Of Hobbit Stairs and Other Miscellany

Welcome back! ….And of course happy Father’s Day to all you Father’s out there. ( It just so happens to be Father’s Day in the States this Sunday.) Thanks for stopping by.

So it’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit and write an unrushed blog. I don’t know if you can tell or not but it sure feels like a long time since I’ve had the luxury of time on my side. I’ll wind up running out of time today as well I’m sure.

So before we get into the building of a set of stairs just a few items on my list to get out of the way.

So I don’t know if you remember the retaining wall collapse over at my Mother-in-Law’s but it is reaching it’s conclusion. Getting to a finished product is never quite as easy as you would think. Ultimately the goal was to replace the retaining wall and the stairs up to the front porch. I had an excavation contractor take care of the retaining wall replacement and a precast stair guy handle the steps. So the one corner of the stairs has to be supported by a concrete sonotube. The stair guy says to me he doesn’t do sonotubes and that we’ll have to take care of it. I send Ethan over to his shop and he hands him this sketch of where he wants the sonotube. Did you ever see a kindergarten child draw a treasure map? Well this is what this guys’s sketch looked like. There were two numbers. 48 and 58. It seemed pretty simple. Anyway I layout the location and send Ethan over there during the week to dig the hole. Here’s what I laid out for him.

Sonotube location.
Sonotube location.

Okay. Anyone out there not know where to dig this hole?  So in Ethan’s defense I didn’t give him the measurements but I did give him the tools and the directions on how to dig. (There is a bit of skill involved with digging a hole in the ground.) Keep in mind here people that there are two kinds of people in the world…”Those with loaded guns….and those who dig.” Ethan digs….but I think he ought to think about getting a loaded gun because when I went to put the sonotube in it didn’t fit and there was a rock jutting out from the side of the hole so I couldn’t get the sonotube down into the hole. After I removed the rock the sonotube was off in both directions by about 5 inches. For those of you keeping score out there that’s a lot. This led to a second day of digging for Ethan. This time with Jude. I made them a sketch  so they had numbers to work with. They installed the sonotube and backfilled. I wanted to recheck the location before we filled it with concrete though. Okay, if you were thinking that maybe this is going in a certain direction then you have been keeping up with the blog fairly well. Yes, they installed the cardboard sonotube in the wrong place. This led to day three of sonotube installation in which frustrations were inadvertently taken out on my sawzall. Jude cut the cord of the sawzall while doing another chore at the Hobbit house. Cut to the chase will ya, Jim. Four trips to the house to pour one measly old sonotube. Check out the finished project.

Retaining wall and precaste stairs at Mother-in-Law's.
Retaining wall and precaste stairs at Mother-in-Law’s.

So the big surprise in all of this was they found an old toy tractor while they were digging. Like three feet under the ground! They actually did a good job pouring the sonotube, as well.

Onto bigger and better things shall we?

Yes Jim, we shall.

Okay, so I was told by our friendly neighborhood weather man that Saturday was going to be the better of the weekend days. I was all pumped up for Saturday. The plan was install the steps to the backyard patio area and build the shelf for the stone veneer on the front and back of the Hobbit house. I knew that would be a mouthful but we gotta try. The idea is to pour the steps and this shelf next weekend. Once this is done I can start getting prices for backfilling the house. I had also wanted to show Jude and Terence how to waterproof the skylights and install the styrofoam on the roof.

I got to the house early and primed the areas I wanted to use as an example and cleaned up the area where the stairs were going to go. Then I went home for my  blueberry pancake. Oh yeah, and it was delicioso!

So we get to the house and it’s pretty nice out so I tell Jude and Terence let’s just finish all the waterproofing today because it’s going to be nice out the rest of the day. Of course, halfway through the clouds move in and we get a torrential deluge which takes that out of the equation. Very annoying.   We did get quite a lot done and the boys are all set up to put a dent in things this coming week. I’ll just go through the pictures I took.

Terence and Jude installing the roofing styrofoam.
Terence and Jude installing the roofing styrofoam.

So the idea here is to put the styrofoam down and tape it together. Then use these 8x8x8 concrete blocks to hold it tight to the curvature of the house. We are going to stagger the seams as we go, too. Staggering the seams will also help shed water.

Editor picks up lunch for us.
Editor picks up lunch for us.

Barbequed potato chips though. Why????

The stairs Jim.

Oh yeah. so the stairs are in that little alcove I built way back when we started. Check it out.

Stair sofit framing.
Stair sofit framing.

So this kind of looks like a little roof framing doesn’t it? Correct! You basically use your riser height and your tread width to get your angled cuts for the sofit. In this case we have a riser height of 7 and a tread width of 11. These numbers will yield a stair that is not too steep and risers that will be easy to climb.

Stair rack being nailed together.
Stair rack being nailed together.

Here’s how you nail up a stair rack. This is how we do it in the city anyway. You cut the riser boards to the right height and width of the stairs and then back them up with a 3×4. Then you flip the rack upside down to nail it up onto the stringer. You hold those same two numbers on your framing square to layout the rack. 7 and 11.

Stairs installed ready for concrete.
Stairs installed ready for concrete.

So this is how we are going to get to our backyard patio later on. If you notice you’ll see the rebar I installed to support the stairs. The plywood sofit gets buried by the concrete and is never seen again. We also drilled number 4 rebar dowels top and bottom to help support the stairs.

While I was working on the stairs we got the rain. So I had the boys wrap up and do a cleanup of the site. Of course these two just can’t pick up the garbage and get rid of it. They have to pick up garbage and start playing with it. It was a “Game of Thrones” scene I think. It might have been when the Mountain fought the Hound.

Mountain versus Hound.
Mountain versus Hound. Part 1
Mountain versus Hound part 2
Mountain versus Hound part 2

I’m paying them for this?!?!?!?!

That’s all I have time for now. Hopefully next week we’ll get into the stone shelf and pouring a set of stairs!

I hope you all had a wonderful Father’s Day!

Take care,



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