more stairs

I had some time to work on the steps and put in a solid four hours on Friday.  At the start of the day, four steps were in, and the space for the next step was more or less dug out and ready to go.


I decided to employ the six inch tall frame I had made as a guide for carving the space for the next step out of the hillside.  Because the hillside was getting very steep and there would be lots of dirt and rocks flying, I thought digging a few landings in the dirt would keep the previous step a little cleaner and minimized the amount of dirt that found its way into it.  So I leveled the frame and started hacking on the hillside.


Lots of dirt came down and pretty much buried the frame, but I was able to mark where it sat, lifted it out, and placed in at the level of where the next landing in the dirt would be.  Then it was all ready for the next go at the hillside.


The frame took quite a beating on the next step-digging.  I hit a big rock that seems too big to move, so I chipped at it with the pick.  The pointy end of the pick worked quite well for this, and the species of rock made it not too tough.  I think it is granite, but barely pulled a C in Geology, so am not too sure.  It flaked and chipped relatively easily depending on the angle the pick struck it.


After digging out for the two steps, it was easy to clear out the dirt and get started on the fifth step.  Whereas we were bringing dirt in to fill for the first steps, now I am carting dirt out by the bucket load.

I also cut away some of the dirt beside the space for the steps in the process of leveling for each, this in preparation for contouring the dirt away from the steps for rip-wrap and erosion control.


In the next picture you can see the leveled pea gravel and how the block sits on it.  I started putting the blocks down left to right with the fifth step.  It was somewhat easier, but the leveling and getting the riser height as close to six inches as possible was a little frustrating.  The two steps I put in came out well though, and it was worth taking the time to get it right.


I got a couple of five gallon buckets of sand from a sand and gravel place that lets customers fill their own buckets for $2.50 each, plus tax.  I rinsed the sand in with water to fill gaps in the rocks placed thus far, and hoped some would even get down to the pea gravel to fill the little gaps there too.

Part of the process I am following includes wetting the dirt where the next step is going to go and compacting it with a block plus walking around on it.  You can see some of the sand and the moistened landing ready for pea gravel and the sixth step.


Here are the six steps that are in so far.  No work happened over the weekend, but I hope to get some time during the week to finish the next two steps.



4 thoughts on “more stairs

  1. Ron says:

    Nicely done. How does your final stairs look like? Did you put concrete on top of the cinder block?

    • Richard says:

      Hi Ron, thanks for the comment. Look at the post entitled The Steps Get Finished to see how they turned out. I did not put concrete in the steps, and like the look of the natural rock in the voids of the cinder blocks. The little rocks stay in place well. The steps are still there and quite stable.

  2. Dale Schuler says:

    I would like to do what you did, but I was told that I should should dig straight back into the hill and put a 4’x10′ pad down and then stack the cinder blocks one high on the bottom of the hill and eight high on the back or top of the hill. Now that I have dug the hole I am a little afraid that I should have just dug deep enough for one block on each step as you have done. Any advice?
    Thanks, Dale

    • Richard says:

      Hi Dale,
      Thanks for the comment/question. It seems like it would be more stable to do as you suggest, but I am not a civil engineer. Over the years my steps have developed some gaps, but they still function quite well.

      The thing I was going after was a six-inch riser and a 16-inch tread. There are some patio steps here like that, and I like that they are not too steep. Also, the 6-inch rise for a 16-inch run matches the terrain I was working with.

      An 8-inch riser and a 16-inch tread would be steeper, but still could be OK. I would say find some steps like that to see if the steepness is OK. Consider the terrain. Is it as steep as the steps would be? Also, perhaps in your area the soil is not so dense, and having a pad underneath the steps might be the right thing to do. If you had a nice level pad, making the steps would involve simply stacking them up.

      Here the soil is quite hard, and I figured (guessed) the steps wouldn’t settle too much in such hard soil. It was exacting work to make each step level and maintain the 6-inch rise.

      I am not an expert and can’t really advise like one. One thing I want to mention, you said a 4’x10′ pad. The blocks are a little shy of 16″, but even if they are 15.75″, eight of them would cover 10.5′.

      Are you planning on filling the block with rocks or concrete? One thing I realize after setting the steps is that they are really only held down by gravity and some friction between the blocks and surrounding earth and the contact between blocks. I might have done well to use concrete somehow, but it already was a lot of work. I think mixing a lot of concrete along with all the other work might have done me in!

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