How To Build Stairs - Free Installation Advice

How To Build Stairs Instructions

Greg Vanden Berge has installed thousands of stairways and is the creator of this website, along with three stair building books. He took it a step further and decided to provide you with a free guide about stairway construction.

The directions are simple, click on the first link below, "Stair Building Instructions" and then start reading each page, working your way down to the bottom, where you will find the next link, to the next how to page.

You must follow the directions on each page, for the best results.

1. Stair Building Instructions - If you follow these step-by-step instructions, you shouldn't have any problems building a Straight set of stairs or a set of stairs with a platform or landing.

2. Basic Stair Building Tools - Let's start with the most important tool, the framing square. This is going to be your best friend and if you do not have a framing square and you're planning on building a set of stairs, get one. The framing square will be used for square cuts and stringer layout.

3. Construction Tips - If you're building an exterior stairway, make sure that you use galvanized or stainless steel, nails, building hardware or screws. If you're going to paint the stairway, then you could zink coated nails, but I've had problems with them rusting, in the past.

4. Safety Advice - I learned this lesson, from a framing contractor, when I was 18 years old. He would make everyone, who worked on his projects, clean the job up at the end of every day. In the beginning, I moaned and groaned and complained like everyone else, but after a while, I realized that this master carpenter and wise contractor, was right.

5. What Type Of Stairs - We are only going to cover three types of stairs, in this section of our free stair building section of this website, even though you could use this information to figure out how to build almost any type of stairway.

6. Straight Stairs - Consider yourself lucky, if you're planning on building a Straight set of stairs, because it's usually going to be the simplest stairway, you can build. They're actually the most common staircase, built all over the world.

7. Stairway With Landing - The biggest problem most stair builders have, including professional stair builders, with building stairs with landings is locating the landing, in the right spot. Even I, experienced difficulties when I was younger, locating the landing, in the exact spot and that's why I'm sharing this information with you.

8. Bottom Platform Stairs - If my total stair rise is 49 inches and I have seven risers with six steps, one of those steps will represent the bottom platform. If I divide seven into 49 inches, it will provide me with seven, 7 inch risers, for my stairway.

9. Measuring Staircase - It's not uncommon to have an architect or building designer provide you with incorrect measurements. If you're stairway doesn't meet local building codes and could create construction problems, then you should contact your architect, engineer or contractor, for more information.

10. How Many Steps - The first thing we need to do to figure out how many steps were going to need, by measuring the distance, on the ground or floor, from the beginning, to the end of the staircase.

11. How Many Risers - Lets pretend like you have a total stair rise of 49 inches. The first thing I like to do is divide a measurement between 7 and 8 inches into the total stair rise. I can see that 7 is going to divide in the 49, perfectly, so let's use the number seven.

12. Total Staircase Run - The stair run is going to be the horizontal distance measured from the first step at the bottom of the stairs, to the last step at the top of the stairs. This measurement can usually be taken on the ground and laid out accordingly.

13. Total Rise - Like I mentioned earlier, double check these measurements and make sure that everything is working out perfectly and you understand everything that you're doing. The total stair rise is the vertical distance between floors. The illustration above should provide you with an excellent example.

14. Stair Construction Calculator - A calculator is usually going to be a stair builders best friend. I built a lot of stairs and always had a calculator in my truck or access to one. Calculators can save you a lot of time and when you're building anything, including stairs.

15. Stair Formulas - There are all kinds of different stair formulas, but we're going to focus on some of the simpler ones, so that we don't overwhelm your building skills. If you have a problem with basic math, you could have a problem with these basic math formulas and should plan on getting some assistance.

16. Planning - Draw the stairway out on a piece of paper and double check all of your measurements. Once you have created the perfect plan and actually built the stairway, in your mind, you won't believe how easy the rest of the project will be to construct.

17. Can You Build It - Don't plan on someone else building your stairs, if they don't want to. This individual wanted me to convince their husband that they could build a set of stairs, but it didn't take me long, to realize that her husband had no interest in working on the weekends or any other time that he wasn't at work.

18. Stairway Design - Sometimes this will provide you with a mental picture of what the stairway is going to look like. In turn that could provide you with a mental picture of what will or will not work and then you can make the necessary framing modifications, before you start to build the stairway.

19. Double Check Your Measurements - Most of the time all of my measurements are correct, but every once in awhile, they aren't. Let's face it, we all make mistakes, but there is no need to pay the price, for a mistake that you could have done something about.

20. Materials - You should only use number 2 or better construction standard building materials, for your stairs. This wood should also be hand selected, to avoid ending up with too many knots, cracks or other lumber defects that will weaken your stairway.

21. Stair Stringers - Try to avoid using dried out lumber also, because it will be difficult to cut and nail. Lumber that has been sitting in the sun for too long usually cracks or splits when you nail, cut or even screw into it.

22. Staircase Treads - You can use almost any type of material for your stair treads. I suggest sticking to construction standard lumber, plywood or oriented strand board. However, if I had my choice, I would use 1-1/8 inch thick plywood or oriented strand board, for interior stairs and 1-1/2" thick construction standard for exterior stairs, with a center stringer.

23. Stairway Risers - It's important to cut your stair treads and risers as Straight as possible. Any gaps between the top of the riser and the bottom of the stair tread, could cause stair tread fluctuation, otherwise known as structural damage and stair squeaks.

24. Handrailing - If you're planning on building your own stair handrail, make sure that you build it correctly and follow your local building codes. I shared this same information with a home builder who didn't listen to me and it ended up costing him about $5,000.

25. guard rail
- Make sure that the building materials you use, will provide you with a structurally sound guard rail
. If you're using a set of building blueprints to build your stairway, they might or might not have enough structural and construction information, for you to build the ideal guard rail

26. Lay Out - Now, this is where most novice construction do-it-yourselfers run into problems. Figuring out exactly where to locate the bottom stringer connection footing and supporting walls footings can be tricky.

27. Floor Plan - Think of it like this, if you were in a helicopter, hovering over your construction project, looking Straight down, you would have the perfect of what your floor plan should look like.

28. Walls - After you have figured out your total stair rise and have figured out your individual stair riser height, we can use that number to figure out exactly where our stair landing needs to be placed.

29. Ceiling - The biggest problem with a low ceiling is that some taller people just might hit their head on the ceiling, if it's located in the wrong spot or the wrong height, while they're walking up or down the stairway.

30. Landing - As a general rule of some, a stair landing cannot be less than 36 inches in width, in either direction. However, you should check with your local building department, for more information.

31. Platform - Most building codes require a 36 inch minimum width, in each direction, but you should check with your local building department, before building your stairs, just to make sure.

32. Stringer Layout - After you have positioned the framing square at either end of the 2 x 12, you can start marking each individual stair tread and riser. After you have marked the first one, move it to the left or right, to mark the next one and continue working your way, down the 2 x 12, until you have marked out enough steps, for your new staircase.

33. Cutting Stair Parts - The most important stair cutting tip I can think of would be using a sharp saw blade. Dull saw blades can create inferior cuts and make the tools harder to operate, safely. That's actually how I cut my thumb off when I was an apprentice, but don't worry, it's back on and usable.

34. Cut Stringer - This is a must, ensure that your stair stringers are sitting on a flat surface that you're comfortable working on, otherwise transfer the stringers, to a better location, before cutting.

35. Cut Risers - To make things easy, layout and mark one riser and then use that one as a template, to mark, layout and cut the rest of them. After you have installed your stair stringers you can measure the width of the risers and then cut them accordingly.

36. Cut Treads - Some beginners will actually cut and install one riser and one tread at a time, to make sure that there aren't going to be any problems. Even though this method will take longer, it could reduce wasted materials and wasted time, if you only made one mistake.

37. Building The Stairs - If you do nail something together incorrectly, be as careful as you possibly can, removing the stair parts. Try to eliminate any damage and if the stair parts are damaged, they will need to be re-cut and mistakes like these, cost money.

38. Installing Stair Stringers - Nail the stair stringer into its proper position, but only place one nail, in the stair stringer or enough nails to provide temporary support, for the stair stringer. Just in case you need to remove it.

39. Line Up And Straighten Stringers - Now you can use a Straight edge (level) and line the stair stringer or stringers, up and if necessary, make any adjustments required. If the stringer isn't lining up correctly, you can always use wedges to move it away from the ledger or remove the stair stringer and cut, if necessary.

40. Installing Stair Risers - Most of the time, you will not know the exact width of the stairway, until you have installed the stringers. If this is the case, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to cut your stair risers after you have installed your stringers.

41. Stair Tread Installation - It wouldn't be a bad idea to use some type of construction adhesive, to fasten your stair treads, to the stair stringers. Some of these adhesives are strong enough to prevent stair squeaking, in the future, just in case the materials decided to start expanding or contracting.

42. Building Handrail - Make sure that the handrail is securely fastened to the building, to prevent anyone from pulling the handrail off. Remember the handrail is there to protect people from falling and it wouldn't be a pretty sight, to watch someone falling down the stairway, while they were holding onto a section of the handrail that had just separated from the building.

43. Building guard railing
- The guard rail
should be constructed to prevent someone from falling over the side of the stairs or through it. Realistically, this is what I would refer to as common sense construction.

44. Staining Stairway - Look at it like this, a paint supply store in Texas might not have the best advice, for someone living in Alaska. This is why you need to talk to someone in your area, someone who understands your climate and has products that will solve your problems, not add to them, in the future.

45. Painting Staircase - Paint the entire stairway. It's hard to imagine, but water or moisture will soak into an unpainted surface, easier and faster than one that is painted. Moisture over time will damage wood and metal.

46. Exterior Stair Construction - Another problem exterior stairs seem to face has to do with wood or metal that is in direct contact with concrete or soil. Let's face it, wood rots and metal rusts and if you have a piece of metal or wood sitting in moist dirt, you can plan on replacing it, within a few years.

47. Interior Stair Construction - The only reason why I'm mentioning this is because some building owners, architects and home designers fall in love with one type of stair design and then build the stairs. Only to be disappointed later, when they found another stairway that would've worked and looked better.

48. Deck Stairs - Depending upon where you live, pressure-treated wood could be a lifesaver, but if it isn't installed correctly, it won't last long. Let's face it, pressure-treated wood isn't attractive or should I say that I don't find attractive and would never use it for my deck stairs.

49. Porch Stairs - If you're planning on building your stairs, for an exterior porch, make sure that the landscaping has been designed correctly. One time I even saw a sidewalk sloped in the wrong direction, creating a nice pool of water at the bottom of the stairs.

Attention Stair Builders

Even though we are going to provide you with step-by-step stair building instructions, we cannot guarantee your success. All of the stair building formulas, calculators and tips, won't guarantee every one's success. Please follow each step and don't jump ahead to the next step, until you are familiar with the previous one.

I've built thousands of stairs and the best advice I can give anyone would be to pay attention. Pay attention to all of the information that I have provided you with and if you are still having problems, but don't feel like giving up, then purchase one of our stair building books.

Good Luck and Happy Stair Building.