The Garden Stairs

Brooke here.  This post has a lot of pictures but the garden stairs have been dominating the home projects since the trees came down, so that’s okay.

Want to see what our garden stairs used to look like?

Why Brooke, surely you have mislabeled your images. I see no stairs.

Nope, those are the old stairs.  Want a closeup?

Brooke, you really need to relabel your images! Those aren't stairs, or faux-stairs, or even stair-ish.

Need to get closer?  We can do that, what with the technology and all.

cheap ass garden stairs
Now this is getting silly. Those aren't stairs. At best they are chunks of slate dropped in a puddle of concrete..... oh.

While planning the fence project, we laid out what needed to happen.  We needed to (1) install the support posts which (2) were connected to a landing where the gate opened which (3) led to stairs descending into the garden.  And then we looked at this list and realized it was backwards since you don’t build stairs in reverse.  To get to the fence, we had to have the landing, and to have the landing, we had to start with the bottom stair and work up.

We found a good DIY stair plan in a book and adapted it slightly.  The original plan called for a 6″x6″ wood frame with concrete in the center, but we have bricks — lots and lots of bricks — so the center of the frame was changed to accommodate pavers instead of brushed concrete.  The rise of the garden slope was more shallow than what is required for typical stairs, so we lengthened each stair according to the “rule of 25” (a staircase will accommodate the average person’s natural stride if the height of two risers plus the depth of one tread equals 25) and went from there.

6x6x8 lumber, cut to size, sealed, and ready to be turned into frames.

Lengthening the tread has the additional advantage of requiring fewer frames, which is great because these things are crazy-heavy.  We haven’t gotten them on a scale or anything but we’re guessing that a finished frame weighs between 50 to 60 pounds.  A single timber weights only slightly less (precisely two feet of timber less, actually) and is incredibly difficult to handle during cutting and assembly; this works out well for me, since anything which falls into the Brute Strength category of tasks automatically defaults to Brown.

The label said it's a clear sealant. Hm.

While he cuts, I coat the wood using whatever that vat of peanut butter in the image to your right is supposed to be.  It was on clearance and had great user ratings as a sealant for permanent outdoor weatherproofing but the wood turns yellow after I paint it on.  It was advertised as a clear sealant but, no.  Yellow.  I am not on speaking terms with yellow.  I am never on speaking terms with yellow.  Yellow pays child support to green and that’s the closest the two of us will ever get.

The frames are held together by 12″ bolts and are extremely solid.  While Brown screwed the frames together, I dug out the earth and flattened it; then Brown tamped the fresh earth flat with a lovely piece of steel on a stick.

The slate-concrete-things have been removed, and the first frame is in its new home.

After the frame is leveled, I add a couple of bags of gravel and level that, then a layer of weed barrier, then a layer of masonry sand and level that (I’ll do a step-by-step of this process in the next post).  Then comes the fun bit when we secure the frame to the ground:

Outside of mineral excavation, this is the Mother of all drills.

We use a 12″ drill bit to cut through the timber, and then pound it to the ground with 24″ metal spikes.

Spike on left = on its way into ground. Spike on right = full length. Since these are for the first stair, these are the smallest spikes we'll use. The rest of the spikes are 36"... can't wait to hammer those in place.

After this, the pounding has jostled the frame so I go back and relevel the sand.  Finally, the bricks are laid.  Yes, I know there are bricks in the previous image.  Those bricks were to play with layout.  Ignore those bricks.  Those are hypothetical bricks and have no bearing on reality.

And then we test, yet again, to see if the stair frame is level.

Suck it.

My project for the week is to get the remaining pre-assembled stair frames into the ground and the bricks in place.  Since the stairs are turned slightly and some of the bricks are obscured, each stair needs to be completely finished before the next frame is put in place.  The Math says we will probably need to make an additional frame or two but it’s always better to not do more work than necessary and these stairs are a lot of work. If we’re lucky, five stairs will do it.

Next post?  How to brick up your stairs.

3 thoughts on “The Garden Stairs

  1. Those look really cool. The previous stairs… were not stairs. My family has a set of stairs we put into a very steep bit of hill, just some paper-sized sandstone pieces shoved into the ground. And those stairs are better than the previous stairs you had.

    I really like hearing about all your projects. They’re interesting and are giving me ideas for if I ever have a house.

  2. Just a thought: The spikes look a bit close to the edge.

    Might you want them closer in. Also more likely to line up over some part of the lower frame to lock them together.

    We did a garden wall in 6×6 timbers and used an electric chainsaw to cut and TimberLok(tm) screws to assemble. Good Stuff.

    36″ spikes you say. Did you call Dig Safe? 🙂

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