Sunday, January 23, 2011

8. The Tower of Terror

There will be a sprial staircase leading from the basement to my office above the garage. This will be housed in a concrete-block tower, which will be topped by a cupola. Work on this tower was started soon after the garage floor was poured, while the other floor sections were still under construction.

There was already a hole in the garage floor leading down to the basement, and this tower would just extend that up another 20 feet or so. Blocks were laid in "lifts" consisting of 8 courses each. Each lift took a day, then rebar was added, and the lift was filled with concrete, usually the next morning. Then the next lift was started immediately.

The masonry crew worked quickly, and the blockwork was fairly inexpensive. Of course, unlike Insulated Concrete Forms, the exterior block walls will need a layer of insulation later, and that will add to the expense down the road.

The tower quickly grew to impressive proportions.  The doorways and small turret-style windows were framed in with wooden bucks, which will remain permanently.

By the time it reached its full height, the scaffolds made the whole thing look more like a missle-launch gantry than a stair well. When the block crew was finished, it was my job to add a platform on top of the structure. This would cap off the tower for now, and form the floor of the cupola later. The workers had neglected to add anchor bolts to the top course of blocks, so I had to climb up there, drill holes, and epoxy the anchor bolts into the blocks. This is when I started referring to it as the Tower of Terror. I don't really have a height phobia, but the top of that tower was a LONG way up, especially when looking down the center of it at the basement floor far below. The scaffolds had all been removed by that time, so it was just me and an 8-inch wide block-edge to balance on.

It seemed like nearly every hole just happened to be over a hidden piece of rebar, and when the drill would catch these it would try to hurl me violently off the tower.

Inside the Tower of Terror, looking up at the underside
of the newly-built floor.

Things got a lot easier when I started to put the actual floor on, and had a bigger place to stand. In addition to the spiral staircase, my daughter has convinced me to install a climbing wall inside the tower.  There will be an automatic-belay harness system attached to the ceiling.
The view from the tower.
Click on "Older Posts" below for more chapters.


  1. St Paul's Cathedral dome cured me of my lack of fear of heights! - For me, that tower work would have been one-step-too-far!
    ... Nice description though. - Was all that work (without the scaffolding), before you got the 'man-lift' ?

  2. Yes, that was around May of 2008, two years before I bought the man-lift. I'll talk about that in a later post - it would have made child's play of this little job!

  3. I am looking forward to the "how I built the staircase" piece. I can see that as one of the major design (and build) challenges of the castle

  4. That's an easy one, Ralph - the staircase will be a kit from The Iron Shop,

  5. Okay.. A major design and build challenge for "the ironshop". When they get it done (I assume it is not yet done?) I bet it becomes a featured item on their web page.
    Will this be off a center post or open in the center and attached to the wall?
    If attached to the wall I can see a number of difficulties due to not having a true circle inside your octagon tower.

  6. It's actually just one of their off-the-shelf kits, with center pole. It doesn't touch the walls, except at the landings. I've built their kits before, and it shouldn't take more than a day or two.

    Besides this two-story kit, there will also be two more one-story spiral stairs in the house; one in my office, and one in the library. None of these are the main stairway, though - that will be a larger custom oak staircase near the main entrance.

  7. The last I heard and it was a while back, you were working on the stucco for a part of the exterior. Have been waiting for an update. I suspect the interior is done by now and you're enjoying castle living at its best?? SaltSolMan

  8. Hey, Sol - Nope, still nowhere near moving in yet. I'll try to add another chapter to the blog in the next couple of days. I'm currently in California picking up that double-staircase kit and an iron door for the basement.

  9. P.S. Don't forget to click on 'Older Posts' for newer posts (yeah, I know - Its a Blogspot thing).

  10. Haha, I was wondering what was going on with the dates and stuff, it seemed as though you were taking apart your dream home or something :D! At any rate, very impressive project! The addition of the rock wall and spiral stair kits will make to tons of fun, I'm sure!

  11. Looks like it will be an awesome home. It was nice meeting you in Mountain View!

  12. Thanks for sharing the great info so far!!! I may have missed this, but how much land do you have? Also, what is the estimated or approx. cost to build your castle? Keep up the good work!!

  13. The lot is 10 acres. I haven't really added up the total cost, but it's probably around $800,000, inclluding the lot.

  14. Looks great. I will move on to older posts another time. I have enjoyed reading this blog and hoping to find savings tips. Thank you for sharing!!

  15. Never dreamed one SS would generate that kind of revenue.

    1. Yeah, it's still my source of income after 15 years (though the money only trickles in these days).