Two steps down in the back

In the two months since I finished the backyard retaining wall, getting down to the alley and the trash/recycling cans has required a short jump down. And then a small climb back up.

Because there were no steps…until this weekend.

Retaining Wall Night 2012-09-16

I could’ve built the steps weeks ago, but I wanted to make sure that they lined up perfectly with the new gate, so I waited until the back gate posts were put in the ground. After we finished the raised beds and after the family left early Saturday morning, I started working on the steps that afternoon

I had a few 6×6 timbers leftover from the retaining wall so I opted for the cheapest way I could think of to build some simple steps and just stacked up 3-foot cut lengths of the timbers. To stretch the few timbers I had without needing more, I cut the bottom couple of timbers that wouldn’t show into two 1-foot sections with a gap between ‘em.

I drove rebar spikes into the bottom of each single stack of timbers to anchor them down to the ground, and then used some 10-inch railroad spikes that I didn’t use on the retaining wall to anchor all the steps and timbers together.

At about 5.5 inches each, two 6×6 timbers together for each stair make an 11-inch stair tread, which is close to the size of a normal stair tread, maybe a little bigger. There are really just two steps — the bottom step is the same level as the alley and not wide enough for two timbers, so I used one 6×6 along with some spare bricks I had in the backyard to complete the bottom step.

2012-11-26 08.44.05

I bought two 2x10s and cut those at angles and used them as covers for the side of the steps. This gives the steps a nice finished look and covers up the very rough cut edges of the 6x6s in favor of a smooth flush edge. You probably can’t see the seam in that above picture, but there’s actually a second piece of the 2×10 below the top piece to fill out the entire area.

In keeping with the theme of “cheap,” I ran to Home Depot Sunday night and picked up the plain simple square concrete paver stones — the kind that a lot of folks use as walkway stones — along with 4 bags each of gravel and sand, to “pave” the dirt areas on each side of the steps where we’ll store the recycling and trash cans. The space worked out well: four 16-inch pavers and three 12-inch pavers, with just about an inch of the side touching the alley concrete chopped off with a hammer chisel and sledgehammer.

2012-11-26 08.44.33

For laying the pavers, there’s a lot more wiggle room with larger stones like this — the foundation work required for laying small 4×8″ bricks is much more demanding. For these, it’s as simple as digging down an extra inch or two, tamping down the soil really well, pouring in an inch or so of gravel, and then enough sand to cover the gravel and allow you to have some extra above that to level out the area. And then it all gets tamped down again repeatedly.

The stones get laid down one at a time, and if it’s not level, you pick it up and move some sand around. Since these are just going to be places where we store our recycling and trash cans outside of our yard, perfection really isn’t required — we just need something flat that looks decent and isn’t just plain ‘ol dirt. Like the other side of the steps…which I still have to finish, sometime this week hopefully.

Of course, the obligatory before/afters. First is from this summer, the second from September-ish, and the last from this week.

Backyard before fence 7/16/122012-09-21 08.02.16
2012-11-26 08.45.02

(Also, you can see what I meant in the last post about overlapping the gate line with the raised bed by a few inches. The paver walk will probably just line up with the gate post on the right side and be a little narrower than 36 inches.)

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