DIY Weekend: Hardwood Flooring

Not too long after we moved into our house, Angela and I tore out the old car­pet in the sun­room and laid car­pet tiles. We were actu­al­ly very pleased with them; they’re good qual­i­ty car­pet and did­n’t wear out. How­ev­er, after get­ting a sec­ond pup­py who had a large yet weak blad­der (Mag­gie…), Angela quick­ly got tired of hav­ing to try and clean out the stains. She had want­ed hard­wood floor­ing in that room for some­time and last Sat­ur­day, my friend John­ny stopped by. We got to talk­ing and decid­ed that the next week­end (the past two days, that is) would be a good time for both of us to do just that. In order to max­i­mize our time, we went to the big-box hard­ware store to find some mate­ri­als.

We hap­pened to find some bam­boo hard­wood floor­ing. It was at a real­ly cheap price – rough­ly one third of typ­i­cal 5/8″ hard­wood – so we got five 24 ft2 pack­ets. Anoth­er great thing about bam­boo is that it’s fast growth mate­r­i­al, which is great for the envi­ron­ment (and also the wal­let).

Beginning New Floor

The bam­boo floor­ing over a 30lbs. roof­ing paper as a mois­ture bar­ri­er.

We got start­ed yes­ter­day morn­ing after help­ing John­ny bring over some of his tools: a miter saw, table saw (which we did­n’t need), air com­pres­sor, and nail gun (which we could­n’t have done with­out). We laid down some build­ing paper which prob­a­bly was­n’t nec­es­sary but i sup­posed to help with pre­vent­ing squeaks. We snapped out begin­ning line and then spent the next two hours get­ting the first two boards around the radi­a­tor laid. The rest of the room went much faster, though. We tried to spend some time get­ting the edges right and we cut off some of the old­er mold­ing such that it would set on top of the wood floor­ing, which looks much clean­er. We fin­ished up last night with all but three boards laid.

This after­noon, we went to the big-box hard­ware store once again to get some addi­tion­al floor edge mold­ing to go around the room. We used a 5″ edge mold­ing with a piece of quar­ter-round at the toe, sim­i­lar to what occurs through­out our house. It’s an edge fin­ish detail that is very for­giv­ing for un-even walls, which also occur in spades through­out this house. It also looks quite fan­cy and we end­ed up with real­ly nice fin­ish. That took about four more hours this after­noon and the fin­ished prod­uct is some­thing that we’re all real­ly pleased with.

Finished Product

The fin­ished prod­uct, except for now the room looks like it needs a fresh coat of paint even more than it did before.

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.