It was a beautiful Sunday, warm and sunny most of the day, with a slight sprinkle in the late afternoon.
This one turned out pretty long. Hopefully it's a little entertaining.
The little kid was a little ball of energy. At one point he decided to take a stroll with the little dog, heading down the street without a leash. Thankfully, everyone was returned safely with no harm done. A little scolding, and a rule (broken almost immediately) that the dogs weren't allowed outside without an adult. Turned our backs, and woosh, dogs and little little outside again. At least they stayed in the yard.
A nagging problem had been building up in the front of our house. Our steps have been deteriorating, probably needing to be replaced for about the last six or seven (or ten) years. The house was remodeled about 15 years ago, and our stunning wood stairs in mock stone entry to the porch has not weathered well. The stone caps at the porch posts have all broken free of their molding. The steps have been warping and "soggy" for some time, with the last few weeks getting particularly bad. It was time to do something.
I pulled at the boards and tried to gauge whether the planks could be secured, or if they were shot. The screws were steadfast in the steps, but not in the stringers, so adding more screws probably wouldn't solve the problem. The stone added a touch of difficulty, as there was no room to wriggle the planks free. I'd hoped there might be a little give inside, so one could slide the plank left or right to pull it out, but the faux stone is mortared to the wood shell beneath, and the steps abut the shell.
I dug out the circular saw and took to the planks between the wall and stringer. Once cleaved in half, they pulled out with little resistance. Just one or few of the screws needed some encouragement. A little dusting off, and the steps looked ready for treads. The risers, while worn and weathered, were still strong. For the most part, attached well, if warped just a little bit.
I took a little break to research and watch some people better than me fix their steps. And to check prices of the stringers and plans in case we wanted to give it a go. I tried to envision the magic construction from beneath that might need to happen with the masonry. I realized quickly I am out of my wheelhouse.
The hard part is that my level of wood working is just beneath that required to get wood squeezed into this tiny spot. The damage to the stringers was also an issue. The stringers in the center were a little weathered, but still solid. After taking the treads off and reviewing them, I could have attempted to add a few more screws after all. It seems the warping of the planks and rusting of the existing screws had caused enough wear to make them pegs instead of fasteners. At least in the middle. After seeing the edges, there would have been nothing possible without somehow getting beneath the porch and reinforcing them from there. I'm not sure my kids could get under there, and they certainly couldn't do the repairs necessary. They'd love to try, but it wouldn't work well.
I know the really right thing to do is remove the entire works from the front of the house, essentially all of the wood forward of the porch. Attach new stringers, risers, and treads. But knowing what needs to be done, and knowing you can accomplish this are two different knowings. I know I can patch and work with the large bits of wood, aligning and securing them just fine, as long as we're using screws. I'm horrible with nails, as well as with trying to join wood with anything fancy. Abutting and overlapping are about as good as I can get. There's no way I could remove all of this and reverse the process. Conceptually, yes, attach new stringers to the porch riser. Attach new risers to the stringers. Attach new treads to the stringers. All within the space provided by the masonry.
I also had limitations as we had decided that we'd try to make this better for those forced to use our stairs, but that we'd need professional help to get it done right. With this, we made a budget of "whatever we can salvage from the porch, or find in the garage." We have a few 2x8 planks, which maybe could have worked, but there was no way to fit them on the existing stringers, and wedge them into the space allowed by the masonry.
We love the masonry. It looks cool and like an authentic brick wall, but I couldn't take it apart enough to rebuild the stairs, and then put it together either.
So, constrained to the wood on hand, which amounted to an 8-foot 1x6 from the garage, a number of 2-foot 1x6 left over from building the deck, and the weathered and worn 1x6 removed from the stairs, and a couple 2x4s and some 2x8s. I cut some from the 2x4s to make braces which I attached to the outer stringers. I then devised a plan to use the long 1x6 to cross at least one part of one step, then take the 2-foot and remaining reclaimed 1x6 to patch between the stringers. I'd cross from one end over one stringer to the next with a long plank, and then fill from there to the other end with a short plank. I'd opposite the set next to it, so there wouldn't be a continuous seam.
I mused for a while before cutting anything. Obviously, if needed, I could have dashed to Home Depot, but that would violate our self-isolation, reclaiming spirit, and zero budget. We'll use all of the stair budget later to get professional installation. I finally started cutting wood to fit. The 2/3 + 1/3 worked well. I affixed them on the outside to the braces I added, and to the middle or ends with deck screws. I didn't have as many as I wanted, but I had just about enough. I cut a long piece first just short of the 55-inches needed to go wall-to-wall. It didn't fit, so I kept cutting off a bit from the end until it did. It's visibly not end-to-end, but it does rest on the original stringers, and is affixed to the braces next to them.
Alas, I forgot to take a job-finished photo! I'll add one tomorrow.
In its place, I'll add the interesting find I made beneath the steps. After I removed the treads, I swept away some of the broken bits and sawdust. Doing so disturbed the detritus beneath the steps (I guess I was aggressive with my sweeping...). Sitting there amid the leaves and some trash were the last remains of some poor critter. I looked a little, but couldn't find any more skeleton than its skull, part of its jaw, and what looks like a little femur. I don't know what it was. It's got some fierce fangs, and a long snout. It's about six inches long. It doesn't have the large molar of a dog, but I don't think cats or raccoons have fangs like that, or heads like that, either. If anyone reads this and recognizes this skull, please let me know. I've got a couple more pictures I could share, and I can take more if no one (or thing) swipes the thing from my front step, where I left it after all of this.
While I was doing all of this with the steps, the kids alternated between helping me, building obstacles from my set aside wood, and riding their bikes around the street (on the sidewalk). There were car races down the planks after they were set on the concrete steps to make ramps. There was one brief discussion about riding bikes down or up the ramps, but I nipped that in the bud. Kids at the end of the street have made a little ramp that they're jumping their bikes on. My kids wanted to do the same, but I suggested that maybe when they both had their training wheels off, and were more than a week from a collision.
We had dinner on the deck in back, just as the clouds were building again. The sun sets on the other side of the house, so the deck is in the shade by that time, so it started to cool. We cleaned up and made it inside before another gentle sprinkle passed. Baths and showers, and bedtime with no struggles. The little little hadn't had a nap, and with 10 hours of playing outside, he crashed in my bed waiting for sister to finish her shower.
Everyone's healthy. Tired, but from hard work.