Radial Steps Column on a Sunny Day

Radial Steps Column

Radial Steps Column
The Montford radial steps are all in place, awaiting some serious clean-up and grouting. The two columns that frame the steps are up to height, awaiting caps. The third column in within inches of completion. I have shifted my focus to the drystone retaining wall between the columns.
Pictured above: looking down one of the radial steps columns next to the steps.

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.

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.

A Bench for Grandpa Tony

from the Chapel Hill News (Now The News & Observer)
16 December 2009

BY DAVE HART, Staff Writer
CHAPEL HILL – When Grandpa Tony went out for his walks, which he did nearly every day until he was into his mid-90s, he always made sure he was well provisioned.
He kept cookies in his right pocket for the neighborhood’s children and dog treats dogs in his left pocket for its dogs. For everyone he had a smile, a wave and a warm conversation.
“He lived here for 18 years and he walked miles every day,” said Virginia Saam, one of Antonio Marimpietri’s neighbors in the Ironwoods subdivison off Seawell School Road. “He talked to everybody. He knew all the kids. He knew all the dogs. Everybody knew Grandpa Tony.”
And when Marimpietri died last July, a month after his 98th birthday, everybody felt the loss. As word of his passing spread, in person and through the Ironwoods blog, the sentiment quickly grew that the neighborhood should commemorate his life and vibrant presence in some way.
“There’s a corner in the neighborhood where the road splits, and Tony would always sit on his walker at that corner and wave and talk to everyone who passed by,” Saam said. “It sort of became Tony’s corner. It occurred to me that maybe we could do something special for him there. That got such a response! Everybody wanted to contribute.”
Another neighbor, Deb Vacca, suggested that it would be a fitting tribute to remember Grandpa Tony with a bench at his corner, a resting place where neighbors could stop and visit with one another just as he always had.
“We settled on the idea of a stone bench, and then we did a Google search,” said neighbor Matthew Feldt. “We found a stonemason based in Asheville. He turned out to be exactly what we were looking for — somebody who is eco-centric, detail oriented, somebody who would really care about the project. And he did; he came to care about Tony.”
Marc Archambault makes exquisite natural stone walls, patios, walkways and other projects, using “dry,” or mortar-free techniques. He does most of his work in and around Asheville, but “for the right project,” he says, he’ll go just about anywhere. Grandpa Tony’s bench was a right project.
Archambault cut the 600-pound bench slab from a 3,000-pound block of Tennessee sandstone. He chiseled the support pedestals from smaller — though still substantial — blocks of stone, and on Oct. 30 he brought the whole thing down from the mountains in a pickup truck. With Feldt’s help, he unloaded the slab, prepared and leveled the site and constructed the bench. On a separate block he affixed a plaque reading, “For our friend, Grandpa Tony Marimpietri.” He covered the bench and block with a tarp so the epoxy holding the plaque in place could dry for 24 hours.
The next day was Halloween, when the neighborhood every year holds a potluck part. On an impulse, Ironwoods resident Ginny Thompson sent an e-mail out proposing to unveil the bench before the potluck.
“I sent out this note and went and bought a couple bottles of wine,” Thompson said. “I only gave everybody about two hours’ notice, so I didn’t expect much turnout. I figured, worst case scenario, I’d have a glass of wine with a neighbor.”
She should have bought more wine. Despite the short notice, more than 20 residents showed up, along, of course, with lots of kids and dogs.
Vince Norako, a good friend of Grandpa Tony’s, offered an eloquent toast, and Marimpietri’s son Tony, who lives with his family in Ironwoods, pulled the tarp off the bench.
“It meant a lot,” Tony Marimpietri said. “The neighborhood has been amazing.”
His father, he said, grew up in New York and worked in the restaurant business — “He said that during the Depression if you worked in a restaurant, at least you could eat,” he said.
Marimpietri the elder opened two restaurants of his own in New Jersey and eventually moved into the wine business, becoming a sommelier. He moved to Ironwoods in 1991 and immediately began to make friends.
“Dad was very gregarious, and people responded to him because he was authentic, because he was legitimately interested in them and their lives,” Tony Marimpietri said. “He always stopped to talk, and people were always visiting him at his home. They would take him to the store or to his favorite restaurant, Italian Pizzeria III. As he was going through the dying process, so many people went to Hospice to visit with him and say goodbye. The people at Hospice told me they’d never seen anything like it.
“Everyone was very, very supportive. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to care for the elderly, too.”


Memorial stone bench by Hammerhead Stoneworks

Memorial stone bench

Sister Cities, Brother Benches

These two benches were cut from the same slab of Tennessee sandstone. The first was built as a free-standing structure in a Chapel Hill neighborhood to celebrate the life of one of their most beloved members, Grandpa Tony. The bench is mortared and features an adjacent boulder with a small plaque. I call this type a castle block bench, named after the material used for the base stones.

Memorial stone bench by Hammerhead Stoneworks

Grandpa Tony’s bench

The second bench is in Asheville, adjacent to a sidewalk. The sitting stone, seatback and arm rests were all cut from same stone as Grandpa Tony’s bench. It is a drystone structure and built directly into the retaining wall.

retaining wall bench

A stone bench set into a retaining wall in downtown Asheville.

Next spring I will be leading a hands-on class at the Arboretum on making a stone bench. We’ll be building a castle block bench together that day. The official class date hasn’t been announced, but let me know if you’d like to be updated when the class registry opens.