Possum. It's what's for dinner.

About two years ago, we decided to get rid of as much of the carpet in the house as we could. We had two cats and both were white, and the carpet was dark green. That is recipe for disaster no matter how often you shave them pink. As you can imagine, the carpet was almost impossible to keep hair-free, since for some unknown reason, our cats seem to spend more time writhing around on their backs than Lindsay Lohan.

We replaced everything we could with hardwood flooring, with the exclusion of the stairwell between the first floor and second floor. We didn't want to pull the carpet up there because we knew the stairs underneath were just "builder quality," and we figured we'd just save our money until we could afford to have someone replace them. After we had the upstairs floor finished, my wife decided to paint the stairwell, since it was pretty banged up. What happened next is this: She dropped a half gallon of antique white latex paint down the stairs. She will tell you that she did it by mistake. She was almost completely done with her paint job by the time she did this, so either she is telling me the truth or she is devious enough to think it would be more believable if she finished the job first. At any rate, this meant we had to pull up and discard the carpet on the stairs. What was underneath was pretty bad. Stringers cut with a circular saw, and what amounted to scrap wood for treads and risers. Paint and plaster all over.

Carpet covers a multitude of sins, and that's a fact.

We didn't have the money to replace the stairs, so we thought we'd get a quote on having them re-carpeted. Turns out, carpeting stairs is the thing most carpet guys hate the most, and the prices we got were between six and seven hundred bucks. I am nothing if not a cheap bastard so obviously I thought to myself "For 600 bucks, screw the carpet. I can build the new stairs myself for less than that."

I can do it myself for less.

I never seem to learn. Out of all the times those words have come out of my mouth, I would say about 75% of the time, I am wrong. But I am like a gambler in that respect -- I remember the wins and try to forget the losses. Don't get me wrong; Most of the time when the job is complete, I'm happy for having had the experience, but in the end it always seems to cost me more, if not in actual money, then in tremendous ass-pain. I decided I was going to do it anyway.

I mentioned this plan to my father, who mentioned it to a builder friend of his. His builder friend laughed heartily at my foolishness, then said that he had a set of precut stringers that he thought might work, and I could have them for free.

Free is better than not free, unless you're talking about furniture or hookers, so I took them. I made some rough measurements, and pronounced them most likely good. I sanded them, painted them, cut all the treads and risers, made about 70 wedges for keeping everything together and enlisted the help of a friend of mine who can make just about anything with wood, and make it better than I ever could. He makes fine furniture for a living and custom electric guitars for fun. And his boss had done stairs before and shared some tips with him. He bought a book on building stairs before coming over. That's the kind of guy he is.

On Saturday, we ripped out the old stairs. Being a meticulous and cautious sort, my friend suggested we try to get the old stairs removed without completely destroying them, since we weren't 100% sure the new stringers would work. All in all, we only had to saw through about half the treads to get them out.

When we had a giant hole where the stairs were supposed to be, we brought in one of the new stringers to figure out the length. Rise and run calculations are not fun, I can tell you that much.

We made cardboard templates, we enlisted non-euclidean geometry and I am pretty sure we came unknowingly close to summoning the Old Ones. After all was said and done, it turns out that the rise and run on the new stringers was just a tiny bit different than the old ones (the old steps, not the Old Ones), by about 1/16" per step. Which meant either the top step would be a couple inches longer and lower than it should have been, or each step would be at a slight downward angle. Neither of these solutions was optimal, unless my goal was to make it really easy for someone to break their ass on the stairs. So as a result of this, we had to put the old ones back in, 1/3 of which were cut into pieces. No fun at all.

So until I can get some new stringers cut and try again NEXT weekend, we have Cletus stairs, fit for a Louisiana Bayou shack:

On the plus side, it sure does help circulate the musty basement smell throughout the living room, and that's something we've been trying to accomplish for a while.

If the stairs don't work out next weekend, I think I'm just going to install a net. Then we can scamper up and down it like a couple of spider monkeys.


  1. nice banister for your ghetto stairs. is that called shabby chic? you should leave it like that.

  2. Anonymous6:50 PM

    Not sure what this has to do with possum, but it was a pretty amusing post. So the saying is true, a little bit of knowledge really is a dangerous thing. Good to know.

  3. I can so identify. I have not done stairs yet. As a matter of fact it is the reason I have put off rebuilding my deck. Oh well. But I can just identify with thinking I can accomplish that. Then part way through I wonder what I was thinking. That and with all the tools I have to go buy it would have been a lot cheaper for someone else to do it.

    I really do love your "new" stairs with the banister. They really do compliment each other.

  4. Derek, I guess I was playing on the stereotypical southern white trash meal plan.

    Crystal, if I lived in a loft in soho, maybe. But it doesn't really go with the rest of the house.

    Barman, doing the job yourself is just an excuse to buy tools.

  5. I swear, you sound just like my husband.....always have to do it yourself!!! It must be a guy thing??

  6. Sounds like it's time for a dumbwaiter a la "Webster".

  7. Those stairs dont look to bad, just paint them :)

  8. I thought MY cats were the only ones who constantly writhe around on their backs! Sometimes all five of them will pass out on the living room floor, paws splayed out, tummies on display, snoring so loud we have to crank the TV up a notch or two.

  9. I don't get it what's wrong with them now? Just stain them the color you want and put a floor underneath.

    And it's not Opossum it's squirrel we tend to eat round these parts.

    And why is there a creepy ass door behind your stairs? What's behind that door J.V.???

  10. Shit. That's the door from the other side going down IN TO the basemet isn't it?

    My bad, too many horror flicks and ya know the whole "I'm retarded" thing. My bad.

  11. Mmm, musty basement smell. Now with added spiders.

    Rise and run and geometry and free stringers = headache of euclidean proportion. The finish work on them is a PIA too, esp the "when are we going to Poly the stairs?" question. I feel your pain!

    Good luck with that!

  12. JV I have been chuckling all day just thinking about your post. You have inspired me to post an Ode to My Husband's unfinished home projects on my blog. I'll have to work on that next week though cause right now we are on the vacation from hell!!!

  13. JV-So sorry about the stair debacle. I have a whole townhouse with issues, so when you solve yours, send your wood genius to my place. K? Thanks!

  14. I notice there is not anything said of "wifey the paint lady" after all this

  15. scoop, no -- her punishment was that she had to paint the wooden steps underneath and then live with them for almost two years.

  16. Anonymous6:57 PM

    Oh no Johnny! I thought you could build anything? A windsor chair out of a tree and all? I'm guilty of the cheap thing myself but that's how we learn the skills right?
    At any rate, I say put in a rope ladder and a slide.
    I've always wanted a high glossed mahogany slide from bedroom right into the kitchen. Now that's classy.
    In the meanwhile paint the treads white, add some flower stencils and tell your wife they're rustic shabby chic.

  17. Oh...a little paint will fix it right up LOL..and is there anything wrong with ghetto stairs??? I have them.

  18. Alex, you will laugh, but my first draft of this post had a "tow rope and a slide" -- so you were close. And you're right -- the next time I need to do stairs, I'll know how.

  19. I just found you via Bloginterviewer after they asked me to submit. I love your writing: it reminds me of all the North American men I have met on my travels - but that is another story.

  20. For a coupla years, the chic thing to put in mountain vacation houses down here (NC) were "backless" stairs, looking alot like that, which real estate people claimed gave the places an "airy" look, but which tenants rapidly found were no fun to try and walk up drunk. Just varnish the damned things and claim you're bringing in "that retro look!"

  21. JV
    I finished my ode....you should check it out if you have time. You think your stair case is bad...huh, you just wait!!!

  22. Well, ah sure do hope all y'all's new 'uns work raht good.

    We renovated an entire house ourselves EXCEPT the stairs and roof. I really admire your fighting spirit. Good luck!

  23. Anonymous10:51 PM

    Not sure when i got an E-blogger acc but im assuming Google owns it since my gmail email is on it ^-^
    But any who
    Funny blogs you have here :D
    Pee-pads would be a nice idea in Macdonald's..along with 10-12 air fresheners for the fat people who take giant loads and destroy the ozone layer with the stinkyness :S