How to Build Stairs: Step by Step

Building a silent staircase is easy with this guide including planning, geometry, diagrams, and the basics of notching and attaching stringers.

| July/August 1989

  • 118-070-01-im1
    Considered closely, the stairs in your home can change from a taken-for-granted utility to an impressive display of planning and execution.
    PHOTO: WILLIAM WALDRON
  • 118-070-01-critical-dimensi
    During the planning stages, a chart such as this is invaluable for understanding how stair angle affects tread width and riser height as well as the placement of handrails.
    DON OSBY
  • 118-070-01-stair-layout
    Available headroom and the horizontal run of the stair depend on its angle. Removing just one riser and tread combination, shown here, yields nearly one foot of additional overhead room and more than two treads' worth of floor space.
    DON OSBY
  • Notched Stringer
    Laying out a notched stringer requires the use of a square with screw-on stair gauges. It's critical that all measurements be accurate before striking cut lines. 
    DON OSBY
  • Open-Tread Stair
    The simplest open-tread stairs are usually used in basements and utility rooms or on outdoor decks.
    DON OSBY
  • Attaching the Stringers
    There are a number of ways to attach stringers at the top and bottom. In some cases, the ceiling header can be used as the stair's top riser. 
    DON OSBY
  • Finished Open Stair
    An open stair can be given a more finished appearance by adding skirtboard trim to the sides. The risers are mitered to the trim's edges, and molding is nailed beneath each tread. 
    DON OSBY

  • 118-070-01-im1
  • 118-070-01-critical-dimensi
  • 118-070-01-stair-layout
  • Notched Stringer
  • Open-Tread Stair
  • Attaching the Stringers
  • Finished Open Stair

Make a point sometime to study the stairs in your home. In the light of scrutiny, that one piece of construction can change from a taken-for-granted utility to a display of planning and execution that's as close to perfect as you're likely to see under a family roof.

Think of all the elements that could've gone askew: An angle too steep or too shallow, a beam placed just where your pate passes daily, steps that are short, narrow or pitched one way or the other—any of these would make a quick run upstairs seem like a dash through an obstacle course.

Fortunately, others have gone before us and charted the way. And for those interested in learning how to build stairs at home, the good news is that in the great majority of houses, stairs don't require the skills of a master builder but rather an appreciation of planning. Once that's established, a circular saw and a few hand tools can work wonders for the careful soul seeking a simple stair to another story.

Basic Stairway Varieties

An open stairway is just what it implies: It's exposed on one or both sides and uses a balustrade if there are more than two or three steps. Closed stairways are flanked by full or knee walls and use handrails rather than the post-and-banister railing of the open style. Stairs with no backboards, or risers, are called open tread stairways and may or may not be exposed.



For a stair builder, there are further distinctions based on how the treads and risers are fastened to the stair carriages, or stringers. 

But the most manageable design uses a cutout, or notched, stringer. The seats for the treads are cut directly into the 2 × 12 carriage planks, making an exaggerated sawtooth pattern in the upper edge. The assembly can be exposed, as in a basement stair, or dressed up with skirtboards—side trim that is fitted to the treads and risers to give a finished look to the structure beneath. It's a good stair for the first-time builder to tackle.

James_10
2/15/2009 11:04:22 AM

I found some beautiful examples of design stairs on http://www.kamphoftrappen.nl/pagina/design-trappen/







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