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

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.

2/15/2009 11:04:22 AM

I found some beautiful examples of design stairs on

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