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How to Build Redwood Spa Steps: Follow-up Reports after 15 and 42 Months
This article reports on the status of the redwood spa steps I built and documented in the original article, "How to Build Redwood Spa Steps." While the structure is still as sound as the day it was built, its appearance has suffered under the relentless Las Vegas sun.
The information in this report may help someone decide whether to use this design. A design variation is suggested that may look better in the long run. I will also discuss how environmental factors may affect the need to refinish the steps more or less often.
At the end will be some photos taken three and a half years after building, 27 months after refinishing.
Direct sunlight is brutal on wood!
These steps face east. They are shaded in the afternoon by the spa, but get direct sunlight most of the morning. The wood that was not directly facing the sun all morning retained its coat of varnish much better. So my first conclusion is that if the steps are located in a shaded area, they will require less frequent varnishing.
My second conclusion is that if shade is not available, the surfaces exposed to the sun should be re-varnished every six months.
When applying the varnish originally, I started a second coat immediately after finishing the first, and then a third coat immediately after that. Perhaps if I had repeated this the next day, it would have lasted longer.
Some fading is to be expected anyway, but I obviously let the top and front of the steps go too far before adding more varnish. Those parts are much darker now, while the side areas look much closer to their original color.
The other question is whether spar varnish is the best sealer for this environment. The following article suggests not:
Here is some more information that may help:
The good news is that the steps are still solid and functional.
A possible design change
My original design goal was for simplicity and strength first, and looks second. If I had it to do over, I would lengthen the vertical 2 x 4's facing forward and shorten the horizontal 2 x 4's so that the front of the risers for each step would be formed by a single piece of wood on each side. It wouldn't loose much in sturdiness, but would look a lot better now without the 2 x 4 ends showing.
Update in 2017: This design change has been implemented in a new set of steps and is documented with photos and details in another article, "Redwood Spa Step Design Improvements", linked to at the bottom of this article.
It rained the next day after refinishing
I missed a spot!
Conclusion to 15 Month Report
The steps are still sturdy and functional, but the weather has had a negative impact on their appearance. We had a canvas cover over the spa, but it wore out years ago. It wouldn't have provided any shade until noon, anyway. Until we can get effective cover over the spa and steps, I will need to monitor the steps closely and refinish promptly when needed. At some point a more opaque sealer may be needed. I hope that is a long time from now, because my wife and I both greatly prefer the natural look of the wood grain.
Report after Three and a Half Years
As you can see from the photos below, the finish has worn off again, but the steps are still sturdy and functional. This is undoubtedly due to their being built from redwood. I might sand and refinish them, but will wait until I can get a cover built over the back patio and spa.
Photos Taken Over Two Years Later
Audience Preference Poll
Do you prefer a transparent or opaque sealer?
The original article is linked to below:
- How to Build Redwood Spa Steps
Article with photos showing construction of a basic, inexpensive but attractive design using redwood for two wide, sturdy steps.
The possible design change mentioned above has since been built and is described here:
- Redwood Spa Step Design Improvements
Design improvements with details on how to build a set of redwood spa steps having a smaller size than the extra wide, extra deep steps described in the original article