The 57 acres that comprise Cedar Ridge Farm are located in the beautiful rolling hills of South Central Kentucky. My wife, our four children, and I are on a homesteading adventure as we work toward increased self-sufficiency. We grow much of our own food and enjoy being in touch with the agrarian roots of our lives.

One of the major projects we have undertaken is the building of our own home. The house we're building has three major distinguishing features: 1. we're building it without incurring any debt; 2. it is a timber frame structure; and 3. the exterior walls will be plastered straw bales. We live debt and mortgage free, and building our house with that approach makes perfect sense. Large timbers in a home possess a beauty and project a sense of strength, stability, and warmth that we want in our home. Straw bale walls provide insulation and make ecological sense. This blog is a record of our home-building project.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to build stairs (to the root cellar)

Although I haven’t gotten any more 2x4s yet, I had just enough left to frame the root cellar walls. I’d set some treated 2x4s aside for this purpose, otherwise I’m sure I would’ve used them elsewhere in the house.

Before framing the cellar walls, I cut the stringers for the stairs into the root cellar. I thought it might be helpful to someone if 008I shared the process I used for building the stairs. This is the same method I used for the main stairs in the house (photo at the right).

The first thing to do is to figure out the total rise and run for the stairs. For the root cellar, the distance from the concrete floor to the floor above (the first floor of the house in this case) is 90 inches. The root cellar is 96 inches across, but there was extra space above the inner wall of the root cellar, about 12” long and 9 inches to the sill board on the block wall. I wanted to use this for a step, thereby shortening the total length of the stairs. With the total rise and run, I could figure the specific measurement for each step.

The main stairs I built have a 7-1/4” rise and 11” run, which make very comfortable stairs. I knew that I couldn’t build the root cellar stairs to the dimensions. I did not want steps that are too steep – I’ll be using them to haul vegetables/food in and out of the root cellar. I’ve been on some too steep, too narrow, feel-like-you’re-gonna-fall steps before, and I knew I didn’t want that.

I figured if I made the steps have a rise of nine inches, meaning there would be a step up of nine inches for each step, that would come out even (9” x 10 = 90”). In order to figure the run for each step, I computed the total length of the stairs for three different lengths: 9”, 10”, and 11”. With the extra space for a step outside of the root cellar at the top and having a small platform for the bottom step instead of going all the way to the floor, I decided on a 10 inch run for each step. That would be enough space for a foot to comfortably fit.

It was easy to figure the total number of steps I would have to cut into the stringers. The first step would be outside of the root cellar. So the second step would be the first one on the stringers and would be 18 inches below the first floor level, and the stringer would have eight steps (of the ten steps needed, the first one was outside the cellar and the last one was the cellar floor).

The only other consideration was the thickness of the treads and risers. I was using 2x material which is 1.5” thick. 002That means for the bottom step, I had to subtract 1.5 inches for the rise to be 9 inches when the tread was put on. And, since I was going to use the cellar wall for the riser on the top step against the wall, I would need to cut it 1.5 inches shorter than the others.

With my figures, I began to lay out the steps. I used a framing square (a handy tool) on which 005I clearly marked with pencil the 9” and 10” lines on both sides along the outside edges. By positioning the square on the 2x12 which was to become the stringer with the 9” and 10” marks on the edge, I used a pencil to mark the first step. After the first step, I moved the square so that the 9” mark was at the point where the 10” mark had been which moved the 10” mark further down the edge of the board. 008I drew the shape and then continued for the rest of the steps.

Once the lines were all drawn using the square, I measured the height for the bottom step and the length for the top step (you can keep the height and lengths of the steps straight with the measurements you’ve now transferred to the board – 9 inches and 10 inches). With everything marked, I could begin cutting.

I used my circular saw to cut along the lines, watching carefully so that I didn’t cut beyond the corner – 013a round blade will only cut all the way to the corner on the top side. So, once I cut all of them with the circular saw, I finished the cuts with a hand saw. 014If there was any unevenness left in the cuts, I cleaned it up with a chisel.

Now, I had my first stringer. I could mark the second one the same way, but I opted to use the first one as the template for the second one. I laid it on top, keeping the edges aligned, and marked the treads onto the other 2x12. Then, I cut it the same way as the first one.

The only other materials necessary for the steps were the treads and risers. I had a 2x10 which I cut into 30” lengths for the risers (30” is the width I’d previously decided on for the stairs when framing the floor above the root cellar). They were about 1/4” too wide, so I ripped off the extra on the table saw. For the treads, I used 30” lengths of 2x12s. I did not rip their 11.25” width, leaving 1.25” to hang over on each step.

Before I put the stairs in, I built two short walls to go on either side of the stairs in the root cellar. I nailed them together in the house and then lowered them down into the root cellar. 023I convinced them into position (they fit snugly) and secured them with nails into the floor joists at the top and concrete screws into the floor and wall of the root cellar.

With the walls in place, I situated the stringers and nailed them to the wall studs. Then, it was a matter of nailing on the risers and the treads. I had to figure out and build the top step on its own (no riser) and extend the bottom step for a short platform.

The length of the walls provides for 30 inch openings at either side of the steps at the bottom. The right section of the root cellar will be the larger of the two rooms. We haven’t decided exactly how we will store things, but given time we will. If the smaller room on the left can be kept a little warmer, it would be a nice place for storing sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, winter squash – the things that like it a little bit warmer and not too damp.


Friday, February 4, 2011

I need more 2x4s

I’ve worked on the house the last couple of days, but I didn’t take my camera with me to take any pictures. I don’t like posting without photos for some reason.

All of the downstairs walls are now framed with the exception of the framing for a linen closet at the bottom of the stairs. The last two walls I framed were for the pantry and the main bathroom.

One of the intentions for the downstairs is for it to be wheel chair accessible. All of the exterior doors are 36” doors and the interior doors downstairs except for the pantry and master bathroom will be 36” doors, too. The master bathroom is really too small to be accessible, anyway. The main bathroom will have enough floor space inside to make it accessible. We don’t want the door to swing out into the hallway (opening inside limits the usable floor space). So, our solution is to make a double door.

I think I’ll make the interior doors for the house. Something simple, yet nice. That will allow me to make whatever will work best in the specific places. 005Some doorways, like for the closets, will not have doors. They will have curtains, instead.

With the downstairs walls framed, I put a 4x6 floor joist in place for the extra upstairs landing space. This joist will be visible from inside the main bathroom. So, I wanted it to be the same as the other visible floor joists.

Then, I framed a wall upstairs. I started with the wall at the top of the stairs first. Somehow, when I measure for a wall, plan it out, cut the pieces, and 001put it all together, the wall tends to end up being 1/4” too tall. This wall took some persuading to get it under the beam connecting the rafters. But, it’s in there, and it won’t be coming out.

This morning013 I framed the small section of wall on the other side of the post from the other upstairs wall. This went easily and quickly. I figured the angles, measured for the bottom plate, cut it, and put it in. Then I was able to mark the other two 2x4s for length, cut them, and put them in. For the individual studs, I measured the needed length, cut them, and put them in one at a time. I figured it would be easier than building the wall on the floor and trying to set it in place because of the angles involved.

There are still several upstairs walls to be framed and two walls in the root cellar, but I’ve pretty much exhausted my 2x4 supply. There has been very little waste from the ones I’ve used, but I only have a few left, not enough to finish the walls. So, I'll be getting some more soon, hopefully early next week, so I can finish the wall framing. I have wiring to get started on. So, if I don’t get 2x4s right way, there is still something I can do.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

More stairs and wall framing

On Sunday I cleaned all of the loose straw and bales of straw out of the house. There was quite a pile of loose straw in the living room. It’ll be used in the interior walls later, but for now I wanted it out of the way. I moved it onto the porch and then tossed it into my hay baler which I brought over from the barn. I figured it would be easier to move and store it if it was baled. There were about 15 bales worth of straw in the pile.

With the straw all moved to the barn, I spent Monday sweeping the floors. I started upstairs with a leaf blower. That made quite a cloud of dust! After I’d blown everything to the downstairs, I set the ladder up and opened the cupola windows. I already had several windows open on the first floor. As soon as I opened the windows in the cupola, dust began flowing upward and out.011 I was encouraged that the cupola will help with ventilation in the house. This is the first time I’ve had opportunity to test it so far.

Today, I wanted to finish the stairs. There were still three steps to build to take the staircase all of the way to the second floor. I started by putting 2x8s down for the subfloor on the stair landing after cutting rabbets along the edges. These boards will be the ceiling in the master bedroom closet also.

Cutting out the stringers for the last steps was simple enough. Once I had them cut out, I had to figure out how to attach them at the second floor level. One side only required putting a board against an already framed wall to put the stringer in the right position. I had to frame a short wall on the other side.

It was necessary to frame the third wall for the master bathroom. This wall is also one of the walls for the main bathroom. 007I left out two studs so that I will be able to put in the tub/shower unit when I’m ready for it. It won’t fit through the framed door opening. Once the tub is in place, it will be easy enough to insert the two wall studs in their proper places.

The final task for today was to frame and put into place the wall against the stairs. This wall will support an extra three feet wide section of second floor landing and serves as one of the walls for the main bathroom. It was simple to frame and fairly easy to put into place.

I swept up some dust created by todays activities and took a few photos before calling it a day. It’s still exciting to see the progress each day I work on the house.