Monday, December 22, 2008

Clean Up and Start Over

My idea was simple enough. Pour some grout onto the patio and sweep it into the cracks between the stones. Then spray down the stone, causing the grout to mix with the sand (about one ton of it) that I swept into the cracks when I laid the patio two years ago. This mixture would set and I would have a perfect grout job--and no more weeds.

Funny that you can't find anyone on the web who thinks this is a good idea. Could it be such an obscure process that no one has thought of it? Wouldn't a reasonable person be suspicious--and cautious? Yes, but instead I poured an entire bag of grout onto the patio. Fortunately I did this off to the side in an area not very visible.

Grout is a little like flour: powdery when dry but very sticky when wet. It is designed to stick to tile or stone. As I swept it, the grout turned into a thick film of gray and spread out to cover about 50 square feet. More sweeping, but the surface of the stone was not letting go of the now pasty goo. And I knew that once it dried, the grout would never ever come off.

At times like this we are reminded that enthusiasm and determination are no substitute for practical planning. Back when Bush decided to enter Iraq, for example, against the judgment of some senior military advisers (back before I was in charge of things, by the way), he was practicing what he considers to be his strong suit: shooting from the hip. The image is a disturbing one for those of us who do things better done by professionals.

I grabbed the garden hose to wash off the stones, but already the paste was hardening so I had to scrub with a brush, trying to do a good job but moving quickly. As I washed the stones, more grout would come out of the cracks and deposit a film over the stones. I would scrub, come back, wash, scrub, come back, and after about three hours most of the grout was washed out. Many of the stones still have small areas on the surface where the grout has hardened. In some places, though, it worked pretty well. The picture above shows one of the joints.

It's not easy to admit a mistake. Sometime all you can do is clean up the mess (quickly, to minimize the damage) and resolve to get it right in the future. To pretend otherwise is like turning away and waiting for the rain to wash off a layer of stone.

By the way, I can always grout the patio the way people have done it for thousands of years. But maybe there is a better way...

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