There is a detail we have in our cabin project that I am anxious to see built. Within the two-story stairwell along the main wall, we are cladding the surface with 16 gauge steel plating.
I get all tingly just thinking about it.
Here is a building section through the cabin and I have taken the liberty of shading the portion of the drawing where the steel plate will be installed. I have included an enlarged section elevation below –
We probably drew somewhere between 5 and 10 different patterns for this steel wall during the design phase, but in the end, we settled on a 41″ x 41″ square piece of steel once the pricing options came in for evaluation. As tingly as I get over this sort of thing, this is not actually why I decided to write this post today. It was because of the math involved.
Hmmm. I’m not so tingly anymore.
This post is based on the sort of math I do day in and day out. It’s definitely not difficult and I thought I should show you what this sort of math looks like.
I’ll back up just a bit and tell what I was trying to do in the first place. I decided that I didn’t want to have exposed fasteners on the plate metal panels we have on this wall – so that means I needed to use double sided tape in order to hold the steel panels in place.
[needle scratching record] What?!?
Yes. You can use double sided tape to hold steel panels. The product we are using is 3M VHB (which stands for Very High Bond). Well, you can’t just slap some tape on the wall and expect things to work out … you have to do some math to make sure that you have the right amount of tape. In order to determine what is the right amount of tape, I knew that I would need 4 square inches of this VHB tape for every 1 pound of steel. From there I had to use addition, multiplication and division to get my answer.
Let’s take a look at the math:
That’s not difficult at all, is it? Based on the tasks I perform day in and out, this is about as hard as it gets. Reading my handwritting in that image is probably more difficult than the math.
This is what structural tape looks like … not very impressive, is it? This tape has been around since the early 1980’s and was specifically created to replace other forms of fasteners (like rivets, bolts, screws, or welds). All you have to do is to use the correct amount of tape.
Here is a look at where the steel panels will be installed. We installed a plywood substrate behind the steel panels where the 3M VHB tape will be adhered.
Another view of the same wall – this time looking down from the upper level down. The white chords you see are the electrical wires that will be used to wire the steps lights.
Eventually, I will do a proper post on the finished stairwell (remember, this was a post on math?) but I thought I would show you some of the steel panels during the installation process. The image above shows some of the 41″ square steel plates after they’ve been cleaned and treated with a clearcoat finish. The product we used was ‘Permalac‘ and so far, we are very happy with the finished product.
Here’s a look at the first few panels being installed.
I do not specifically know why the joints are painted on the walls in black on the walls, but I have a pretty good idea it is to black out the wall behind whenever there are small gaps between the panels. It is our expectation that all the joints between panels will be tight but there will be some amount of expansion and contraction that must be accounted for during the installation process.
So let’s wrap up the point of this post. Architects need to have some math skills, but at no time in my professional career have I ever had to math at the same level of complexity that I dealt with when I was in school. When I think back to that time in school, I believe that my math classes weren’t really about learning static loads and moment calculations – they were about process and critical thinking.
Professionally, all I need is addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
If you think you want to become an architect but you’re worried about the math – don’t. Go to architecture school, do the work – get a tutor if you need one – and come out on the other side. Everything will be fine.