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August 21, 2011
Stairs: lower landing

Gail fits pieces of hardwood flooring onto the lower stair landing

Friday, August 19, was a day we thought might never come. Our youngest child, Joss, moved out of the house and into a dormitory at San Jose State University to begin college.

Joss did have one last-minute scare, when he felt discomfort with his breathing. We took him to his thoracic specialist in the middle of the move. Dr. Bloom said that it’s just the lung continuing to scar and heal after Joss’ thorascopic surgery.

We are not empty nesters yet. Cameron is still home for the summer, and won’t go back to UC Santa Cruz for another month. However, he is gone just about every weekend to see his girlfriend down in Santa Cruz.

With no kids in the house this weekend, Gail and Russell decided to make another trip up to our mountain home. It would be a couple-only weekend for just the two of us. Unfortunately, Joss’ move took most of the day, so we didn’t depart until after 5:00, hitting the peak of rush hour. We stopped at Denny’s for dinner and arrived at the mountain after dark.

Our main construction project continues to be the stair landings. During our last trip two weeks ago, Gail had finished installing hardwood floor on the middle landing. During the interim, she decided that she wanted to redo it using thicker slats. Since she was changing it anyway, she also decided to run the slats parallel to the tread instead of perpendicular. The rework was finished in no time at all.

The middle landing
Before: the slats run perpendicular to the tread
After: the slats run parallel

Due to inconsistencies in construction, the middle landing is not a true square. At the far back end, we needed a small sliver of flooring to fill the gap.
Because it wasn’t a uniform piece, we couldn’t use the table saw to cut it. Russell ended up using a circular saw balanced in the air.

The lower landing, on the other hand, has been a much bigger challenge. When Russell first framed it, he had added a small lip on the corner. It wasn’t until he tried cutting a landing tread that he realized the consequence of this. We are not using tread returns (extra pieces of wood attached to the sides to create side bullnoses). Because our landing treads were pre-cut with a dado, there would be a gap on the side of the landing tread.

We purchased our landing treads with a pre-cut 1/4” dado.
Unfortunately, this meant that once the end was bullnosed and trimmed, there was a gap in the side bullnose.

Russell realized this back at the end of July. He tried trimming the lower landing tread, but cut it wrong and ended up wrecking it beyond repair. Gail dutifully went out and purchased another landing tread. Two weeks ago Russell was able to splice an extra piece of bullnose onto the side to fill the gap. (Unfortunately we forgot to bring the Dremel, so Russell had to cut a 3/4” by 3/4” piece of wood with a 7” circular saw.

Russell was able to cut and glue a small scrap of bullnose to fill the gap.
Once puttied and stained, it looked pretty good!

A close-up of the lower landing, showing the lip on the corner of the tread.
The cut and spliced landing tread in place.

After three coats of cherry stain, the lower landing tread was finally ready. Once we had it in place, Gail was able to install floorboards on the lower landing as well.

Unlike modern tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring, Gail is using individual slat pieces that she has salvaged over the past several years from home demolitions. She has to true and place each slat individually, glue and nail it in place and countersink the nails. Then she has to plane and sand the surface to ensure uniform smoothness.

The lower landing:
1, The rough frame
2. With the stained landing tread in place
3. With the floorboards in place

Meanwhile, Russell’s project was to install a bookcase that we got for free from a neighbor back home. The bottom shelf was broken (that’s why it was free), so Russell glued it back together and reinforced it with some 2x4s underneath.boards in place

Putting the bookcase in its spot at the end of the upstairs hall was much more involved. Gail decided that we should put the final subfloor down first. Unfortunately, this meant that we also had to install some Fix-It-All to make the floor even.

(Given the severe amount of warpage and unevenness throughout the upstairs floor – a combination of Topsider’s inconsistencies and years out in the weather – our rule of thumb for the floor is “not necessarily level, but at least even.”)

The upstairs hallway:
1, The rough frame
2. We put down a layer of Fix-It-All to even the floor
3. We put down a roll of Quiet Walk padding to muffle foot traffic noises
4. Finally, we put down a layer of OSB subfloor

By the end of the weekend, Russell was happily able to fill the six-foot bookcase with his growing collection of mangas, graphic novels, DVDs and books about Gold Country and world history.

Russell’s bookcase, happily populated

On the wildlife front, we are finally rid of the little mouse that has been keeping us awake at night. We found him in a corner, a victim of the rat poison we had put out. The smell when we first opened the house indicates that he succumbed recently. The fact that he was still in the house reassures us that we have plugged all the access holes.

We had another extremely productive weekend amid gorgeous weather. The middle and lower landings are finished – we will wait to stain them until the end of construction. Unfortunately, each landing is more complicated than the last. And the last landing – the upper landing – will be the most complicated of all.

The state of the stairs: two landings finished, one more to go!


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