I fell a week or so ago and it still hurts to bend over. Not so much. Just a sharp reminder. I am healing. I’ll be fine. But I mention it again because I slipped on the stairs and about a week later, walking gingerly and holding on to the rail, I slipped again. No fall this time. Just a minor heart attack. WHOA! Just that feeling of ‘slipping on a greased surface’. Absolutely frightening.
“Sal. As soon as I can bend, priority one is fixing the steps. If not, priority two will be finding another husband and burying this one.”
Two yesterdays ago, we began to pull up the steps and put down new boards. After the boards were down, they were treated and then covered in wire mesh. I tread on them with increasing confidence but still with one hand on the rail. Once bitten…..
But here’s the real story: we put those treads down ten or so years ago when we were building the stairs which would allow us to ascend to the higher elevation for the building of the house. There are about 40 or so steps in that section. Plus landings. There are another 40 or so steps before and after depending on the terrain and deck and house design. From low tide to the top floor, I think we have 80-something steps. I remember the locals saying, “Your stairs are likely good for ten years. But wood doesn’t last forever. Around then, you may have to replace much of it.”
Ten years flew by.
The top ten steps are shielded from the sun by a deck running along side. Those steps get extra greasy in winter. The rain would combine with the slimy, moss-cum-algae growth to form a slick grease that seemed slipperier than ice. Every year it got a smidge slimier.
When we took up the first board, it was covered in a goo that, even when gripped tightly, allowed the board to still slip right out of my hands. Even grabbing the boards with two hands denied a firm grasp and, as I worked them, they slipped and fell often. Seriously, it was like handling slimy fish.
I took each board and ran it through the planer. Typically twice. If I ran it slimy side up, nothing happened. The blades could not cut. The board might go through but most often it stuck. Very strange. If I put the boards bottom-side up, because the slime was considerably less on the back-side, the planer took off 1/32 of an inch and revealed a board that was perfect. No rot. No cracks. If anything, the board seemed harder with the time spent in duty. So, basically, I just ‘cleaned them up’ and replaced them.
It is remarkable that the wood was so un-flawed and perfect after all that time. Especially in light of the warning and the extra slime. I imagined the slime was also rotting the wood underneath but that was not the case. Kiln dried, untreated, styro-wood from Home Depot would have been truly punk after such neglect. I am sure of that. This local stuff was great!
Well, I didn’t actually do the lift and replace. Sal did. I was trying not to bend. Instead, I worked the reno-side (planer, saw, tool-fetching and supervision) and, on a few boards, I replaced them with new but it was Sal who took up the old and waited til I handed them back for replacement. She’d take out the six deck screws and, a few times, do a bit of remedial work on the stringers and then put the boards down again using six different screws and holes. Then she’d paint the new side with preservative and move to the next step.
She worked on her knees just as you’d imagine. She’d position herself on the step below and work on the step above. On the first of the steps, she put a hand down as she leaned to reach for the far screw. It was so slippery, she fell on her face. Because she was on her knees and so low to the steps it was just a surprise and no damage was incurred. But imagine how slippery the steps had to be for that to happen.
When the top section was done, we stapled down new hardware cloth, a light metal meshing, for even better grip than that of the first day with new wood. We had used the stairs for ten or so years without the cloth. Can’t afford to take that risk anymore.
We worked well. We got the first section done. One third. We walked on it. It worked. Good grip. But I can’t stop reaching for the rail. It may become a habit.
It sounds odd but this is a milestone. Rebuilding something as fundamental as the main stairs even if it is still sound, is a milestone of sorts. Nothing marks an anniversary quite like it. We’ve been here almost twelve years but the stairs weren’t finished in the first year so this is like a symbol of our first ten years. A milestone that portends of more maintenance, more repair, maybe even more falls.
Welcome to phase two.