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.

89078922_2882351408499087_5029192406222766080_o

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

RiseTread

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.

1

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.

2

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.

7

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

9

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.

Hoisting a Suspension Bridge to its New Post

This was the next part of the repair process. Once the post was installed, gravel was shoveled in and tamped. The official tamper tool was too big at first so a 2×4 worked. Next they hooked up the cable to the dead-man and tightened the turnbuckle, which will be adjusted again later. Then it was time for a beer! The hard part was over.

P1020049

Now it was time to hoist the bridge. They used the come-along again, which worked okay but seemed like it needed help. It took a bit of regrouping, but finally they added a cable winch so there were two devices working instead of one. It took time, but the 80′ bridge was eventually hoisted! All pictured here happened in about 5 hours, including beer breaks.

BridgeUp

BridgeUp2She’s a little beat up and broken, but at least she’s up!

CheeseThe obligatory cheesy grin, photo compliments of the amazing Keith Grossman!

KeithIsFirstWe cleaned off the leaves and the boys crossed the bridge, Keith first. The decking is pretty badly damaged but it was okay for now. Nice not to have to walk across that creek again this winter, assuming the bridge stays out of trouble. Here’s to hope!

Next, Marvin will be straightening things out and making it a little safer for crossing. We’ll replace all the decking as time and weather allows.

Thanks for stopping by. Check out the movie on our Facebook page! And, 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 2013-2019 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Replacing the Post on a Small Cable Suspension Bridge

P1020046100_8407

P1020059

As you might remember, February 25, 2019 was a bad day for our 80′ suspension bridge that we built in 2005. Part of a large maple tree weighted down from heavy snow decided to break and fall directly on one of the support posts on the other side of the creek, bringing lots of other trees with it. Once it thawed and we could get someone over to clean up the mess, we assessed the damage. We had to replace the post, which involved many steps, and most of the decking. Also, we had to raise the bridge again.

We lined up a contractor and a crew to do the work with Marvin’s supervision, but they were busy and having a hard time fitting us in. Summer came and went, and when the rains started this fall, we decided we could do it ourselves with help from our neighbor (and plenty of beer!). We are not as young as we were when we built this bridge, but we still have the same determination to get the job done. To note, since the damage is on the other side of the creek, everything had to be done by human power and ingenuity. And did I mention plenty of beer? I think I did.

Beers

dig it

 

DigItTools

One of the first tasks was to dig up the old post. All went well until we realized it was buried 4′ deep, not 3′. We should have read our book! The last foot or so needed a special tool since there was no room for a shovel. The cut cake pan worked the best. Cut the pan and then screw the two halves together and we had a quick and easy gravel scoop!

CutNewPostCarvePostEnd

We used a power pole again, though this one is pretty substantial. The end was carved for the metal collar that connects to the bridge cable and to the cable to the dead man. Holes were drilled and the raw end was treated with preservative.

BangingCollar

Marvin had to chisel the collar off the old post, then he replaced both eye bolts, which were bent when the trees hit the post. The eye bolt for the bridge cable is 3/4″ and the one for the dead man cable is 5/8″.

The above collection of photos shows some of the post-wrangling. The two guys used a pee-vee, cables, chains, and a handy little tractor on the opposite side to get the post across the 40 foot wide creek with steep banks on both sides. There’s a movie of some of this on our Facebook page, link below. If you wonder why a lot of cable is wrapped up on the tractor bucket, that’s because we had to reel it in as the post headed across the creek.

PostReadyAndTripodTripodPulley

Next, the boys built a tripod using 20′ 2x4s and installed a pulley at the top. At first they had rope to pull up the post, but it was soon replaced with cable because the post was heavier than estimated.

They used a come-along which worked to get the post raised so much, then the post had to be secured, the rope loosened, and the come-along reset. It took several resets before the post finally drifted above the hole.

InPost

 

TargetAim

The last trick was to center the post on the pin in the concrete pad as it was lowered into the 4′ deep hole.

PostIn

The new post is in place!

BridgeSpanWithNewPostIt was cool to see the new post up and almost ready for the bridge deck. Next, we back-fill with gravel (by hand of course) and tamp it in. Stay tuned, and be sure to watch for exciting movies on our Facebook Page here!

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

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2019 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Suspension Bridge VS Big Tree: Bridge Wins!

February 25, 2019 was not a good day for our suspension bridge. A snowstorm hit that weekend with 8-12 inches of wet, heavy snow, and trees started falling everywhere. Power was out all over the state, including here (which isn’t that unusual given our rural location). But alas, one big alder tree snapped and landed on one of the bridge posts, breaking it in half. Here’s what we were faced with when we cleared out the mess on the our side:

BridgeNorth

The cable-locking system held up as did all the stringers. We can’t see the other end of the main cable but assume it is also okay. Just nothing there to hold it up anymore!

BridgeDamage1

Since the creek is still too high/freezing cold to cross, we can’t easily assess all the damage. But the bridge is “hanging in there” until help can arrive. Hopefully our spring won’t need any maintenance in the meantime.

Once we cut away the mess, we’ll need to dig out the old post (three feet), get another post across the creek and in place, tamped in with gravel, and then all the hardware re-attached. The decking will have to be removed so the structure can be lifted up more easily. As for the dead man, we’ll have to find out how it fared the blow.

BridgeDamage2

You can see the tree that did the deed just uphill from the bridge. Nice aim, tree!

BridgeDamage3

Ah well, it was time to replace the decking anyway. We’re looking for metal paneling of some kind (that we can afford). I’ll post photos of the fix later in the spring! Onward. P.S.: We’re getting too old for this sh*t.

UPDATE: So far we replaced the post, reattached the main cable and cranked the bridge back into place. You can see how those things happened here and here. We also built new new sets of stairs, and how to do that is here and also is a featured Instructable.

Lichen and Moss, Green but not always Mean

What’s that green stuff? People, including house inspectors, don’t like to see anything green on house siding, decking or roofing. As we learned last year, even the FHA has a hissy fit over the color green, and will demand eradication, cleaning and painting, even if the green stuff is not damaging anything.
lichen-HouseIn our case, our 35-year-old house’s cedar siding had a few areas with tiny little hairy lichens happily blowing in the breeze along with a few patches of algae. There were no signs of damage after three and a half decades.

But even though the FHA regulations clearly stated that cedar siding was exempt from the rules regarding wood siding, we still had to provide the funds to pressure-wash and stain the house before we could sell it.

The deed was done and the sale went through. We just hope they were careful, as pressure-washing can be much harder on cedar siding than any amount of lichen.

Lichens are a “plantlike” hybrid of fungus and algae that grow all over the world. The self-sufficient stuff can flourish anywhere as long as it gets a little bit of moisture on occasion. It doesn’t retain much of that moisture and it doesn’t take root, making it easy to remove and control. Lichens don’t bother trees and shrubs unless their growth blocks light to the leaves. But people freak out about lichens anyway.

Moss, on the other hand, is a real plant, and even though anything green growing on a roof is often called moss, this is the real bad guy. Mosses are generally found in shady, wet places. That’s why we see mosses in the woods, especially in wetter climates such as western Oregon. We also see them on roofs, decks, and other structures where debris and water can collect and provide a foothold for it to grow and spread. Mosses break down whatever they attach to, providing a surface cover and moist soil environment for other plants. It’s great stuff, but not if it’s chomping on your house or your bridge!
MossyBridge

This is one of our small trail bridges, in sad need of a good cleaning. It is obviously located deep in the woods, and is victim to leaves, fir needles, vines, sticks, and of course, moss.

My spousal unit came up with an easy way to clean the leaves and other debris that collect on all our bridges. A long-handled squeegee for washing windows makes quick work of the task. But alas, this bridge decking has been adopted by moss mostly because of our neglect. For now, we plan to carefully chip the rest of the green stuff away with a knife, as the decking appears to be secure enough for another year or two anyway.

The under-structure is pressure-treated and so far oblivious to the spongy, green, wood sucking plant. Lichen would have been welcome!

MossyBridge2MossyBridge3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out our bridge book. It includes some cool ideas that apply to other projects, like how to put a really tall post into a deep hole when you aren’t that tall. Amazon has the book on sale for about $13.00 right now. Here is the link: Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System
Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2015 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.

Photographic Journaling

I’m not exactly someone who keeps a formal journal, but I keep a lot of records. They are for reference or just as a way to look back and remember what I did that day, that month, that year.

One of the many helpful advantages of digital photography is the ability to take and store photographic records. It’s easy and virtually free, once you have the device, to document and store the process for any project. Publishing the book Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge was an afterthought after I finished building my bridge, but luckily my spousal unit had recorded most of the steps, using our first digital camera. That old beast used 3-1/2 inch floppy disks (remember those?) and the photos were low resolution. But with some computer magic, we had enough photos to chronicle the steps I used to construct the bridge. Many photos were taken just for fun and our own life journal, but others were for reference.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASince my first bridge was a “Golden Gate” style suspension bridge, the stringers were of varying lengths with obvious repeats on each side. I installed the connection “eyes” to the stringers and organized them using a numbering system. That way, when I attached them to the two main cables, it was an easy chore to sort and install, using cable clamps.

I assembled everything on dry land. Then I just attached the two cables (with stringers attached) to the four posts. I could then easily install the cable locking system components and the decking.
StringersPasture
My more recent project is our house. I put in a lot of blocking so that there were plenty of places to connect cabinets, towel racks, grab bars, whatever. Then I photographed all the walls before covering them. That way, when it was time to hang cabinets, I referred back to the photos to recall just where I put the blocking.

This photo shows the backside of the kitchen wall with blocking for the cabinets. My only regret was that I didn’t write exactly how far the blocks were from the ceiling or floor – large lettering would be easy to read in a photo – but I was able to locate them pretty accurately using my electrical boxes for reference.

blocking

Thanks for stopping by! If you want more information about my bridge, you can view a video and also read through the archives of this blog. If that’s not enough, be sure to buy my book! Here is the link:

Building a Small Cable Suspension Bridge with the Cable Locking System

Images, diagrams, and text copyright 2013-2014 by Marvin Denmark unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy and post my content anywhere without my permission. Thank you.