Monday, November 12, 2007

They're doozies


Erika had figured out the basic stair specs on paper earlier in the week. The plan was to build new wooden steps over, but independent of, the crumbling concrete monolith that came with the house. The hard part was figuring out how to draw the first two lines on the 2x12x16 planks from which we would cut our stringers (the end pieces that form the frame of the steps). See exhibit 1A:

But we did figure it out. And once you make the first two marks, it's repetition the whole way down the board. This was something that I would have preferred to cut with a guide, but because of various problems in positioning the saw, we just decided to go free hand circular saw. I made the cuts leaving a small bit in the corner of each one, and Sarah and Seth would complete the cuts with the hand saw.

We carried our stringers to the existing stairs to make sure that they measured up - and they did. We fitted a 2x6 plank to the face of the face of the porch at the top step - this is what we screwed the top of the stringers to. Next, we cut two risers to length, and nailed one on about half way up the steps and nailed the other closer to the bottom of the steps. This was done to hold the stringers square. Some sledgehammering was necessary to knock down some of the existing steps that were interfering with the new risers. Now we knew exactly where they would end up. Next, we set the posts at the bottom of the stairs into their holes, made sure they were plumb, and clamped them to the stringers.

Last, concrete was mixed in the wheelbarrow and shoveled into the post holes. We left them to cure overnight, and went inside to where Mom had been cooking an early Thanksgiving dinner for us all. We feasted and celebrated into the night!


As Erika mentioned, we got a late start on working, but an early start on enjoying the clear, crisp November morning.

Many ideas were tossed around trying to figure out the best way to engineer supports for the stair treads. If we didn't have the existing concrete steps in the way, a staircase of this width would require two additional stringers distributed between the outer ones to support the steps. We needed to put some blocks in there instead, but as usual, we're not dealing with consistent sizes. Every block would be different. The idea that stuck was to use 2x4s cut to length. To obtain the correct height, we would mix up some mortar and make a pile underneath each 2x4 block before setting them in, pushing each one down until it was flush with the riser. Then, we would screw them in place through the face of the risers.

It took a while to measure and cut all these blocks - 24 in all. Sarah got to be good with the mitre saw. Once these were all layed out, Dad mixed up the mortar and we began making piles. Erika would make a pile, I would set the block in place, Dad would pack the mortar in, I would set the screws.

Mom had spent most of the day cutting down the ailanthus trees around the front of the house. The front edge of the yard looks so much better! As it grew dark, Sarah hauled the downed trees out to the woods.

We were getting close and didn't want to stop there. Time for the treads! Since we were facing the task of cutting 24 planks the exact same length, Dad and Erika attempted to make a jig of sorts for the mitre saw which entailed securing the saw to the table and positioning the table with the concrete base of the old stairs. This wasn't going to be accurate enough, so we stuck with measuring each cut individually. We got pretty quick with this - measure/cut/unload/load/repeat.

One by one, on went the treads. We designed it to be two planks per step, split down the length to allow water to drain. Inch and a half hanging over the ends, one inch overhang in the front. We used screws as spacing gauges. Erika and I screwed 'em down. Before really getting a good look at what we had done, everyone bustled around clearing tools and putting things away.

Then, we all stood around on the porch, looking down at our new steps. We toasted our hard work, then carved our names into the cement piles at the top of the steps.

We're not completely done, of course. We left the first and last steps off because they will require a couple of fancier cuts which we wanted to save for when we were better rested. Also, we've got to add the hand rails. No problem though, we'll take care of that stuff this week.

It was great, as usual, to have everyone here. And, as usual, we accomplished a tremendous amount of work, ate an enormous amount of food, and had a super time.

Thanks so much!

- John

1 comment:

matty said...

Those porch steps look great. I finally got Permit-The-Frog in my Google Reader so I should be better able to follow along with your adventures. And now the holidays approach and I still haven't scheduled a visit!