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: A Gneiss Wall

Radial Steps Gneiss Wall

Radial Steps Gneiss Wall

This drystone wall connects two columns in a Montford backyard. The redial steps are visible in the distance. Another wall segment will continue from the furthest column and turn at the bank. Most of the stone is a granitic gneiss: heavy, sharp and cantankerous. And it makes a lovely wall. Quarried a few miles outside of Asheville, it looks like it belongs here because it does.

In the photo below, find the green marble tucked in the joinery. In the bottom photo, there’s a pool ball.

Radial Steps Gneiss Wall

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.