Wooden Balau Stairs built in Blythdale Beach

Wooden Balau Stairs Durban

 

Towards the close of 2017 we built these wooden balau stairs in Blythdale Beach, KZN. The original treads had been made of 19 x 68mm balau deck boards. Because the spacing between the stringers was 1m the stairs were very springy and were bouncing. The general rule is that a 19mm thick piece of balau can be spanned a maximum of 500mm before it needs to be supported by a bearer of sorts. In the case of open riser stairs this is often not possible because one would need a third stringer that would need to be notched to accommodate the tread. As such when we build stairs using balau that are normally 1m wide we increase the thickness of the balau to 30mm which stops any bounce. 40mm can also be used but is really just a waste of wood and therefore money.

The original balau stair treads were installed in 1997. The way the treads had been made up was to attach a cleat to the underside of each tread at the ends. The cleat was screwed from below to the treads (deck boards) and then the whole tread in its complete form was fixed to the steel cleats which were welded to the steel stringers. A bolt had been used to secure them from the top through all the timber and steel with a nut below. Water had therefore been able to penetrate the balau from the top where the bolt hole had been drilled and this, over a 20 year period of time had caused the balau to rot at the bolt hole. Then rest of the treads were in perfect condition with no rot whatsoever, 20 years down the line. Not all balau behaves that way. The balau that was used was obviously of very good quality. Nowadays the quality varies a bit more but balau still remains the most cost-effective hardwood for outdoor applications, be it decking, pergolas or screens.

To avoid the same fate of rotting at the bolt hole we fixed the entire tread in its made up form from below with a stainless steel coach screw instead of a nut and bolt all the way through the timber. As such the only way water can penetrate the timber now is from below which is highly unlikely. Water can still get trapped between the timber cleat and the timber treads but with no end grain to penetrate it should give us more than 20 years of life. 99% of water ingress is absorbed through the end grain of wood and not the face grain. By drilling holes, especially from the top, one exposes a section of end grain and water sits in the hole and gets absorbed. As a precautionary measure when we build sun decks and have to drill from the top to fix our board to the bearer we fill the screw hole with epoxy to keep the water out. There are other hidden fixing methods but I am yet to find one that works the way it was intended to. Deck boards screwed from the top through the face and filled with epoxy remains the strongest and long lasting method. But it is vital to check the epoxy plugs at maintenance intervals and replace if necessary. In the case of these stairs drilling from below into a 30mm piece of balau was ample fixing strength and reduces water ingress.

These balau stair treads we pre -oiled before installation which made it quicker and easier to get them installed.

For a free no obligation quote on timber decking, stairs, pergolas, balustrade and any other outdoor timber project, please contact us on 031- 762 1795 or use the contact us form below.

Balau Timber Stairs Built in Umhlanga Rocks, Durban

These balau timber stairs that we built in Umhlanga are actually temporary stairs which will be removed at some point. They were built in order to gain access up the bank to a converted container that has been placed at the top. It is for a new development at Umhlanga Ridge and the converted container will be used as a sales office to sell the units. Their life span will depend on how long it takes to sell all the units after which the container and stairs will be removed.

We nevertheless used balau as we needed to create a very upmarket feel as this development is targeted at the high-end market.

Initially we were going to build a platform or landing at the bottom, one at the top and one mid way to break the stairs into two flights. However the total distance did not require that and we settled for a landing at the top and one at the bottom. Normally if the flight of stairs is quite long one needs to split them into two flights with a landing mid way. This is to be compliant with National Building Regulations. It is stipulated for safety reasons because a very long flight of stairs becomes dangerous if not split into two flights.

It is a bit more difficult to build two flights with a landing mid way because one needs to first build your top and bottom landings and then work out exactly at what height the middle landing needs to be. This is so that the two flights can be of equal distance and the risers of the first flight can be equal to the risers of the second flight. If the middle landing is not placed exactly in the middle of the total height, the risers of one flight will need to be different to that of the other flight in order to close the gap between landings. It can also result in a different number of risers.

We used balau stingers, cleats and treads. We left the risers open and installed a balustrade down both sides of the stairs for obvious reasons. The balustrade was also full balau and installed in a vertical picket style with a 102mm capping on top.

The stairs were 1m wide which allows for two people to occasionally walk up and down at the same time. I say occasionally because if it was a busy stair case and people were walking both up and down at the same time regularly then one would need to make the stairs 1.5m wide with a balustrade down both sides. There are other building regulations that stipulate when a hand rail is needed in the middle of the stairs case once it reaches a certain width.

For a free no obligation quote on wooden stairs, decks, balustrades and other outdoor timber construction please call us on 031 – 762 1795 or use the contact us form below.

Wooden Decks Durban – Verulam

Wooden decks Durban

Click to enlarge

We recently had a good run of building wooden decks in Durban. With the arrival of summer and Christmas, wooden decks in Durban become a very popular item for consumers to spend their hard-earned cash. Despite trying to get jobs confirmed earlier on in the year, most of our work was confirmed in November and hence we have been running 2 to 3 sites simultaneously. It’s no easy task with the size of our current crew, but we were lucky enough to have most of them take place north of Durban in Durban North, Umhlanga and this one in Verulam. We rented an old beach cottage near Ballito and stayed there with our full crew for 3 weeks so that we didn’t need to fight traffic in the mornings or afternoons and drop and pick up staff in various different areas. However the traffic in Umhlanga and that whole north of Durban area is beyond ridiculous so it still took us hours to get “home” each day. This coupled with the fact that we had a lot of work to get through, made for very early starts and very late finishes.

Wooden decks Durban

Click to enlarge

Wooden decks Durban

Click to enlarge

The pics alongside are work in progress pic and I will update then once we have sanded and sealed the deck.

This job in Verulam was at a complex and this part of the complex consisted of 6 units. We built 3 wooden deck sections, each of about 45m². There was a wooden balustrade on the front of it and on the two ends or sides. The drop down from the first section of wooden deck was about 450mm so we created a step along the entire width of the deck with closed risers. For these closed riser steps we use a mini substructure and then deck it using the standard 19 x 68 balau deck boards. It then becomes a sort of bench as well as a step down.

Wooden decks Durban

Click to enlarge

The step down from the second wooden deck section to the third was about 1, 100mm so we had to build some wooden stairs with open risers of standard width of 1m and clad the section were there were no stairs. We also clad behind the stairs in order to block of the underneath of the deck completely. These wooden stairs were the straight forward design with stringers on either side, and treads placed inside of the stringers using cleats on each side. Hence the risers are open which is why we clad behind it to block off the underneath of the second section. We used 30mm x 102mm stock to build the stairs as there is no support beneath them over the 1m span. Using 30 x 102 stock with no gaps, as opposed to 30 x 140 stock, results in a tread of 306mm compared to 285 (140 + 140 + 5mm gap). So they are slightly wider (by 21mm) but still very comfortable. Also we get to use our 1m off cuts from the capping on the balustrade thereby reducing our cost which we can pass on to our clients through our reduced selling price.

It was a fairly straightforward build but did take a bit longer than other jobs as the front of the wooden deck was directly in line with where the bank below suddenly dropped off. So it was difficult to work at head height on a very steep slope. Ladders had to be tied off to the posts to climb them and so on.

Wooden decks Durban

Click to enlarge

For a free, no obligation quote, on your wooden deck, pergola, walkways, stairs and other outdoor and indoor timber construction please call us on 031 – 762 1795 or use the contact us form below.

Stairs and Balustrade – Durban North – July 2011

Wooden stairs

Click to enlarge

This wooden stair job started off as just a few stairs to gain access to the granny flat from the other side of the garden and then progressed into a small balustrade on either side too. The client originally had a fence there of CCA pine slats which we had to remove and then build our stairs. She wanted to then put some sort of fence on either side to keep dogs out and originally we were going to re-use some of the CCA pine slats. After speaking to her we agreed that a balau balustrade at the same height as the stairs would finish it off more neatly and add more value to her property.

The stairs were fairly simple and we used two stringers on each side of 30 x 228 balau. We then attached cleats at the required height for each tread. For the cleats we used 30 x 40 balau and for the treads we used 30 x 140 and doubled them up to get a tread of 285 wide with a 5mm gap in between each board. This type of stairs can only really be about 1m wide before you need to increase the thickness of your timber to 40mm. If the timber is too thin and the steps are too wide then the tread will bend each time someone walks on it. If you want to make your stairs wider than 1m then you must use a 40mm thick piece of balau. If you are using pine then this thickness needs to be increased even more because pine is so much softer than balau.

I prefer to use a different system when building wide stairs. One can add an extra stringer in the middle to give it support. However the stringers on the end have the cleats attached to the inside of them. The stringer in the middle cannot have the cleat attached to the inside as the stringer itself will protrude above the level of the tread. So you will need to cut recesses out of the middle stringer so that the tread can sit on a flat surface.

Wooden stairs

Click to enlarge

The other alternative to this is to build a structure underneath each tread on which deck boards are attached. This method is common in building stairs with closed risers. The above method and the one we used on this build is common for stairs with open risers.

We had a challenge on this job in that the wall that we were going to attach to wasn’t straight and looked as if it had been moving over the years. So instead of attaching to the wall we sunk some posts in the ground and concreted them in. This way the wall can continue to move without pushing or pulling our stairs over.

We filled our holes with epoxy and saw dust mixture to get a colour match and sealed it this time using Timberlife Ultra Care Gold. The Ultra Care Gold has a higher wax content and is suitable for vertical pieces of timber where the sun’s rays are not as direct as the horizontal pieces.

I went back to this client’s house to repair a broken fence and our stairs and balustrade are still as good as they were when we built them. They need to be re-sealed again but otherwise the balau has held up well.

For a free no obligation quote on your outdoor timber construction please call us on 031 – 762 1795 or use the form below to submit your enquiry.  If it’s just advice you are after, leave a comment in the comments section and I will try to assist you.

 

Wooden Deck Built in Toti at a Guest House

Wooden deck builder Durban

Click to enlarge

This was one of my first wooden decks in Durban that I undertook. The Guest House we built it for had just opened up the side of the dining room on the first floor with sliding doors and now wanted to extend the area by adding a deck of about 14m². It is always important to first break through the wall and install the sliding doors and then build the wooden deck. This way the deck builder can get the surface of the deck flush with the entrance to the room. I have built one deck before where the client insisted that I build the deck first and then they were going to break through. Although we did our best to measure where the inside floor was, there may still have been a small step up or down once they had broken through. On this build though it was done the right way around and the deck was flush with the floor inside the dining room.

The deck was a normal cleat, beam and joist system where we secured a cleat to the wall with sleeve anchors, installed vertical posts and attached a beam to that and then ran joists between the cleat and beam with a small canter lever. We had to try to set our posts as far out as possible so as to create enough space under the deck that could be used.

Wooden deck builder Durban

Click to enlarge

The balustrade was a normal picket style one. These are the safest and really the only one that is completely compliant with building regulations. Building regulations state that there should be no opening that is larger than 100mm. With all other balustrades there are some spaces that become greater than 100mm. Besides being non-compliant they are not that safe especially for small children. With the pickets running in a vertical direction it is more difficult for children, or adults, to climb up on the balustrade and fall over. The other designs offer more horizontal pieces that people can use to climb up on.

The stairs we built here joined the deck to the pool area which was about half a floor up from ground level. There were separate concrete stairs running from ground level to the pool area but the new wooden stairs we built could now be used to access the pool area, and the rest of the outside area, from the dining room. Because there was no way of supporting the stringer mid-way we had to ensure that we had the correct width of stringer so that it would not break over time. Most of the strength in a piece of wood is in the width and not the thickness as the downward force is exerted on the width.

Wooden deck builder Durban

Click to enlarge

We finished up by filling our holes with epoxy and sawdust and sealing with a Timberlife Satin Wood Base 28 Mahogany tint. In our decks we counter sink the screws which leave a small screw hole that water can get into. It is important to fill these so that no water can get in. If water does get in it can travel down the end grain and will cause the wood to rot much quicker at the point of the screw hole. Water travels through wood along the end grain rather than being absorbed from the face or side grain. Wood filler is also not suitable as it will pop over time due to the weather. Clear epoxy works well mixed with a little saw dust to match the colour. Once it’s dry, use a grinder with a sanding pad to flat it and then sand the grind marks off before finishing.

For a free no obligation quote on your deck or for some advice, please contact us on 031 – 762 1795 or complete the form below.

Wooden Balustrade Built in Everton – May 2013

Wooden balustrade

Click to enlarge

This wooden balustrade we built in Everton Kloof, Durban was for an established client of ours that we have done various amounts of work for in the past. She had had some stairs built in brick and concrete down the bank to access the lower level of her property. We had to wait a few weeks in order for the concrete to cure properly before we drilled into the side of it. It is always a pleasure installing a wooden balustrade onto a concrete substrate as opposed to a brick or block substrate. With concrete your holes can be drilled easily and the sleeve anchors used to secure the posts to the side of the stairs take nicely and bind properly. When drilling into bricks, or even worse blocks, the cavity that exists in the brick or block almost always creates a problem in that the sleeve anchor has nothing to set itself against and ends up turning on itself and not binding properly. It is most frustrating and sometimes results in drilling new holes to find a solid substrate or even going the chemical anchor route. If one is drilling into blocks with large cavities, it is sometimes better to go the chemical anchor route from the beginning.

Wooden balustrade

Click to enlarge

Chemical anchors come with sleeves that are inserted into the holes first and then the two-part chemical is squeezed into that and then a thread bar is inserted. The chemicals dry very quickly, in a few minutes or less, and the thread bar is then fixed securely in the wall. A post can now be pre drilled and inserted over the thread bar and washers and nuts fastened onto that. It is a much stronger bond than sleeve anchors, albeit more expensive. Currently chemical anchors can cost about R300-00 per tube, the size of a tube of silicone, and the sleeves are about R15-00 each.

This wooden balustrade needed to have a bend in it that can be seen from the pictures alongside as the top tread was deeper than the rest of the treads. There was a small landing at the top where the balustrade needed to be level with ground. This was the normal vertical picket style balustrade and we sealed it using our favourite Timberlife Satin Wood Base 28 in a mahogany tint. Using this product will result in lower maintenance costs going forward as no sanding will be required when re-sealing. You simply clean and re-seal.

Wooden balustrade

Click to enlarge

Balustrades are not the easiest thing to install. One needs to be very careful that both rails are parallel to each other and that they are parallel to the tips of the risers. Of course the tips of each riser will not necessarily be in a straight line. What we do is run a straight edge or fish line across all the risers to get an average line that we work from. The lower rail is then set parallel to this line and the top rail and hence the capping is set to this, again parallel. One also needs to be careful when taking corners. Often the distance between the capping and the steps can vary, especially if there is a landing involved. Where a balustrade arrives at a landing one needs to step the balustrade so that the capping will remain at the 1m mark above ground.

For a free no obligation quote on your wooden balustrades or other timber construction, please complete the form below and I will contact you or you can contact us on 031 – 762 1795.

 

Wooden Stairs Built in Cowies Hill, Durban

Wooden stairs Durban

Click to enlarge

These wooden stairs we built in were quite interesting because the client had a dining room which was raised about 600 from the patio outside. He wanted to be able to access the dining room through the new sliding doors. So we designed a small landing and some stairs to fit snugly in on one side so as to not take up too much space on the patio yet still allow a safe passage down the stairs. There were only a total of two treads plus the landing. It not only added value by creating an access point but also added charm with wood.

We built the entire landing on the ground from balau, screwed it all together and then lifted it into place and attached it to two walls of the house using sleeve anchors. This method also kept the whole landing in the same plane i.e. no cleat and joist system but rather a joist and fascia beam system. Each method has their own applications. If it is a fairly large deck where it would be impossible to attach each joist to the beam and then lift it into place, then one would need to use a cleat, beam and joist system. However where it is possible to attach each joist to the beam or fascia beam then it can be semi pre assembled and lifted into place. This can also successfully be done with a deck that is quite close to ground as the ends of the joists can be supported quite easily while the other ends are attached to the fascia beam which is then attached to the wall. However a deck that is raised off the ground would pose problems in trying to support each joist individually while attaching them and then lifting the entire structure up. The fascia beam system also allows one to keep the structure in the same plane and if space beneath the deck is limited then this is a better option.

Wooden stairs Durban

Click to enlarge

We clad or screened the underside of this landing to create a storage area with a hinged door on one side so that it could be closed and locked.

This one we finished with Timberlife Ultra Care Gold as it was not exposed to direct sunlight. The Timberlife Satin Wood Base 28/28 has a much lower wax content so tends not to blemish that easily in direct sunlight. The Ultra Care Gold however has a much higher wax content and the UV in the sunlight tends to make it go a bit blotchy which can result in you having to sand it all off when it comes to maintenance. The key to low maintenance in wooden decks is to apply the correct finish correctly. To sand an entire deck back to wood and remove all traces of finish is almost impossible and at times I have thought it would be cheaper to simply replace the entire deck.

This was a small day which took us a day to complete. We also added a small gate for him on the existing deck, so in total it was a two-day job with sanding and sealing.

For a free no obligation quote on stairs or other wooden structure please complete the form below and we will contact you or you can call us on 031 – 762 1795.

Wooden Stair Case Build Durban

Wooden stair builder

Click to enlarge

This wooden stair case build by The Wood Joint in Durban was a tricky one. The client was a committee member on the body corporate for a small block of flats in Durban. There were about 4 units in the block and the existing steel fire escape had rusted to a point where it was unsafe. So first we had to remove the steel structure. With a little help from my friends, we came in and chemical anchored stainless eyes into the wall on both sides above the steel platform you see in the pics. From there we rigged up some climbing equipment to be safe and started cutting sections out of the steel structure and lowering them slowly to the ground. We had to cut small sections as the steel was 10mm thick and we didn’t want to damage the walls, windows or doors on the way down. We managed to get most of it down in one day with a small piece remaining for day two. We battled slightly in getting the main support off as the sewage pipes had been installed after the steel so we had to cut the steel out around the pipes so as not to damage the pipes. In removing it we inadvertently damaged a corner of the wall as the rawl bolts there were quite large, rusted and pretty much part of the building by now. We patched that using structural grout which was hard and strong enough to support our main beam to.

Wooden stair builder

Click to enlarge

With the steel gone, we set out to build a wooden stair case and landing that could act as a fire escape. The small landing part was easier enough and we canter levered it so as to keep our posts out of the way below for parking. In these smaller blocks of flats in Durban space is very limited so posts need to be kept well out the way of parking space. Because we were canter levering it we needed to use 30 x 140 joists of balau rather than our normal 30 x 102 joists.

The stringers for the stairs were also tricky as we had to follow the original line of the stringers because there was a window beneath that we couldn’t cover and we could only protrude to the end of the wall without obstructing the driveway. This resulted in our stringers being placed at 45 degrees which resulted in our risers being of equal length to our runs or treads. It is not ideal as it makes the stairs very steep but we had no option due to space and height. We were a total of about 4m in the air to the landing.

The treads went on alright, the balustrade too and we had to join the stringer on the outside with two independent posts to ground to support it as the timber we could get wasn’t long enough to run the full length of the stringer.

Wooden stair builder

Click to enlarge

We went back there a year or two later as one of the treads had popped a screw. Sometimes the timber moves more than one wants it to and breaks the screw off. We do however put additional back up screws in each piece we secure so they are safe in the event that one screw does break.

For a free no obligations quote on wooden stairs or any other outdoor timber construction please complete the form below or you can call us on 031 – 762 1795.

Wooden stair builder

Click to enlarge

Wooden stair builder

Click to enlarge

Timber Stairs Built in Hillcrest – February 2013

Timber stairs Durban

Click to enlarge

As a deck builder and timber stair builder in Durban I have had to learn how to build timber stairs the hard way, through trial and error (and a bit of Googling).  Timber stairs have always been a tricky one for me and I have battled to build them in the past. At first I Google’d ‘building timber’ stairs and found a few videos on the topic which explained it quite nicely. Most of the videos online though are American and they therefore explain it in inches. But after converting it the technique and calculation used to work out your runs and risers becomes quite clear.

The riser is the vertical piece of the step and the run (or tread) is the horizontal piece. Building regulations in South Africa state that the riser can be no more than 200mm high and the tread or run can be no shorter than 250mm. Timber, either in pine or balau, will come standard at either 140mm wide or 220 wide. One should therefore use two pieces of 140 wide stock in order to get a tread of 280mm wide. I have seen stairs built using 220 wide stock which although is not completely according to building regulations can work if a gap is left between the front of the top tread and the back of the tread below that. The gap should be at least 30mm to get back to your minimum of a 250mm wide tread, although building regulations state that this gap should be no bigger than 20mm. Because the stairs are open, one can normally get away with this as your foot will be able to move past the back-end of the tread as you climb the stairs. Be sure to check with building regulations before designing your stairs to ensure you are compliant or that your contractor is adhering to these regulations.

Timber stair builder

Click to enlarge

First you need to calculate the exact height of your riser and the exact width of your tread. I will use 1,1m as the height of the stairs for the example below.

Assuming a riser of about 200mm or less divide 1, 100mm by 200mm. You get 5.5 risers. Increase this to 6 risers because if you take it back to 5 risers you riser will be more than 200mm.

So 6 risers and therefore 5 treads. The top tread of course being the deck itself.

1, 100mm divided by 6 risers give you an exact riser height of 183.3mm. 5 treads of 280mm each will result in a total floor length of 1, 4m. From this you can work out the length of the stringer. a²+ b² = c². Remember him? Yeah!!! The stringer by the way is the piece that runs down diagonally from the deck to the floor and to which the treads are attached.

Now lay the stringer flat on the ground, starting your markings a comfortable distance from the end to allow for cutting to the correct angle and possibly notching the end to accommodate any lip that may exist on the deck. Deckboards can either be set flush with the joist or they can hang slightly over which will dictate whether or not the stringer needs to be notched so that it can be fastened to the joist or beam.

Timber stairs Durban

Click to enlarge

With the stringer flat on the ground, take a large square with markings on both sides (the big black square) and slide it along the one side of the stringer so that you reach the 183.3mm mark on one side and the 280mm mark on the other side. Of course you would round this to the nearest millimetre. One can buy little clamps that clamp to the sides of the square to make this job easier. In fact sophisticated stair stringer squares can be bought but the big black square works just as well. With your riser height and tread width marked on the stringer you can now draw a line around the square at the corner. This is where your riser and tread will be. Move the square down to the end of the marks and repeat to mark the next one. Continue until the end of the stringer. Cut the top end of your stringer off parallel to the riser at the correct distance to attach to the joist. The bottom of the stringer will be cut, either parallel to the riser or tread depending on whether you want a vertical or horizontal end which will either attach to the concrete ground (horizontal) or be set into the soil using a post and concrete (horizontal or vertical).

If you have as much difficulty understanding this as I did, then you are not alone. Try it and you will find it becomes second nature.
Now it’s just a matter of attaching your treads and job done. If you have a balustrade running down the sides of your stairs this can be attached now. Care should always be taken where the balustrade capping and cross supports, on the stairs, meet the same on the deck as they are running at different heights. It is better to take the balustrade up, level out whilst still on the stairs and then meet the horizontal.