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How to Build Redwood Spa Steps: Follow-up Reports after 15 and 42 Months

Updated on June 5, 2017
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Working with wood has been a pleasant diversion from Dale's computer career, and is an interest he learned from his father, a cabinet maker.

Introduction

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.

Finished redwood steps as completed in April, 2013.
Finished redwood steps as completed in April, 2013.
After 15 months under the Las Vegas sun, these steps are long overdue for another coat of varnish.
After 15 months under the Las Vegas sun, these steps are long overdue for another coat of varnish.
After re-varnishing.
After re-varnishing.

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:

http://homeguides.sfgate.com/redwood-deck-sealing-problems-35092.html

Here is some more information that may help:

http://www.deckstainhelp.com/category/deck-product-reviews/deck-stain-reviews/

The good news is that the steps are still solid and functional.

View from an angle before refinishing.
View from an angle before refinishing.
After refinishing.  Bella appears interested, but Mr. Beagles is not.
After refinishing. Bella appears interested, but Mr. Beagles is not.

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

You can almost smell the rain in this photo.
You can almost smell the rain in this photo.
The new varnish coat is doing its job.
The new varnish coat is doing its job.

I missed a spot!

Bella pushed her ball right next to the spot I missed.
Bella pushed her ball right next to the spot I missed.
My wife wants me to add a side rail.  That will be a good time to touch up this spot.
My wife wants me to add a side rail. That will be a good time to touch up this 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.

More photos

Another angle
Another angle
Close up
Close up
Next to spa
Next to spa

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

Steps were pulled out of the shade from the spa to get better photos
Steps were pulled out of the shade from the spa to get better photos
Bella can't believe I've let the steps go this long without refinishing
Bella can't believe I've let the steps go this long without refinishing
But that doesn't stop her from playing ball on them...
But that doesn't stop her from playing ball on them...
...or basking in the sun nearby.
...or basking in the sun nearby.

Audience Preference Poll

Do you prefer a transparent or opaque sealer?

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    • profile image

      Steve 5 months ago

      Your materials list is rather confusing. I dont understand 2x8x8,

      I understand the 2inch x 8inch but what is the other 8 for? its the same for the 2x4x8?

    • Papillon man profile image
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      Dale Tinklepaugh 5 months ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Steve, thank you for the question. I will try to edit the article soon to clarify that ambiguity. The last 8 represents the length of the board in feet. When you buy lumber it comes in standard lengths, such as 8 feet or 12 feet. It's one of those important details that's easy to leave out of the write-up after doing a project because it is obvious to the writer, but not obvious to all readers.

    • profile image

      Steve 6 weeks ago

      Thanks for the great design. I'd like to build the updated design. Can you supply the instructions and measurements to help. Thanks again.

    • Papillon man profile image
      Author

      Dale Tinklepaugh 6 weeks ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      Steve, thank you for your interest. I believe the information you want is in my article, "Redwood Spa Step Design Improvements", a link to which I just added above the comment section of this article. Please let me know if something is unclear there.

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