The Garden Stairs (2)

Brooke here.  In the previous post, I described the garden stairs with broad strokes of the brush.  Now let’s go over some of those fine fiddly bits which are so critical in those paintings of wide-eyed fluffy kittens.

These images are all of the installation of the third frame, so at the time these pictures were taken there were two stairs already completed.  As each frame is built into the next, each frame serves as a support structure to each successive stair.

First, the foundation:

Clear the foundation of organics. Even if these are pounded flat and the earth is perfectly level, organics will rot over time and cause voids in the earth. Some voids might be larger than others.
When you tamp it, make sure you use a lot of force to fill the back of the box... What? Put your eyebrows down.

After the foundation has been pounded, then you take your box and…  sorry, too easy.*  Frames.  These are frames.  Dear self, mother reads blog, do not go blue…

Level your frame and prepare to drill the right-hand corners. Placing stakes in these corners will lock this frame into the lower frame.
Be sure to run a pencil along the bottom edge. This will give you a guide line to keep the frames and the holes aligned if the vibrations cause the top frame to shimmy out of position.

After the holes were drilled, we pounded 36″ spikes into them.  At the completion of the project there will be four spikes on each frame, but as the two spikes at the back of each frame lock it to the preceding one, we are generally concerned only with the two at the front of the frame.   In this instance, the spikes lock the front of Frame No. 3 to the back of Frame No. 2, and then travel down another two feet to hold both frames to the earth.

After this, the paver base is added.  Paver base is a layer of coarse gravel followed by a layer of sand.

Since the frame is 6" deep, a minimum of two bags of paver base is required. They tell you that one bag will do it but they are dirty liars.
Cut a layer of weed barrier to fit, then add a bag and a half of paver sand. Again, they say one bag will be enough but they also like it when you come back to the store and give them more money.

All paver sand is not created equal.  The fluff in the above image is from Lowes and it might as well have been Magic Sparkle Princess sand; a pinkish hue and huge shiny white and rose quartz pebbles do not scream adventures in home improvement (they scream other things, such as tea parties and cats doing terrible things in the sandbox when Mother rushes inside for the phone).  Home Depot, by comparison, has great paver sand.  It’s what we’ve been using in lieu of mortar and we’ll be buying it from now on.

Tamp down your Magic Sparkle Princess sand several times. Even if you think it's packed down as far as it will go, it's not. Keep pounding away at it until OH GOD THIS POST IS KILLING ME.

Once the sand is finally tamped down as far as it will go, it’s time to start adding the bricks.  We’re using the recycled (leftover, whatever) bricks we salvaged from the pool patio.    Pros?  Free!  Beautiful!  Antiques!  Cons?  Well, antique pavers are not the same size.  There is more cutting than we’d like, and placing bricks is usually guesswork to see which one is the best fit for a specific gap, so it’s sort of like doing a puzzle with rocks and power tools.

Try to start from the far right corner and work towards the upper left. Also: grrrr puppy.

When laying a paver, you place it on the sand and gently wiggle it — just a little! — into the sand bed.  Then do the same with the brick to its left and so on, working in rows.  It’s important to not jam each brick tightly against each other since sand needs to go there.  Most modern pavers have tabs to keep each brick evenly spaced, but since these pavers are anywhere from 20 to 60 years old, I tend to swear a lot and am constantly readjusting the spacing.

Fully bricked! How pretty! Wouldn't it be nice if we were finished? Good luck with that!
Dump about a fourth of a bag of null-Sparkle-Princess paver sand on the bricks. Don't worry if this looks like too much sand. The bricks will eat it.
Spread the paver sand over the bricks. Then walk away for an hour. Then spread the paver sand over the bricks. Then walk away for an hour. Shampoo instructions etc. etc.

Seriously, at this point in the project the best thing you can do is grab your sledgehammer.  Take it and start tapping (very gently) all four sides of the frame.  Don’t hit the bricks.  Just hit the outside of the wood frame and you’ll see the cracks between the bricks as the sand falls down.  Do this as many times as you can.  The purpose of sanding the bricks is to keep them from moving around, and to do this you have to wedge as much sand as possible between the cracks to get the bricks to stabilize.  Paver sand in bags is typically damp; whether it’s shipped wet or it’s stored outside in garden centers and exposed to rain, I don’t know, but it’s usually moist when I crack the bag.  Wet sand doesn’t want to get into cracks so you have to keep moving it around and tapping the frame until the sand dries and falls down between the bricks.

And then you have completed a stair!

Eight more to go!

* That’s what she said.  Happy birthday, Fuzz.

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