RJF Staircase, Loft & Catwalk

Spine: 4” x 8” steel I-beam
Treads and decking: ipe wood
Handrail: sapele wood
Pickets: 1 ½” steel tubing; 3/8” solid steel rod

In service: 2010

This is a project that I looked forward to for a long time. It consists of three sections: a staircase, a loft, and a catwalk.  The stairs lead to the loft, the loft to the catwalk, and the catwalk to the attic.  The image of an outdoor courtyard guided most decisions.  And once size and location were established, construction of the loft and catwalk was straightforward.  Wood framing with ipe decking lend to that outdoor deck feel.  Once the catwalk and loft were in place, it was time to build the staircase.  This proved to be a little more challenging.  I always knew it would be steel, but of what shape and variety I did not know.  The shape and location were chosen because they were the least obtrusive to the room.  This was paramount.  Next was the spin of the stairs and size of the steel.  Round tubing, square tubing, a combination of the two, some type of girder set-up…. Finally settled on a 4” x 8” I-beam.  The I-beam radius was fabricated using plate steel cut and welded together to create a curved I-beam.  This radius was then welded to the straight sections.  The end result is the impression of one length of I-beam that has somehow been bent and twisted into its proper shape.  Risers were then cut and added, leaving just the handrail and treads to be completed.  

I wanted the treads to match the ipe decking found on the loft and catwalk.  But, I wanted them to be much thicker and a solid plank.  A slab of wood.  Problem is, ipe cannot be glued and so was not an option.  Although ipe is available in thicker dimensions (albeit very expensive), I was worried about any cupping that may occur.  My solution was to use standard 1” x 6”, rip it down and bolt it together to create the treads.  If you look closely, you’ll see that each tread is not a solid plank and it is not glued, it is bolted.  

Last was the handrail set-up.  1 1/2” vertical round tubing holds 3/8” solid rod that runs parallel to the stairs and decking.  This is capped by a sapele wood handrail, laminated in the curve and sold in the straights.  Finish is polyurethane.  When it came time to disassemble all parts and remove them for painting, RJF liked the unfinished steel look.  If feelings changed, the parts could always be painted.  Still liking the unfinished steel and can’t imagine it any other way.