper, they’re cleaner. There’s a time and place for each different look.
But we’re talking about an exact same block, which is a big thing. There is no learning curve. You’re not switching it up you’re not trying to grab a different unit. You’re not going, “how do these go together versus how do these go together?”. You want weathered, you want the non-weathered. You’ve got to learn a different pattern. No. It’s fast, it’s efficient, and it’s the same day after day, time after time, job after job, which puts more profits into your back pocket because you’ve got guys out there that may have a completely different look from one wall to the other, but what happens is they’re doing the exact same thing behind the scenes.
Jim is going to show us how easy we can split these blocks and handle these blocks, they’re very versatile, I guess that’s why they’re called Versa-lok, Jim?
Yeah, that’s right Stan.
So what we’re going to do is, we’re going to create freestanding walls and columns. We can split it in half or we can split off the back and we can do this with a splitter or you can do this with a hand chiseler. Now he’s going to show us how fast we can split a block with this Versa Splitter.
Sales guys can even do it, Stan.
That’s part of it really, it creates a rough face so that this can go on an outside corridor and it looks just like the rest of the block.
Right now we’re going to look at the Versa-Lok mosaic unit, and what I like about this unit is, it actually uses the same system as the standards, they are all solid blocks and they’re pinned together but they create a random pattern. You can actually see it behind us, although it’s a panel, it is a system. The look of it, once it’s installed, makes it look like you put a jigsaw puzzle together. It’s a really cool thing. What you just saw Jim and I do is, we pulled off the cap units.
The cap units are an A and a B unit. You can either pull them a little bit over the face of it and that creates a shadow, pretty cool look I think, or you can pull them back, slide them back just a little bit like that Jim and then it gives you that offset look. You can mix and match colors. We’ve got a Rose Creek blend and a Charcoal blend. So you don’t necessarily have to always have your walls match. In fact, I put stripes in my walls. Sometimes they use different blends of color to create a unique color for the customer that otherwise you can’t do with just that one solid color.
Well you’ve even mixed the colors in between here. You know Stan here, he’ll mix eighty percent of these blocks with twenty percent of a different color block to get a really random pattern. That’s another option. Just going back to the cap a little bit, the reason why a lot of contractors, they like snugging it forward a little bit is, you get a little eyebrow effect. Say your wall, you do everything you can to make it absolutely straight but there’s a little wiggle in it.
You can take that out by just putting the cap forward a little bit, you know. Putting a string line on that, making sure the cap is absolutely straight and that takes away any little wiggles that you may have in the wall. And Mark, if you can get a side shot of the caps going down that wall there, you can see that eyebrow effect. You know that on the wall there might have been a little wiggle in it, but you will never know with that eyebrow effect.
In fact, you can see where they did it right here. They’ve got more of an offset than right here and when you shoot the whole cap line straight down it is perfectly straight. It’s kind of a neat way of fixing or correcting anything that might happen during the construction phase of it.