Monday, March 24, 2014

Tips On Building A Dry Stack Stone Wall #6: Steps

In this post I want to go into how I build stone steps in the landscape
 as part of the dry stack stone walls that I have already shown.
We will look at how I selected and installed the three steps you see above.

For safety one should never attempt building steps, inside or out,
without a firm basis of the terms, theory, and practice of this craft.
There are many books which provide more detail
 or a search of the internet will yield many results.

The posts to date in this continuing series for the owner builder are:

The first thing I do as soon as I get a load of stone is to
  set aside any stone that I think will be suitable as steps.
I look for ones that are relatively smooth on the top, wide enough to be a tread, 
8"+/- thick, and generally large enough to stay in place once set.
Also the riser part of the stone step should slant in as it goes down, not out!
The angle formed by the riser and tread should be slightly acute, or at least square.
This last point excludes many potential steps. See more below.

In the photo above I notice several stones that may be suitable: 
the lower right hand corner on edge, in the center of the photo also on edge,
 just above that one, and one on top of the pile to the right upside down.
Any stone with cracks, fissures, breaks, etc. should not be used.
Once I have them set aside I can select ones that work together 
in terms of size, style, and application.

You need to develop an eye for the best use of each stone.

In the photo above I have set the bottom two steps and I am still working on the top one.
Note that these stones are large enough that they should not move once set.
This is critical to make sure that the steps are safe and easy to use!

I always start at the bottom and work up.

Also note as I mentioned above that the riser portion of the stone 
extends down either plumb (step #2) or inward (bottom step). 
You never want stone to extend out and interfere with the next lower step,
which presents a tripping hazard!
Think of the toe space created by the nosing on interior wood steps.

With the well drained soils we have here I am comfortable not putting in a ruble foundation,
but if we were in an area with heavy rains and expansive clay soils I certainly would.  

The steps I install have a consistent rise and run and the treads are leveled across the front or nosing 
and drop down about 1/4" to 3/8" from the nosing to the back of the tread.
This is important for a person using the steps to maintain normal balance.
If the tread slopes down towards the front it tends to propel a person forward in an unsafe way!
The rise on each tread here is about 7 3/4" and the run or tread is 18" deep.
For me an 8"+/- rise and a 16" to 18" run is very comfortable for landscaping steps.

This is very different from interior wood steps 
which use a different ratio for determining rise and run.
Even though I find these to be very comfortable for the average person
 in no way would they be adequate for people with any kind of physical impairment.
These are landscaping steps that are not required for access to the home,
but merely as limited access to parts of the yard and garden,
more like a trail or pathway.

Because the stones are not perfectly smooth and flat,
 all my leveling and measurements are an average of the variation.
This becomes particularly noticeable when figuring the rise.
I try to keep the deviation of the rise within 1/8" in either direction,
unlike the much tighter standards used on interior stairs.

As I am setting the stones I keep a supply of different sizes of ruble handy 
to chock under them as I am working.

I like to keep the area around the stones tightly packed as I go
 either by tamping the clay or tapping in the ruble.

If a stepping stone is the slightest bit loose I keep working till there is absolutely no movement.
This is essential for safe, easy to use steps.

I have the three steps set, above, and can now continue building the wall around them.
Since the steps are generally larger stones I like to set them first
 which allows to me to add the wall in afterward.

The surrounding walls help to lock in the stone steps
and the ruble fill is being carefully placed to lock everything in together.
The clay soil is continually tamped to fill in pockets 
and prevent subsidence from future rain events.

Above you can see that the whole area has been finished, mulch has been put down,
 and an initial planting has been started.

A flat stepping stone has been set below the bottom step
 to insure that the rise to the first step stays consistent.
Even when considering the various sizes, shapes, and uneven surfaces of stone 
I think it is important to keep a relatively consistent rise and run for all the steps I build.

In this last photo the set of steps we just looked at are on the right
 and you can see another set on the left with three steps up,
 a jog to the left for two more steps, and finally a jog to the right to the last step.

In the last post for this series we will look at building a longer set of steps
 at the other end of this project.

For a post I did for steps as part of a trail project click on:

And for another look at posts on a sampling of both wood and stone steps 
click on the Label from the right sidebar: