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How to Build Redwood Spa Steps

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.

Finished redwood steps.  $55.05 plus some leftover varnish plus labor.

Finished redwood steps. $55.05 plus some leftover varnish plus labor.

Original factory-made spa steps cost over $200 and lasted four or five years.

Original factory-made spa steps cost over $200 and lasted four or five years.

After our manufactured spa steps broke, I did a quick search on the Internet looking for a relatively simple design to build steps, accompanied by photos and a clear explanation. Although I found one later that I would have considered, I became impatient and decided to sketch out a simple design myself. Then I went to Lowes to get some pressure-treated lumber. Not finding the 8-inch width I wanted in the treated lumber, I ended up buying redwood. My wife and I are very pleased with the result, so I am glad they didn't have the 8-inch treated wood.

This article shows how I originally built these steps in May 2013. Following that description, I added a section showing how I added a handrail to those original steps in March 2017.

Following that is a short section showing the design extended to three steps using Google SketchUp, a 3D Modeling App.

Handrail added

Handrail added

Design Variation

At the end of the article is a "Lessons Learned" section, which also has photos of a new, smaller (meaning not extra wide and not extra deep, as were the original) set of steps. The new steps were also built in March 2017, using an improved design.

A new design variation with dimensions comparable to most commercially available spa steps

A new design variation with dimensions comparable to most commercially available spa steps

Materials Used for This Project

The four redwood boards used for this project cost $42.22.

The four redwood boards used for this project cost $42.22.

Decking screws cost $8.68.  There were only 10 screws left in the box after the steps were built.

Decking screws cost $8.68. There were only 10 screws left in the box after the steps were built.

Spar varnish was leftover from another project.  A quart lists for $13.37 now before tax.

Spar varnish was leftover from another project. A quart lists for $13.37 now before tax.

Measurements and Design Considerations

As a general rule, it is best to measure everything and avoid assumptions. Even though you try to pick out the straightest boards when shopping, there are usually slight deviations even in a three-foot length. And across four boards, those slight deviations can add up and play havoc with theoretical calculations.

  1. First I laid all four board sections for the tops of the two steps side by side and measured the total width to be 28 ¾ inches.
  2. Then I cut the two bottom 2x4's to that length.
  3. All boards were cut to length and laid out to confirm fit prior to assembly. Width and height are about the same as the old steps, but each step is four inches deeper. This makes a much more stable platform from which to negotiate spa entry and exit, especially if someone has balance or leg problems.

This design is fairly simple and looks good (I think) with redwood. With pressure- treated wood, it might not look as good. I was trying to make efficient use of the four boards, so there are some gaps in the sides. These gaps are actually an improvement over the old factory-made steps, because leaves and other debris would blow underneath the steps and become trapped very easily. It was hard to get the stuff out even with a leaf blower without moving the steps. The new steps have passed the leaf blower test.

Materials List

I had some spar varnish left over from another project. A quart (Lowes Item #68797) will be more than enough and should cost about $15.00 including sales tax.

Lowes Part #DescriptionQtyUnit PriceTotal

57142

2x8x8 top choice redwood

2

14.47

28.94

24793

2x4x8 top choice redwood

2

6.64

13.28

323914

9x2-1/2-in. red decking screws

1 lb.

8.68

8.68

Sales Tax

 

 

 

4.12

Total

 

 

 

55.02

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Read More From Dengarden

About Board Dimensions

Dimensional lumber is specified in three dimensions, in units of inches x inches x feet, where the standard inch values are nominal.

For the dimensions specified in inches, the actual dimension will usually be about one half inch less than the corresponding nominal value. The dimension specified in feet should be accurate.

Tools Used

Circular saw, safety glasses, file, square, hammer, power drill with drive for screws, Papillon (optional). Not shown: tape measure, extension cord, 1-inch brush, very small paint roller. Loose boards in front of steps are what's left after cutting.

Circular saw, safety glasses, file, square, hammer, power drill with drive for screws, Papillon (optional). Not shown: tape measure, extension cord, 1-inch brush, very small paint roller. Loose boards in front of steps are what's left after cutting.

Finished dimensions

Width of both steps

36 inches

Depth of both steps

14 1/4 inches

Height of lower step

7 inches

Height of upper step

13 3/4 inches

Table of Cuts

Length (inches)Number of 2x8 piecesNumber of 2x4 pieces

36

4

9 1/4

2

4

2 3/4

2

4

28 3/4

2

14 3/8

4

Cutting the Boards

I didn't want to drag my table saw out of the shed, so I did all my cuts with a circular saw. It would be easier to get uniform heights for each set of vertical boards by using a table saw with a fence set for each height, six cuts at 9 ¼ in. and six at 2 ¾ in.

Remember to take into account that a rotating power blade will tend to chip and tear on one side of the board. The circular saw affects the top side of the board, so you will want to mark the side of the board that will not be showing, which is generally the bottom side. Then you will cut the boards with the good side down.

Table saws are the opposite, because the blade is rotating up through the table. So you will want to mark the top sides of the boards (or the sides you are planning to show on the outside for the vertical boards) and cut them good side up. The other thing you can do with a table saw is drop the blade so only an eighth of an inch of the blade is above the table, score the bottom of the board, and then raise the blade back up to finish the cut. The angle between the saw teeth and the board during the shallow cut is much less likely to chip the board.

If you want your steps a bit higher, just increase these heights accordingly. For example, if you want your lower step to end up 7 ½ in. high instead of 7 in. even, then cut the vertical boards to have a height of 3 ¼ in. instead of 2 ¾. To obtain a final height of 15 inches for the upper step instead of 13 ¾, cut the vertical boards to be 10 ½ inch instead of 9 ¼.

Remember, safety first! Always use safety glasses or goggles. Whether you get texts, phone calls, or visitors, when a power blade is in use, do not lose focus on what you are doing. Finish your cut, and then give the person your undivided attention only when it is safe to do so.

After the cuts were made, all the pieces were laid out to verify fit. You might prefer to varnish before assembly because it will be simpler than working a brush around all the joints and gaps.

After the cuts were made, all the pieces were laid out to verify fit. You might prefer to varnish before assembly because it will be simpler than working a brush around all the joints and gaps.

Assembling the Risers and Attaching the Steps

  1. Assemble each riser by attaching short vertical boards to the long bottom 2x4.
  2. Then attach the top, 14 3/8 inch 2x4 for that (lower) step.
  3. Next attach one of the long vertical boards with a couple of screws to both the short vertical board and to the bottom 2x4.
  4. Finally attach the other two long vertical boards to the bottom 2x4 and attach the top 2x4 for the upper step.
  5. Repeat for the other riser.

When both risers are assembled, it is time to set them up. Fit the four boards for the steps, square up the assembly, and fasten with deck screws. I took everything into our den and used the ceramic tile pattern to visually square everything up.

  1. First, I attached one screw in each corner, starting in the left rear and going clockwise to each successive corner of the whole assembly, rechecking everything before driving in the next screw.
  2. After all four corner screws were driven, five more screws were driven in on each side of each step. If I had it to do over, I would have lined up the screws better, so you might want to use a straightedge when starting these screws. I used a hammer to tap them into place before using the drill to drive them in.

The Assembly Process

Starting the first riser.

Starting the first riser.

Squaring up the step assembly with the help of floor tile.

Squaring up the step assembly with the help of floor tile.

After all the screws are installed.

After all the screws are installed.

Varnishing the Steps

The gloss spar varnish was left from another project and was applied to the steps using a 1-inch brush and a small roller, just two or three inches wide. If I had it to do over, I would have made all the cuts, then varnished all sides of all the board sections, and then assembled them. I varnished after assembly, and found that there are many joints and gaps to work the paint brush around.

After Varnishing

Bella carefully inspecting my varnishing job.

Bella carefully inspecting my varnishing job.

Not quite as good as she would have liked, but it will do.

Not quite as good as she would have liked, but it will do.

Varnish still drying.

Varnish still drying.

The morning after the varnish was applied.

The morning after the varnish was applied.

Adding a Handrail

Handrail attached to steps