By now you may have noticed that I am a confirmed tightwad. Cheap is good, free is better, (as long as an item is still usable of course). With this in mind, you can imagine my joy at the opportunity to pilfer a pile of debris filled with old concrete blocks.
The pile of debris in question is from an old block building that had burned and been hauled away and dumped. BURNED is an important term here because the heat involved weakens the blocks making them useless for building structures. However, they are great for low retaining walls, compost pile boundaries, cold frame sides and any number of other projects. The trick is to know whether they are burned or not, since the ash and soot soon wash away with rain, making them appear the same as any other blocks. The rule of thumb is that if you don't know if used blocks have been burned, consider that they have been and don't use them for buildings.
Unfortunately, free isn't always exactly free. Yes, I acquired the blocks at no cost, but the catch is that they are not cleaned and neatly stacked, or better yet, delivered. I had to dig them out of the pile, haul them and chisel the old mortar away. Not as bad as it sounds, but if I had something I could use that time and energy for that would make a lot of money, it might have been cheaper to buy new blocks. There is also the potential for smashed fingers and toes in the process. The good news is that it doesn't all have to be done the same day. Once the blocks are on site, they can be cleaned a little at a time when there is a spare minute, and with gloves and caution, the blocks end up free for the hauling.
As with acquiring any material, it is important to know how much you will need. With used blocks it is a good idea to get several more than you will need. A certain amount of breakage is inevitable in the cleaning process, and in the end, a few extras will come in handy for other projects. Don't feel too bad if a few get broken. They aren't wasted because the ones that have one half intact can be used for offsetting the corners, and the small pieces along with the old mortar can be used as fill stone in other projects.
In the end, I have enough blocks for a couple of projects here on dave's farm, and maybe even a few for use on anna's farm as well. The only cost was a little gas and some work. That is a hard combination to beat.