Stairs are an essential part of many construction projects, from decks to interiors. It can seem daunting to think of making your own, but they’re actually made of just three main parts: stringers, treads, and risers. Stringers are diagonal 2x12s that support people’s weight as they walk up the stairs. Treads are the top baseboards onto which you step, and risers are placed perpendicularly under each tread. Measure and cut the stringers accurately, and the other parts will mostly fall into place.
EditMaking the Preliminary Measurements
- Measure the height of the area where you will install the stairs. This is also called the total rise. If you don’t plan to make the top step level with the area where the stairs begin, be sure to account for this gap in your measurement/
- For example, if you are building stairs to go up to a deck, and you measure from the ground to the top of the deck, then this is the total rise.
- If you want the stairs to stop from the top of the deck, however, count the total rise as .
- Divide the total rise by the typical rise per step. This will give you the total number of steps on your stairs. The typical rise per step is about 7 inches (17.8 cm), but you’ll probably use a slightly different height for the actual rise.
- For example, if your total rise is 95 inches (241 cm), divide it by 7 inches to get 13.53. Round down to get the number of steps: 13.
- Divide the total rise by the number of steps to get the actual rise per step. Remember this will probably be slightly different than the typical rise height. Finding the actual rise per step will ensure that your steps are all the same height, no matter what your overall rise is.
- To continue with the same example, divide 95 inches (241 cm) by 13 steps to get 7 and 5/16 inches (18.5 cm). On your stringer, each step will rise 7 and 5/16 inches.
- Establish the run of each step. The run (tread width) of each step should be no less than 9 inches (23 cm) and realistically at least 10 inches (25 cm). This allows enough space for the average foot to step comfortably and safely.
- As a rule of thumb, the width of the treads and risers added together should equal between 16 and 18 inches (40 and 45 cm).
- So, if your riser is 7 inches (17.8 cm) tall, your tread should be anywhere from 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28 cm) long.
- Find the total run of the staircase. The total run is the horizontal distance the stairs will travel from beginning to end. To find this, simply multiply the total number of steps by the run of each step.
- For example, the total run in our hypothetical example is : 13 total steps x 10 inches (tread width) each = 130 inches (330 cm) total run.
- Decide if your stairs need landings. The longest boards suitable for building stairs will probably be 16 feet (4.88 meters) long. This means you will probably max out at about every 14 steps. If your stairs have a long rise and run, you can install landings. However, you can install landings on any staircase, if you prefer.
- If your staircase will have landings, consider each section of stairs as its own mini staircase.
- Calculate the length of the stringers. The stringers are the pieces of wood that will run diagonally underneath the length of the steps to hold them up. These are what your risers and treads will eventually be attached to. Determine their length the same way you determine the hypotenuse of a right triangle in geometry:
- Multiply the horizontal length (run) by itself, multiply the height by itself, and add the two results together. Then, find the square root of this sum.
- Keeping with the previous example, sqr(130 x 130) + (95 x 95) = 161 inches (409 cm)
- Determine how you will attach the stairs to the existing structure. If the stairs will sit flush with the vertical face of the structure, attach your stringers to the existing framework. However, if the stairs won’t sit flush with the existing structure (such as if they will attach to a deck with an overhang), be sure to either create a secondary support system or modify the tops of your stringers.
- For example, if your stairs will mount beneath an overhang of a deck, making sure that the top step isn’t level with the top of the deck.
- Instead, make the total rise slightly shorter and attach support posts to the top of the stringers.
- Count how many stringers you will need. To prevent your steps from sagging or bowing as you step on them, a wide staircase will need plenty of stringers underneath to keep it evenly supported. A very narrow staircase might be able to get away with having only two stringers, but it’s best to start at three and work your way up as necessary.
- For safety reasons, the stringers should be spaced approximately 16 inches (40.6 cm) apart.
- Wider staircases are generally preferable to narrower ones because they are much easier and more comfortable to navigate.
EditCutting the Stringers
- Lay out a sufficiently long piece of 2×12-inch (5cmx3m) lumber. Don’t cut it down to length just yet. It will sit at an angle that depends on the height and depth of your steps, and the ends will have to be modified.
- Mark a carpenter’s square to the height and depth of your steps. In our example, you would need to mark it at 7 and 5/16 inches (18.5 cm) on one side by 10 inches (25 cm) on the other. Be sure you know which side corresponds with the height (riser) and which side corresponds with the depth (tread).
- Look for stair gauges at a hardware store. These are small knobs you can attach to your carpenter’s square at the right measurements to make marking and cutting a breeze.
- Modify the top of the stringer to account for the overall angle. This angle will depend on the size of your steps. To do this properly:
- Place the carpenter’s square over one corner of the lumber. Lay the side marking the height along the end of the lumber and the side marking the step depth along the length of the lumber.
- Draw a line between the step-height and step-depth marks. This line marks the horizontal top of your stringer.
- Mark the line so that its length is equivalent to the depth of one stair.
- Use the square to draw a perpendicular line from the end of the board to the spot you just marked.
- Cut along these lines.
- Measure and mark each step along the piece of lumber. Using the horizontal top of the stringer as a reference point, measure and draw a line down a distance equal to the height of one step. Then measure and draw a line across a distance equal to the depth of the step. Repeat this, moving downward until you’ve drawn the necessary number of steps.
- Use a circular saw or hand saw to cut the step notches. If using a circular power saw, cut to the edge of the marks on the stringers. Stop saw cuts 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch short of the opposite lines, then use a handsaw or jigsaw to finish.
- Square off the bottom of the stringer so that it will sit flush with the ground. Draw a line parallel to the top of the last step notch, and perpendicular to the side of it (where the bottom riser will eventually go). Cut this away to make the bottom of the stringer flush with the ground.
- Test the stringer by setting it in place. Make sure the height is accurate. The stringer should sit flush with the ground or floor and also with the point at the top where it will attach to the existing structure.
- Use the first stringer as a template off of which to base the next stringers. Lay the first completed stringer down on a 2×12 and simply trace the outline of the first stringer onto the other 2x12s. Then cut as necessary.
EditAssembling the Staircase
- Install the stringers. There are many ways to attach the tops of the stringers to the structure. One easy way is to screw metal joist hangers to the floor joists or deck supports. Drive screws through the holes in the joist hangers, putting one edge flush with the end of the stringer and the other against the joist.
- Set the bottoms of the stringers on a firm footing like concrete, wood flooring, or even a block of treated lumber on top of gravel (for outside stairs).
- Secure and stabilize the stringers by installing risers (toe boards). Stringers are usually made from 1×6-inch (2.54 x 15.4 cm) wood. Though you can do without them, screwing these planks vertically between each step will make the stairs look nicer, and last longer.
- Cut 1x6s to the width of your stairs. Secure each stringer with 2 1/2 in. (6 cm) screws.
- Install the treads. Cut lumber to be at or slightly longer than the tread run in width, and as long as the stairs are wide (or just wider, if you prefer a slight overhang on the ends of your stairs. Secure the treads to the steps of the stringers with 2 1/2 in. (6 cm) screws over each stringer.
- For instance, you could cut 1×10 lumber to the width of the stairs, and use this for your treads.
- For a special touch, use two boards and leave a 1/8 1/4 in (approximately 0.5 cm) between them. For instance, you could cut 1×5 boards to the width of the stairs, and install two on each step, with a gap between them.
- Attach trim boards to the outer stringers (optional). Trim boards can give your stairs a little more class by covering up the ends of the risers and treads. Cut 2×12 boards to the same length and angle as your stringers, but do not cut step notches into them. Place the cut lumber over the ends of your stairs, and fix into place with 2 1/2 in. (6 cm) screws.
- Varnish, paint, or seal your stairs if necessary. Consider treating the wood against the elements, especially if the stairs will be outdoors. Even if you’re building indoor-use stairs, finishing them will be a safeguard against everyday wear and tear, and beautify the end product.
- Almost any varnish, stain, or paint will work just fine for stairs.
- Always check building codes that apply in your area. These may stipulate particular minimums or maximums for step runs and rises, the number of stringers that are necessary, etc.
EditThings You’ll Need
- Circular saw or crosscut hand saw
- Carpenter framing square
- Stair gauges
- Corded or cordless drill
- Screws (at least 2 1/2 in. / 6 cm)
- Metal floor joist hangers
- 2×10-inch (5.1×25.4 cm.) planks for stringers
- 2×6-inch (5.1×15.4 cm.) planks for steps
- 1×6-inch (2.54×15.4 cm) planks for toe and foot boards