Building Free-Standing Stairs

In February 2019, our 80’ long suspension bridge took a big hit due to an ice-snow storm. An old maple tree above it snapped and came straight for one of the support posts, taking a few trees along with it. The post snapped about in half and the bridge went sideways. The sad event is chronicled here.

The good news was that all the cables and the cable-locking system components were not affected at all. The eye bolt on the broken post that holds the main cable was bent and that was about it for damage other than the post! After a whole lot of cleaning up of debris, my neighbor and I, with some help from the photographer, installed a new (used) power pole and lifted the bridge back up.

The free-standing stairs on either side of the bridge were constructed of recycled materials way back in 2005 and the decking was not meant to be permanent either, so this disaster gave us an important reminder that we needed to do some updating on our bridge.

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The decking is ready to install later in the summer and meanwhile I screwed down planks to keep the bridge safe to walk on for now. The free-standing stairs became more of a priority because they were already falling apart before the storm.

Here are some instructions that assume you have some carpentry experience. Feel free to email me if you don’t understand something.

Pieces Needed (lengths depending on the rise and run of your stairs):
2 – 4×12 pressure-treated beams (stringers)
4 – 2×4 pressure-treated lumber
5 – 2×12 pressure-treated lumber for the steps

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Two rules of thumb for free-standing stairs:
1. One riser plus one tread = approx. 18 inches
2. Two treads plus one riser = approx. 28-29 inches
There are other rules of thumb, such as when dealing with landscaping and low slope terrain, but these two rules will handle almost any building situation.

 

Stairs

When you design your free-standing stairs, you begin with “What is my total rise?” Take that total rise and see how a 7” rise and an 11” run will work (which is the recommended ratio). Divide 7 into your total rise. That will indicate the number of steps (including the landing). My stairs have a 7” riser and 11” tread measured nose-to-nose with a 35″ total rise with a 32-1/2° incline. What if you have a total rise not divisible evenly by 7? Perhaps it’s 34”. 34 ÷ 7 = 4.85. Round 4.85 up to 5. 34 ÷ 5 = 6.8 or 6-25/32 or 6-13/16. With that number, you would just leave the tread at 11”.

If it turns out that you have a total rise that is more evenly divisible by the next higher riser, say 8”, go with that. For example, a 32” rise would give you four 8” steps with a 10” tread (remember the rule of thumb).

Not to belabor this, but you could have a rise of 7-1/2” if it divided into your total rise evenly. And then the tread would be… (you figure it out using the rule of thumb*).

The other question is, “How much space in front of my stairs do I have to work with?” If you are in tight quarters and the rise would end up being more than is comfortable for walking, then you’ll make a landing and turn the stairs at an angle to gain more run that gets you to your final landing. You can also build an alternating-tread ladder stair. I built one and will blog about it soon but I think there are instructions for it online.

Process: The layout is carefully marked on the two 4×12 pressure treated beams (stringers), and cut. The steps will fit into slots in the beams and screwed from the sides. My slots are 3/4” deep.

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To carve a slot, I use my skilsaw to cut multiple passes, then chisel out. It’s easy to knock out the remaining wood after cutting. The very back where the round blade doesn’t reach needs extra work.

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Pre-drill the holes for the screws.

Each beam is attached to a vertical 2×4 pressure-treated piece, based upon your total rise. Also, each beam has a horizontal pressure-treated piece based on your total run. I used a wood preservative in the slots to give them extra protection from rot.

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For the near-stairs, I screwed in the steps and hauled the assembly to the bridge site.

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For the far-stairs, I assembled the components on-site.

* 10-1/2”

Thanks for stopping by. Be sure to check out our book about building this strong bridge. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2020 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Scaling Up the Size of the Yurt – the Beams

Let’s consider the beams for the 20 foot yurt. For the book I used a 4.5/12 slope and for practical reasons I would use it for your project. I’ve walked on many different sloped roofs and on some that couldn’t be walked on without ropes. I can say that you can comfortably walk or work on a roof that is a 4.5/12 slope.

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One thing that you may not immediately notice is that I assign the slope to the beam and not the roof plane. Why do that? If you use the roof plane you subsequently have to calculate the “hip” (that joint that joins the adjacent abutting planes) of the roof structure; i.e. directly over where the beams run. Why make things more complicated? Because the beam’s lengths are determined using a slope calculation, it simplifies your calculations. So now to that calculation.

When you solve for the hypotenuse of your 4.5/12 slope (triangle) you have a 4.5” leg perpendicular to a 12” base leg (level). Both squared (20.25+ 144) gives you 164.25 and the square root of that is 12.816 (your hypotenuse). How does all of this relate to the beam? Two things: first for every foot on the level that the beam travels the beam rises by 4 1/2 inches (so for a theoretical beam of 10 feet the “up” end is 45 inches higher) and second, for every foot traveled horizontally (on the level) the beam’s length increases by X 1.068 (so in our 10 feet run the beam grows to (10 X 1.068) or 10.68’ which is just over 10’-8”.

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So to complete the beam length calculations you have to subtract the skylight ring assembly and add the overhang you want (here beams are assumed to go all the way to the center of the yurt). Both of these are accomplished in the same manner as above.

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For the skylight, take the diagonal of the framing of the skylight ring (a level measurement from one corner to the opposite corner) and then halve that. That is then taken from the beam overall length, after calculating the “sloping” length.

The overhang is a bit different. To make it simple just consider the overhang equal to whatever you extend the beam tail (whatever is hanging past the walls). So, if you wanted a two foot overhang, just extend the beam out two feet (using the slope calculation, of course). This will be close enough for a two foot overhang.
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Pic2Otherwise, if you want a more precise dimension for your overhang you will need to do some more calculations. This requires a bit of trigonometry. It goes like this: Say you want a two foot overhang. This is a two foot projection that is horizontal (level) from the wall and parallel to the wall. Since we know the number of sides we have, we get the number of divisions in the 360 degree circle. That gives us the peak angle for our triangle. We will use 1/2 of that angle (see drawing below). Our long side of the triangle is 2’ (our overhang). So solving for the hypotenuse: recalling our trig formulas: CAH — cosine of the angle = adjacent side divided by the hypotenuse. Solving for H we divided through by A to get H=C/A. Now do the “rise” calculation from above to get the actual beam overhang length. This sounds like a lot of work, but honestly, it’s easier than reading this entire article!

Be sure to get a copy of the book which explains the rest of building a wood-framed panelized yurt. It’s available on Amazon in color paperback, color ebook, and b&w paperback. And hey, if you build a yurt after reading our book, please send photos to share, thanks!

Here are the links to purchase the book:

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, in color

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, black & white

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Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt: the book

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We have a book! Actually, we have two books. Links to purchase them are below. Color printing costs were high on a 176 page book, so we also published a black and white version. The price is about 40% less than the color version, and the photos are clear enough to illustrate the task at hand.

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Here are the links:

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, in color

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, black & white

yurtbooks

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, Pt. VI: Floor Plan, Roof Plan and Materials List

Here is the floor plan for this yurt. People who require more details will benefit by purchasing the book, which will be released in September 2018.

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Here is the roof plan for this yurt.

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And here is the almost complete materials list with prices based on costs in Lane County, Oregon. All of this will be included in the book, along with an illustrated cut-list.

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And last but not least, Robin has been working on the front and back cover for the book. Here’s a peek at how it looks now. We’re hoping to finish the yurt in the next two weeks, and will have an updated photo for the front cover. Thanks for looking, and stay tuned!

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Illustrations copyright ©2018 by Marvin A. Denmark; cover design and photographs copyright ©2018 by Robin Koontz. Please do not share without written permission, thank you!

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, Pt. IV: The Rafters

raftertops

Once the cable is tightened around the tops of the walls and the ring tower is centered, it’s time for rafters. The ends are now cut for the fascia, and the other ends are invert-cut to fit against the corners of the ring assembly.

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I placed each rafter in a corner, then put Robin on the tower and handed up the first rafter beam.

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She held the beam while I climbed the ladder across from her. Nothing is heavy, but definitely not a job for one person.

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The metal ring and the wood ring behind it were pre-drilled, so a bolt was placed and Robin hammered it in. This secures the rafter beam to the ring. The cable through holes in the rafter ends will tie it all together.

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Looking like a yurt now! Next is the cable, then the roof panels.

We are writing a book about the entire process from start to finish so we can share how to build this yurt with anyone who is interested! Stay tuned as we progress, and be sure to watch for news on the book.

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Thanks for stopping by! Photos taken by Marvin Denmark and Robin Koontz.

Building and Assembling a Wood-framed Panelized Yurt: the Basics

I also write DIYs for Instructables.com and just posted one about the yurt. You can find it here: Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt. I entered it in their Tiny Homes Contest so if you like it, please vote, thanks! Voting ends October 1, 2018. I need a new camera. 🙂

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Meanwhile, I’ve been posting more on the YurtYaks Facebook page than I have here, so if you’re curious about the rafter installation and the roof panel assembly, head over there! I’m busy finishing up the book, so will be back soon!

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Thanks for stopping by! Photos copyright ©2018 by Robin Koontz.

DIY Rustic Barnwood Table

OldBarn-SnowIn 1980, an unusually heavy snowfall severely damaged the old wooden barn on our place. We propped the roof up and used the barn for another 10 years or so before taking it down and building a replacement.

My beautiful pictureMost of the Douglas fir wood was damaged, but we saved the rest and have used it for various projects, plus have given a lot of it away.

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We wanted a small table with a shelf to fit between our two recliners: something more interesting than the usual fare. I decided to create a table that appeared to be rustic old. The old fir barn wood fit the bill! I chose pieces that still had some red tone from the hundred-year-old paint job.

I won’t include measurements here because you can make your table any size you want, just by following these steps.

After cutting and sanding all the pieces for the project, I glued the three top pieces together (center plus two sides). I clamped them flat and glued with wood glue.

For the end pieces, I cut a 3/8 inch slot on each end of the table and on each end piece, then splined the top and ends with (3/4 inch blade-kerf width) wood splines and glued. Once dry, I tapered the sides from center to end.

I scorched the exposed edges to continue with the vintage look. Metal pieces clamped in place prevented me from scorching the top or bottom.

I assembled the apron next, then inserted the pre-cut corner blocks. These were cut out for the leg tenons.

The table saw blade is set at 45° so that all the cuts on the legs are 45°. Meanwhile with a tapering jig against the fence, the tapering jig is set so that the leg will taper 1/4″ in its entire length as it is being cut. I screwed in tying blocks and taped them to the leg top surface to keep the leg from sliding as it was being cut. I used a homemade pushing stick to keep my hand away from the blade.

I taped the leg parts together as a test for fit, and once okay, glued and clamped.

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I cut out the leg tenons using multiple passes on a table saw and then cleaned them up using a chisel. It was a tricky business with the old, brittle wood.

I assembled the top to the apron, using tape for correct placement, then screwed the apron to the table top through the pre-drilled holes in the blocks.

I inserted each leg tenon into the blocks and screwed through the pre-drilled hole in the middle.

I custom-made metal tabs that would hold the shelf using some metal scrap I had around.

The tabs were installed at the height of the bottom of the shelf.

FinishedTable

I applied a clear lacquer finish to prevent any modern stains. I like that all the flaws are historic.

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our suspension bridge book. Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Stay tuned for the publication of our new book, Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt. You can see how the yurt is progressing via Facebook’s Yurt Yaks.

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2018 by Marvin Denmark and Robin Koontz unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without permission. Thank you.

 

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt, Pt. III: The Ring Tower

After a long, wet winter, we finally got a few sunny days to assemble the ring to the tower and then lift it up! To note, this is a ring for a 6′ dome and we’ll be talking about a 3′ dome in the book. It’s a lot easier to build and manage. This 6′ ring weighed about 200 pounds. As you can see, there’s a 12g metal ring inside (for added strength) that adds to the weight. FinishedRing6-ft

The ring will be temporarily held in place by a tower. Once the rafters are bolted into place, the tower goes away. When I assembled yurts in the past, the tower wood would be salvaged and used for interior wall framing.

Tower-on-Side

Once the components were ready and it was dry enough to drive to the yurt, it was time for installation. The tower was built so I could just take out a couple of screws and then finish assembly on-site. The ring required a neighbor with a strong back to muscle it into its new home.

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You can see the tower parts on the right side of the yurt. I assembled the tower on the inside, given that it would not fit through the door otherwise.

The next step was to attach the tower to the ring…

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and strap it in readiness for hoisting. To keep the bottom from sliding out I attached a cable that laced through the outside legs and bolted to two walls on either side.

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After shoving it against the far wall, I jacked it up about 2-1/2′ to make the angle of the strap going over the doorway and to the truck a little less severe. I installed a cut pipe on the doorway so the strap would slide easily. You can see the cable attached to the wall in this photo.

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And there she is! You can see the movie on our Facebook page or by heading over to this link on YouTube.

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I put small lengths of conduit underneath the tower so that I could shove it into place after determining the center.

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The last step was to turn it so it is lined up to the 12 rafter corners on the walls. Check out the homemade plumb bobs (plummets).

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We’re ready for the rafters! Stay tuned while we once again wait for it to stop raining.

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We are writing a detailed book about the entire process from start to finish so we can share how to build this yurt with anyone who is interested! Be sure to check back as we progress, and be on the watch for news on the book. You can also find us on Facebook.

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Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt
by Marvin Denmark and Robin Koontz
ISBN-13: 978-0692957370
ISBN-10: 0692957375

Thanks for stopping by! Photos by Robin Koontz and Marvin Denmark.

Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt

When most people hear the word “yurt,” they think of one of these.

Nomadic tents known as Yurt at the Issyk Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan

Or maybe one of these.

Yaks in the plains of Mongolia

While it’s true that most yurts are constructed with wood framing (or sticks) and covered with animal skins (like yak) and/or canvas, a more solidly built yurt is also a traditional building design, such as this one.

Wooden Mongolian yurt

I built and/or consulted on several wood-panelized yurts of various sizes in the years before I retired in 2011. I decided that a fun retirement project would be to build my own version of a wood-framed panelized yurt on our property. Here’s one of the yurts I built in recent years, with help from a team of strong arms. Mine is a similar design.

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Yurt under construction near Eugene, Oregon

For my yurt, I began by building a foundation.

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Then I built 12 floor panels.

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Then I built 12 wall panels.

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Then I built 12 roof panels.

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I cut and finished 12 rafters.

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I constructed a huge wooden ring, which houses the skylight dome. All of this work spanned many months, between other projects. But with all the pieces done, it was time to put it all together.

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This week, our neighbor came over to help install the floor panels. It took us about an hour.

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The walls are next, and then the wall cable, and then the tower….well, there are a few steps to get to completion, and it will take however long it takes. I will keep you posted.

And FYI, we are writing a book about the entire process so we can share how to build this yurt with anyone who is interested! Stay tuned as we progress, and be sure to watch for news on the book. Here is the tentative cover, designed by Robin Koontz. That’s a yurt that I built in Florence, Oregon.

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Building a Wood-Framed Panelized Yurt
by Marvin Denmark and Robin Koontz
ISBN-13: 978-0692957370
ISBN-10: 0692957375

Thanks for stopping by! The first three photos are owned by istock.com, the rest were taken by Robin Koontz. Cover design by Robin Koontz, copyright 2017.

 

How to Build a Small Cable Suspension Bridge

INSTRUCTABLE-BRIDGE-LOGOWildcatMarvin

As mentioned, we built this bridge and wrote a “how we did it” book about the process a few years ago. Recently, I thought it would be fun to share the basics of this design as an Instructable for people who have enough skill to be able to take the information and work with it. And as we do in our book, we recommend having your specific design approved by an engineer just to be on the safe side.

Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge – the Basics Plus a Video Demo

I entered their “Outdoor” contest and you can kindly vote if you like by clicking the little vote button at the top of the instructable page. Thanks! I need a t-shirt.

UPDATE: Thank you for your votes – were a winner! We won a t-shirt and a waycool  Campstove 2 from BioLite Energy!

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