power wheelchairs, wheelchair access, wheelchair ramp

Outdoor Access! Part 2 – Design & Build

Last time I detailed why I needed a platform and ramp built out my side door.  I also listed the materials and tools we needed for the project. I recruited a son to help by doing the actual cutting, attaching, and painting labor needed. The rest of the household helped with the picking up materials from the store, moving the materials and platform, and holding materials in place. Here is how I designed it.

By using a platform at my sister’s, I knew my wheelchair could safely roll onto and make a full left turn to a ramp on a 40 inch square platform surface. Without that experience, we would have taped out squares on a floor until we found the right size for my chairs and outside space. 

Here are some links for ramp access information. The last two are ramp vendors with good explanations.

The side door has a 6 inch drop to the sidewalk surface. The sidewalk surface is 36 inches wide and 2 inches from the ground.

By measuring a few floor transitions around my house I decided I was ok (as well as my powerchairs) with upto a ½ inch drop from the door jam to the platform. This meant my platform needed to be at least 5 ½ inches (6 inch drop – ½ inch transition allowance).

So, I checked out building materials to create at least 5 ½ inches of height. Since the platform would be out in the weather, I looked at deck building materials. All lumber would be pre-treated for weather. 2×4 boards on edge were the first 4 inches. Then I found that plywood for the platform surface was ¾ inch thick. If I had 2 layers of plywood for strength, that would be 1 ½ inches. I hear you saying “2 layers?” I graduated from my Dad’s school of building for utmost sturdiness. The two layers would have the grain running in perpendicular directions. We may have been a little excessive with screws when attaching the plywood too. Anyway, 2 layers was actually the most cost effective since it came in 4 foot by 8 foot sheets. I also wanted some outdoor carpet to avoid splinters and easily found some less than ½ inch thick that came in a 5 foot by 8 foot roll.

Then I went looking for options to create a 2 inches tall by 4 inches wide by 40 inches long foot from the ground to the sidewalk surface to support the platform. I found 4 inch wide x 2 inch tall x 8 inch long bricks. Yes! 5 bricks would be perfect.

With materials selected, I designed the platform frame. I decided the outside frame would be 4 boards 38 inches long each. I would get the other 2 inches from the next board at the corner. I then planned on 2 36 inch long boards (40 – 2 2×4 frame edges), 4 11 inch boards , and 1 10 inch board for internal bracing. I divided the 32 inch space – (36 interior – 2 2×4 36 inch brace edges) into 3 sections, 2 11 inch spaces and 1 10 inch space. I decided the 10 inch space would be between the 2 36 inch braces and the 11 inch space between the 36 inch braces and the frame sides.  

40 inch square platform frame made from 2x4s.
40 inch square platform frame made from 2x4s.
Wood cut from 3 8 foot long 2x4s.
Wood cut from 3 8 foot long 2x4s.

This worked out to be 3 8 foot length 2x4s. Board 1 = 2 38 inch frame sides. Board 2 & 3 = 1 38 inch side + 36 inch internal brace. This left enough wood for the shorter braces.

Next, I needed to figure out the railings for two sides of the platform. What luck! I found 6 foot lengths of pre-made deck railing. I could not fit two sides from 1 6 foot length so I bought 2. We cut a 40 inch section for the side opposite the door. Then we measured between the door frame and the first railing and gave a little gap at the door frame. We positioned our cuts to be exactly halfway between the spindles when possible..

I started with 2 boxes of ceramic 3 ½ deck screws. I then ordered a third box and a box of black 2 inch deck screws. We used 2 screws at each frame, railing section and railing section to frame joint = 42. We then used 4 to attach the bottom plywood piece at the corners. The second plywood layer had 4 corner screws and the very middle point (into the middle brace piece). We spread more screws around the edge as seemed right. We did wait for the third box of 3 ½ screws before attaching the railing sections. We used 2 screws at each railing bottom plank end and the top plank where the railings met. Also, we added screws to attach the railing bottom planks to the platform frame until they felt sturdy.

We used the black screws to attach the black outdoor carpet. Here you do want to be generous as the powerchair wheels can pull up the carpet edges.

A jig saw cutting a railing section.
A jig saw cutting a railing section.

I figured the best way to get straight cut edges and delight my gadgety volunteer was a power tool. My volunteer is 13 so I wanted an easier to control and less likely to cut the user saw. I went with a jig saw where reviewers mentioned easy to use, sturdy sharp blades, and talked about project materials like mine. Beware, cutting through plywood when going with the grain created long splinters and required more force to keep the cut straight. For thin adjustment cuts we used a small coping saw.

Small trim by coping saw.
Small trim by coping saw.

Using a power drill to make pilot holes and attach the screws kept the project moving. It was very helpful that our 3 ½ inch deck screw packages included the right screw drill bit. My volunteer was thrilled when he discovered the screw bits. 

Our cats think we built them a little deck. But the humans know I now have a platform to access the ramp. Next time I will go over the ramp and show you the finished platform and ramp.

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