For years I have needed to aerate my lawn after we got our septic replaced. The churning of the backyard got rid of our topsoil, turned up many, many rocks and the long winter compacted it all into a type of natural concrete. Our grass barely grows, while weeds have had no problem. The rest of our lawn needed a bit of aerating, too.
Rentals are pricey, even for only four hours (the trip to Home Depot and back is nearly two hours, leaving only two hours for a rental that costs nearly $100). Aerators aren't something a neighbor has, either, so borrowing was out.
I've read of people using a pitchfork, but our lawn is a little big for that. A few years ago, I picked up these aerating shoes. They didn't work, as they kept falling off of my shoes (I'm sure there is a solution, like duct taping them to an old pair of shoes, but....).
I was contemplating how to create a solid, heavy cylinder to role when I spied an old bucket of sheet rock mud that had sat in the barn for ten years. How would I attach the spikes to the side? And then, how to roll it?
Seeing an old bag of Quikrete that I keep meaning to get rid of next to that useless sheetrock bucket and inspiration hit. Enjoy!
Step 1: Materials
Empty sheet rock bucket. I used a shorter one, because I feared that a taller one would be too heavy to roll.
Nails. Because this is a prototype, I used some old common 8d nails I had around. They bend easily, and rust. When I remake this, I'm going to use something more solid (rail road spikes!).
Quikrete. I had an old sack laying around the barn. Whatever you use, it needs to be a) heavy, b) fluid, yet sets, so the heads of the nails will set deep into it and hold there under duress
Pipe. You will put an axle through it, but a common copper pipe should be okay. It needs to be slightly longer than the sheet rock bucket is high.
Lawn mower handle. Since you can't put your hands on the spikes to roll it, you'll attach this rolling mace to the handle.
Axle. You'll need to connect the rolling mace to the lawn mower handle.
Washers and axle caps.
Step 2: Drill Holes in Sheet Rock Bucket; Insert Nails
I drilled a series of holes in the sides of the sheet rock bucket. They are the same diameter as the nails I will be using for aerating spikes. I make the rows pretty uniform, hoping to keep the balance while I pull this really heavy rolling mace.
Then, I inserted a nail into each hole. I push them halfway. When the Quikrete is poured in, I want the nail heads and some of the shaft to be deep enough in to be anchored. As I pull it around later, there will plenty of forces trying to push the nails sideways. Leave enough to anchor the nails.
For now, they will hang loose.
Step 3: Put Pipe in Center; Add Concrete
Using a 1 inch bit, I drilled a hole in the bottom of the sheet rock bucket.
Then I placed the pipe into the hole. This will be where the axle goes through, so it needs to be centered.
(As an aside, this reminds me of the show "Mr. Merlin" where the young protege pulls a crowbar from a bucket of concrete, as a modern day Excalibur. Anyone remember "Mr. Merlin"?).
Next, mix and add the concrete. Because this is a prototype and I was using ancient Quikrete, I was not too fussy with the mixing (it was pretty chunky, but set okay). For an alpha version, use fresh cement--do it right.
As you add the Quikrete, you need to push the nails half way back into their holes. The nail heads need to imbed into the Quikrete so they are anchored while the whole thing is pulled around the yard. They also need to be straight out. I used a hammer to knock them into place as I added more Quikrete and it set.
Step 4: Attach the Rolling Mace to the Handle
Now that you have a dangerous rolling mace made of concrete and nails, you have to move it around the lawn.
Using an old lawn mower handle salvaged from a dead mower, I simply put an axle through the pipe and attached it. Put some washers between the pipe and the handle, although I found it unnecessary because my entire set-up was so loose. Also, because the hole at the end of the handle piece the axle went through was so tight, I found I didn't need caps at the end of the axle.
Pushing it is hard and unwieldy, so I pull it. When you turn you cannot turn on a dime. This requires slow arcs because either a) the nails will rip apart the earth more than you want or b) the earth will cause the nails to bend.
When not using it (most of the year) leave it in the brush. The nails are going to rust, and then I'll build a new one. You can do it right the first time: Use sturdier nails and a fresh bag of Quikrete. See "Afterthoughts" for more.
Step 5: Afterthoughts
As you can see from the photo, the nails bent. They were pretty small; I'm not surprised, but as a prototype it taught me a lot.
You want bigger nails. I would use railroad spikes or big bolts if I can find them. I figure five across, five or six rows for a total of thirty. The larger spikes will not only hold up better, but they will leave decent size holes for aerating. And deep. I had taken a picture of the track this left, but the holes were so small they didn't show up. You want bigger, deeper and sturdier.
While lifting the bucket/mace was heavy, pulling it was a breeze. If your lawn or large (or you're feeling lazy) it would be pretty easy to hook up a hitch for your lawn tractor and just pull it around. My neighbor has one of those barrels that you drag to smooth/flatten the lawn--I assume the same thing could be done with this aerator.