I Built New Steps

As my spring blogging frenzy ended*, I decided to tackle a home maintenance project that needed doing.

*Starting in March, I wrote 56 blog posts in 58 days for Lake of the Woods Ice Patrol.

I took several hundred aerial photographs and also received pictures from many other contributors. I edited and posted about 200 photos to document the lake’s spring thaw.

Ice Patrol hit new highs for numbers of visits, shattering the old mark of 10,000 visits in a week by hitting 14,000 and 16,000 in consecutive weeks.

This is more traffic than Timothy Gwyn Writes by several orders of magnitude, so thanks for visiting!

When we bought this house, it had crumbling concrete front steps. I jack-hammered them out long ago and replaced them with wooden steps. However, those  began to fail last year as rust weakened the little metal brackets that supported the treads.

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I made some temporary repairs last fall, but it was time for an overhaul. I figured a professional could do this in a weekend. I am not a pro, so I booked a week off work.

If I was going to do a major rebuild, I wanted to make one important design change. The old steps were steep, and one winter I took a nasty fall when they were icy. I wanted steps with big enough treads for secure footing. After much pondering, I decided the best way to achieve this was to raise the height of the landing. That way I could make the lower flight stretch out closer to the sidewalk, and the upper flight could keep the same run over a smaller rise.

The old landing sat directly on the concrete slab. Here you can see the frame of the new landing, raised about fifteen inches. This is now the fixed position from which the other stairs will rise to the front door and descend to the sidewalk. Because the sidewalk is steeply sloped, I don’t have to worry about getting the bottom step at the correct height, and there’s some wiggle room at the front door, too.

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I had to redo part of this because I forgot to double the joists on the two sides that would support the flights of steps, but it wasn’t hard to correct.

Next was decking the landing to make it easier to walk back and forth to where my stack of boards and saw were located.

To gap the boards, I used a fistful of shims, pushed in the same distance to get the spacing even. This works even if the old boards are a smidge out of square.

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Here’s the beefed up landing with the stringers for the lower flight attached. I used steel stringers because I could get the rise and run I wanted. Positioning and leveling the concrete paving slabs was simply a matter of being patient and picky. I have these qualities in abundance.

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The treads went on, and the lower flight became usable, allowing us to reach our back door from the street. I moved the mailbox back to its regular spot. But my week off was half over, and there was still lots to do.

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In the picture above, note the upper landing by the front door. It was worn, and I wanted to rebuild it before the upper flight went on, so that all the steps would be the same height.

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This shows the revised landing at the front door. It’s just quarter of an inch higher than the old one, but it’s also extended by several inches to mate up with the stringer for the upper flight of steps.

Decking the upper landing would be next. It’s wider than I thought, (either I forgot to measure it, or I didn’t remember it correctly) so I had to go back to the lumberyard for some longer 2×6’s.

I got the steps finished before my week off was over, but not the handrail, so I built the railing on the following weekend.

The old rail was awkward. Not only was it too low, the wide cap on top didn’t offer a secure grip. Inconveniently, the house siding was put on after the rail was attached, so I had to cut and patch some of the siding.

Here’s my design, with double board posts, a 2×4 cap, and a 2×6 railing to hold on to.

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I did this whole project with a hand-held Skil-saw. A miter saw or radial-arm saw would have made some of these angled cuts easier.

The picture above doesn’t really show the corner post. It’s built up, herringbone style, from different width boards.

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Because of the corner post’s doubled L-shaped cross section, and because the lower handrail is anchored to the massive wooden retaining wall near the sidewalk, the whole railing is extremely sturdy.

I’m happy to say the new steps really do feel easier and safer to climb, and I’m proud of how they look.

 

 

Bigger Better Bookshelf

After I came home from When Words Collide, I had the remainder of the week off to unpack, do laundry, restock the fridge, and all that stuff that’s a giant hassle if you have to fit it in around a full schedule of work.

I also had a carpentry project in mind. My main bookshelf is an odd thing. It was built out of 2×8 planks, and it was originally a sort of room divider in the kitchen. Just over three feet wide, it reached from floor to ceiling, with a mixed layout of shelves. When we remodeled the kitchen, I moved it to the study and used it for books and stuff. As you can see, stuff fit better than books. Although it had a few spaces tall enough for an atlas, as a bookshelf, it wasn’t very deep.

I didn’t take a proper before picture. This was snapped after I began. The part that is stained is the original unit. Note the brackets fastening it to the wall.

The new part is framed in pale wood, fresh from the lumberyard. The second lumberyard. The first one didn’t have three ten-foot 2×8 planks that were straight with smooth edges. So that took all day. On the bright side, I paid less than $50 for the lumber, and about $20 for a pack of deck screws. Any other materials I used were leftovers from previous projects.

Large books hang over the edge of the original design, and many of the shelves are too low to hold books standing upright. So the next step was to take out all the small shelves. These were robustly attached with 4″ twist nails. A claw hammer wouldn’t do it. I had to loosen the nails by pounding with a massive steel mallet (and a scrap board), then lever them out with a pry bar.

So here’s the empty frame. You can see the row of holes in the bottom shelf for the dowels that will connect the new part to the old.

…and here it is with the new section stained and fastened on. I used a gel stain because I am bad with drips if I use a liquid. I do not own a table saw, so cutting the shelves to a consistent length took much measuring and clamping down of guides for the skill saw.

I do, however, own a dowel jig, a legacy from my father. The double-depth shelves are doweled together, including the bottom shelf, where the new wood meets the old. This helped with alignment. None of the planks are perfectly straight, but you can’t tell by eye.

Here it is with the four original full-width shelves reinstalled in the upper portion. Those are spaced at 10″ to hold hardcovers and trade paperbacks. On the new part, the bottom shelf is 16″ high for oversize books, then the next two up are 12″ for reference books and one of my surround-sound speakers. The shelves are now secured with 4″ deck screws, on account of I suck at driving nails.

This is the completed project, with books installed, plus a carbon monoxide detector. The revised layout gobbled up all the books from the old version, plus every book from a second bookshelf, and still has space for more.

It’s shimmed in one corner because the floor is not level. The whole thing is also secured to a wall stud with a sturdy bracket.

This bookshelf is much more rigid than any particle-board shelving unit. Those planks are strong enough for me to stand on; they will never sag. If you have a ton of books, shelves made from cheap but sturdy lumber might be the way to go.