Radial Stone Steps

Radial Stone Steps

radial stone steps
This is the beginning of a set of drystone steps that fall on a very tight radius. This is a new challenge and one I’m truly enjoying. When completed it’ll be a set of eight steps that lead to a patio that I’ve nearly completed.

radial stone steps
Here’s another view of the tight radius, from the inside. Not quite a spiral staircase, but still tight and fairly detailed in terms of structure and placement. Unlike a spiral staircase though, there’s ample room to land a foot on each tread, an important aspect for a heavily used set of steps.


This is the sketch I made to help guide me through the layout, so that I hit the top of the block wall in the proper alignment. I spent a couple of hours moving pixel-stones around on the screen, trying different configurations to get the right arc. So far, reality is lining up with the design quite nicely.

New Panoramas & A Marketing Class


This is a photo montage/panorama of the steps I built this past winter in the Montford district of Asheville. The step treads are made of the full-color variant of Pennsylvania bluestone. The wall, columns and step risers are made of granitic gneiss, mostly from the Hooper’s Creek quarry in Fletcher. The steps and columns are mortared; the wall is completely dry.

Sandstone steps and wall buried in snow. Looks positively comfortable right now.


Last Friday I led an hour long workshop for craftspeople and artisans on how to market their work. It was part of Handmade in America’s Art, Craft and Design Expo at the North Carolina Arboretum. The main push of my talk was that marketing is education and that craft artists should focus their marketing efforts on the 3 P’s: product, process and person. I also talked a bit about setting goals, making a cohesive plan and punk rock.

Radial Steps in the Newspaper

I spent most of the winter in the historical Montford district of Asheville, building a set of radial stone steps, three big columns and some drystone retaining walls. The house is featured on a tour from HandMade: The Western North Carolina Craft, Architecture & Design Expo taking place June 25-26 at the N.C. Arboretum. The Asheville Citizen-Times ran a story on the house that featured an image of the steps and mentions of Hammerhead and its marbles!

Radial Steps: Image collection

Radial Steps Image Collection

I’m almost done with the radial stone steps I’m building in the Montford district of Asheville. The sixth riser is in place, awaiting the final tread, which I still need to fabricate. The image above is a panorama looking down onto the left hand column and the steps. A wall connects the top radius and the column. You can see the shape of it in this image, but it is not completely built up yet. The columns will be a few inches taller than the wall/steps and will have capstones.

Radial Steps Image Collection
This was the view Monday. I’m using the propane heater to warm up the stones in the area I was planning to work.

Radial Steps Image Collection
This is a shot from behind the steps. From here you can see the overall shape and get a clear picture of the structural nature of the stonework. This is a not a veneer. By my very rough calculations, there will be 12+ tons of material in the steps and columns when I’m done. The backside of the steps is ugly as all get out, but it’s solid as a…

Radial Steps Image Collection
The prettier side of the stone steps.

Radial Steps: Tread two and landing installed

Stones laid dry to test fit

It really did take two weeks to get this step installed. We had a wicked cold snap, with at least a week’s worth of days that didn’t go above freezing. But the last two days have been in the fifties and it’s felt like summer. In the image above, you are looking down onto the bottom two steps. The lowest step is eight feet across. The landing narrows down to six feet. There are small points on the outermost stones on the landing, that almost look like little horns, pointing back at the camera. Those will be cut square and columns will rise up alongside the step. Four steps will rise above the landing, with the radius reversed, curving back into the hillside.

A mason friend is restoring a chimney around the corner. I scored a whole mess of scrap bricks from him, which I have been using for fill. Because the bricks are old and some are breaking down, I am only using them inside the structure. No bricks will be used where they will be vulnerable to moisture

The image to the right is of the bluestone laid dry to test the fit of the stones. So far the templating system has worked beautifully.

Bluestone walkway

Bluestone walkway detail

I built this walkway last fall using Pennsylvania bluestone. In this image you can see both the true and full-color bluestone. The path is 42″ across and laid dry. There’s a small set of steps in the middle; the very straight line at the bottom of the image is the back edge of the top step. The steps are Tennessee sandstone, but they fit the color palette well. The path is drystone, with no mortar or concrete at all. It leads to the main entrance of a private residence.

Radial Steps: Getting started


On Wednesday I built the riser for the first step, seen here. It was a warm enough day, but only ten percent of my stone was visible; the rest still covered by snow. These steps are structural, meaning they’re stone all the way through; there’s no block or concrete, except for the slab underneath it all. They will extend almost all the way to the cut bank. These steps and attached columns are mortared. The adjacent retaining walls will be drystone.

Tread for bottom step

I spent Thursday in the shop, seen below, fabricating these tread stones for the bottom step. As with the Eight Leaves project I made paper, then roofing felt templates. The paper templates for this step are taped to the wall behind the saw. The roofing felt templates are piled on the table. This time I used my seven inch grinder instead of the five inch. These radii are more gentle on these steps and the bigger blade made it easier to get through cleanly. The downside is that the bigger grinder kicks like a mule when the blade catches.