Make Project 01 — Steadycam

Well, I final­ly got around to Make-ing some­thing. The very first project that attract­ed me to the mag­a­zine was the $14 Video Cam­era Sta­bi­liz­er, so that was the first thing I’ve done.

I found the results to be pret­ty supris­ing. It’s a bit awk­ward to han­dle, but it real­ly does reduce all the shake and pitch while walk­ing or run­ning dur­ing film­ing. Here’s a short clip of me chas­ing Har­ry and Mag­gie around the back­yard:

This video is locat­ed at YouTube. Sor­ry for the hor­ri­ble qual­i­ty, as it’s been encod­ed and com­pressed twice now.

Excel Printing Hack

When using Microsoft Excel, you can print only the sheets you want by select­ing their tabs at the bot­tom of the sheet (all at once) and hit­ting print. This way, if you just need the first three tabbed sheets of a 30 tab spread­sheet, you can do so with­out hav­ing to click each tab indi­vid­u­al­ly and then click print. Works on the Win­dows ver­sion of Excel. Any­one care to test it on the Mac ver­sion of Office and let me know?

It’s Not Easy Being Green

So, I have a decent sized pile of scrap lum­ber from the stair­case project as well as from the fence repairs last sum­mer and tree limbs we’ve cut. I real­ly felt it was impor­tant to find a place that would take this for being recy­cled. This stuff would make excel­lent mulch or par­ti­cle board. How­ev­er, since I only have about a pick­up truck load, no one is inter­est­ed in it. I don’t want any mon­ey and I’ll drop it off myself. Seems like there’s a busi­ness plan in here some­where, but so far, no one around here’s picked up on that.

So far, the best option I have for get­ting rid of this in a respon­si­ble man­ner is to dri­ve it 40 miles East to West Point, VA to drop it off at a com­mer­cial wood recy­cling cen­ter. Earth, you owe me.

Your Mother Wears Lumberjack Boots

My mom informed me a cou­ple of days ago that she got cer­ti­fied in chain­saw safe­ty at the park last week. No, she’s not plan­ning on tak­ing up log­ging as a new career path. She want­ed to be versed in how to use one in case of an acci­dent out in the park and she would need to cut a tree to free some­one. Now that’s being pre­pared for any sit­u­a­tion.

Basement Stairs

The base­ment stairs project was this past week­end and it end­ed up being a com­plete suc­cess. Angela and I are both real­ly hap­py in how they turned out. I don’t real­ly want to write a play by play, but I thought I would at least write some about what we did and what all I learned.

Basement Stair - Circa 1938The New Stairs

John­ny and I had pur­chased all the lum­ber and planned out what we’d do the pre­vi­ous week­end, which helped save some time and ener­gy for real­ly get­ting down to the busi­ness of build­ing. My biggest wor­ry and the main rea­son I had put off doing this for so long (I’ve been talk­ing about these stairs since the first day we moved in) was that I knew it would be very impor­tant to replace them in a sin­gle week­end. If I could­n’t fin­ish before Mon­day morn­ing, I’d end up going sev­er­al days with no stairs (inside) down to the base­ment: where the laun­dry is. That would mess up the flow of things around the house and be oth­er­wise pret­ty dan­ger­ous. So, doing all the plan­ning and mate­ri­als pur­chas­ing in advance made a big dif­fer­ence and I’m going to try and spread out my projects sim­i­lar­ly in the future.

The Old Staircase (RIP)

Demo did­n’t real­ly take very long. I prob­a­bly took longer to haul all this up at the end of day one.

We got start­ed about 9:00 am on Sat­ur­day and sur­pris­ing­ly, demo­li­tion of the old stair­case took less than 30 min­utes. The entire thing was con­nect­ed to the struc­ture of the house by no more than four 10d nails. Two of which were nailed upwards into the fram­ing from below such that weight on the stairs tends to just pull them right back out, which is exact­ly what had hap­pened. So, in real­i­ty, for the past 68 years, two toe-nails have been keep­ing this whole assem­bly up. As an engi­neer, I can tell you that there’s real­ly no math­e­mat­i­cal rea­son for that to actu­al­ly work. Dumb luck and some sort of wedg­ing fric­tion com­bined to pre­vent any­one from being seri­ous­ly hurt for far longer than is real­ly sen­si­ble.

Even though it stretch­es what the build­ing code allows for, we used one of the exist­ing stringers as a tem­plate to cut the three new ones by. This saved us loads of time and headaches. Those stringers weren’t per­fect (and at 42.8°, real­ly steep), but they were fair­ly reg­u­lar and square. I drilled the cor­ner at each tread-to-ris­er inter­sec­tion to help cut down on over-cut. We just used a cir­cu­lar saw and a jig saw to cut the entire set of stringers and paid close atten­tion to get­ting every­thing right. We end­ed up with all the fram­ing mem­bers cut and ready to hang by around lunch-time.

Base Connection Detail

Base con­nec­tion detail

The next step was the bot­tom sup­port assem­bly. I decid­ed to use a fence-post base that had a thread­ed rod for height adjust­ment. This would pro­vide a real­ly sol­id base con­nec­tion, some­thing sub­stan­tial to frame every­thing into, and most impor­tant­ly, would allow us to raise the whole base up off the wet base­ment floor. Of course, this required drilling holes in the con­crete floor slab to accept the anchor bolts. I bought a 3/4″ ∅ bit for just this pur­pose but we quick­ly dis­cov­ered (actu­al­ly about 15 arm-numb­ing min­utes and 1/2″ lat­er) that my ham­mer drill sim­ply was­n’t pow­er­ful enough to drill that size hole 3″ into con­crete. We went over to the hard­ware cen­ter to rent a real drill: a Hilti com­mer­cial ham­mer drill. The least amount of time they’ll rent one is four hours. We drilled the two holes in about three min­utes. It actu­al­ly took longer at the rental counter than it did to do the work. Mon­ey well spent, in my opin­ion. The “epoxy” I used was actu­al­ly a Simp­son acrylic adhe­sive specif­i­cal­ly for this appli­ca­tion. It is fast set­ting (less than 25 min­utes at room tem­per­a­ture) and will like­ly sur­vive a direct nuclear strike on the house.

Awaiting Treads and Risers

Fram­ing com­plete

After get­ting all the fram­ing work assem­bled, we called it a day. We spent a lot of time fit­ting every­thing up before final assem­bly and although that (along with two trips to pick-up and return the drill) burned up our after­noon, it paid off in hav­ing every­thing fit togeth­er well once we did start ham­mer­ing nails.


Stair Tread

Round­ed stair tread detail.

The next morn­ing, we start­ed to work on the treads and ris­ers. John­ny had brought over his router and was able to add a nice round­ed edge to all the tread nos­ing. That is the sort of stuff you’ll actu­al­ly notice when you look at the stair and even though it prob­a­bly added an hour or so total, it was time well spent. The final result is a real­ly great look­ing set of stairs that we were able to walk up for a late lunch around two o’clock.


Handrail Attachment Detail

Handrail con­nec­tion detail.

We vis­it­ed our friend David’s house to bor­row his miter saw to cut the ends of the handrail plumb. Again, just detail­ing for aes­thet­ics, but the end result looks much nicer. We spent the remain­ing time put the handrail up. The first part of that was to build an assem­bly onto the steel col­umn at the base of the stairs. We used a step bit to drill into the steel flanges to accept three lag-screws. This took a lot less time than I had fig­ured on and the end result looks nice and is incred­i­bly sol­id (oh yeah, be sure and use cut­ting oil or you’ll prob­a­bly just end up weld­ing the bit into the steel). The rest of the handrail sur­prised us by just how dif­fi­cult it was to mount. Find­ing wall studs in a heav­i­ly plas­tered wall is near­ly impos­si­ble, but we man­aged to only drill a cou­ple of extra pilot holes. It was the oak handrail itself that was the biggest trou­ble. After two days of work­ing with rel­a­tive­ly soft South­ern yel­low pine, that oak was like try­ing to dri­ve a screw into steel or con­crete. Actu­al­ly, worse since both of those went much faster! We did man­age to get every­thing togeth­er just in time for when Angela arrived back home.

I fin­ished up the light I installed in the stair­well and now I just need to do some final clean­ing up. All in all, a great week­end project. I owe John­ny O. a great deal, as I could­n’t have done it with­out him. Here’s my idea for a cred­it card com­mer­cial, by the way:

  • Lum­ber and mate­ri­als: $230
  • Hard­ware and tools: $65
  • Equip­ment rental: $42
  • Hav­ing a friend who actu­al­ly wants to help build a stair­case: price­less.