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Editor's note: The Hammonds have finished their house. Go to to visit their blog and see pictures.

Stacy and I were hesitant to use large timbers to frame a retaining wall and steps. We wanted to avoid the 1970s railroad tie look that we had worked so hard to extract from our previous home, so I was pleased to see that the timbers that were delivered to our house were a nice color.

The east side of our house presents a significant challenge for our landscapers. We have a narrow walkway between the house and a small sloping hill. Additionally, the entire north side of the yard has a steep slope. The solution was to build a set of timber stairs that would provide access to the back yard while managing some of the rainwater runoff from the hillside behind the house.

Dustin Halverson, our landscape architect from Village Green, and his workers arrived to begin our landscaping project. After about five hours, we had cut our way into the hillside and laid down the groundwork for what would be the stairs and retaining wall. The next day we built the rest of the timber wall and stairway.

I'm glad I wasn't trying to do this myself. It was intricate, labor-intensive work. The average homeowner would not be able to make sure everything was properly leveled and had the correct elevations. Even little things such as using a good base layer of class-5 gravel to set the timbers makes a big difference in the success of the project and how it stands up to the test of time. The walls were tied together with huge screws rather than the old pins that had to be pounded into place. It will be a lot easier if I ever have to pull a section down.

Jason Hammond is at