I have yet another stairs related confession: my basement stairs weren’t the only no-good steps on my property. Our outdoor stairs are pretty bad, as well.
I actually think they’re attractive enough, in a rustic sort of way. We’re planning on doing a big, outdoor project soon that would involve re-siding the house and rebuilding the entry porch, and my plan would be to re-do these as part of that project (since that is where they lead). So I was pretty happy with them for now… until they started falling apart.
The wood was rotting through and breaking into pieces, and it finally got bad enough that we decided it was a safety issue. Brad and I know that you can’t really use the edge of the top step… but anyone else coming to our house wouldn’t know that.
Given that we’re planning a full re-do soon, we decided to just replace the broken pieces for functional steps, without worrying about attractiveness. Originally, I was even thinking we’d do it but wouldn’t bother posting about it on the blog since it isn’t super applicable to others. However, there were enough new tips and tricks that I learned doing this that I think its worth sharing. And who knows, someone else may have steps much like these and need to know how to fix them!
Besides, this is the exact kind of DIY project that this blog thrives on. We had no idea how the steps were put together or how to fix them, but we plunged in on the assumption that we could figure it out as we went along. (Fortunately, we were right.)
The steps are essentially two 6×6 pieces of lumber wide, stacked up over dirt. We started by clearing out all the rotted pieces: three steps in total, the top two, and the farthest forward on the first step down.
We could see after doing that that the steps had been held in place by some big nails, now pretty rusted.
We decided to fix it by replicating that same approach, so we headed off to Home Depot for some big pieces of wood (i.e., 6×6 pressure treated lumber), big nails (i.e., 60D spikes), a big drill bit (i.e., a spade bit), and a big hammer (i.e., a 4 lb blacksmith hammer).
Each step was just under 42″ long, so I hoped to get a 12′ piece and have them cut it down for me in the store. Unfortunately, they couldn’t cut something that wide, so we took home two 8′ pieces of 6×6 pressure treated lumber since that is what would fit in the car.
We then had to figure out how to cut it ourselves. I just have a circular saw, and unfortunately the blade doesn’t reach even halfway through a piece this wide.
We cut it by:
- Marking the length, and making a cut through at that point with the circular saw, using a framing blade.
- Flipping the wood to an adjacent side, marking and making a cut there, and repeating for all sides.
- Cutting the small remaining middle piece with a hand saw.
You can see a bit of how the cuts were made in the marks on the end:
That all makes it sound easy, but it was a pain because the wood was wet and heavy and it took a while to make so many cuts precisely. Still, we got it done!
Meanwhile, Brad drove the 60D spikes into the base where the steps would go. These nails are big!
We didn’t worry too much about where the nails were placed, since we knew we’d have to measure carefully anyway and the wood he was nailing into wasn’t in great shape, so he mainly put them in where they’d “stick.”
The plan was to drill holes using the spade bit – sized to be just a bit larger than the nail heads – into the bottom of the wood steps, and then slot each step over it so they wouldn’t be able to wiggle around. To measure the placement of the holes, I drew a little map for the underside of each step, and carefully measured each nail in relation to each other and the sides.
Given that it was pressure treated wood, I used my new hammer drill (on the non-hammer setting) to drill these holes since it is more powerful. Even on that setting and the lowest speed, it went in FAST.
My main tip on using a spade bit on pressure treated wood is to drill in a bit, then reverse it out, and then repeat. I did this 4-5 times for each of the 4″ holes after the first one nearly got stuck in there! Since the wood is damp and the bit is removing so much of it, it’s really hard to reverse the drill out if there is a lot of matter behind it.
Even with such careful measurements, it took a bit of gentle adjustments each time we put the steps on to get all the nails to catch in the holes.
We also made sure to install the back-top step, and then fit the bricks in behind it, before we put on the front-top step, so we could get the placement right.
It took a lot longer than we planned and was pretty slow/frustrating, but overall we’re pretty impressed with how much they act like normal, functional steps!
It’s definitely not pretty to have some of them be new, while the others are old and weathered, but this project isn’t about pretty. It’s about keeping these steps safe and usable until we do our outdoor renovation, and it definitely achieved that!
We’re also proud to have just jumped in and figured it out as we went along. That is very satisfying!