View Full Version : Stair building
I have to build a set of pre-fabbed stairs for a friend soon. He wants them to have solid stringers that are routed to accpet the treads and risers. I'd rather just notch some 2x12's for the treads and risers to attach to and then make a finished skirt that can be painted, but the friend insists on me doing it with one-piece stringers. Actually building them is no problem for me, what is a problem for me is what material to use. The stringers will be 16 feet long. The treads and risers are going to be carpeted and the stringers are going to be painted. So, what type of wood should I use that is going to be strong enough for this and be good enough to paint? There is a masonry wall on one side of the stairs that they can be anchored to. The other side will have some type of wall built after the stairs are in place (not by me...). I sorta got suckered into this and I've never made a set of pre-fabbed stairs before. I've installed hundreds of them, but never really took much notice of exactly what type of wood was used to make the stringers. I'm guessing yellow pine, but is finding yellow pine that is either 5/4 or 6/4x12x16 possible without having to special order it? The budget for this project is virtually nill, so anything I can do to make it decent and still save money is a major bonus. I'm actually thinking about just using some pretty good looking 2x12s (just about all framing lumber in this area is hem fir) and maybe running them through my planer and sanding them until they are good enough for paint. Problem is finding 2x12's that aren't all chewed up and are reasonably straight.
Danford C Jennings
06-15-2002, 07:29 AM
If this is your first attempt at a housed staircase I'd strongly suggest getting a book on finish carpentry. The treads and risers are wedged into the mortises. The stair case can be milled out in the shop but, I would recommend that it be assembled on site.
As to wood, since it is to be painted I'd go with 5/4 Poplar or Birch for the stringers, 6/4 White Oak for the treads, 4/4 Poplar for the risers if they are to be painted. Your box store ain't gonna have suitable materials for this project. The problem with using Doug or Hem Fir for the stringers, IMO, would be the grain when milling out the mortises for the treads and risers in addition to wood movement issues. I suppose one could use clear vertical grain Hem Fir, in my neck o' the woods, it's about twice as much as Poplar or Birch...I'd also recommend using air dried as oppossed to kiln dried lumber, you'll have a better chance of getting properly seasoned wood. Carpeting and paint won't cover up the problems that "cheep" lumber will cause.
Before I moved into furniture work, I "specialized" in staircase work; I'm here to tell you that housed stair cases are not for the faint of heart. They require a high degree of precision in their milling and assembly, not done correctly they will squeek like rusty hinges. FWIW.
Thanks for the reply Dano. Like I said though, I have no problem making them whatsoever. I've never done pre-fabbed stairs...I've done more than my share of stairs that have been built on site. On site, I don't bother mortising out for the risers and treads. I use cleats, and/or cut out the entire notch and add a 1x for the finish, etc. Depends on the job and so forth. Finish carpentry is what I do and have done for 17 years now, so there's no problem there.
This is a strange situation in that I've been asked to build something to someone's specs. There's no changing their mind on how they want me to build these. They want pre-fabbed because they are installing them, not me. I'm just making them and dropping them off. It's a long story, but that's the way it's gotta be.
Poplar, huh? Sounds reasonable, how hard it is going to be to get a 16 foot piece of poplar that is at least 11" wide? That's why I was thinking of Yellow Pine. I know yellow pine is strong enough and it can be had relatively easy, although there's a little bit of hassle involved in getting it here in Philly. Have you ever done this with yellow pine, Dano? Anyone else? I also agree with what you said about using hem fir. I'm certainly not thrilled with the idea of using hem fir, but it's just a fall back in case I can't locate anything else.
OH, BTW, I forgot to mention that I have to build these on Monday. That's why I'm trying to rule out any material that I can't pick up from a local lumber yard (or semi-local anyway). I wouldn't dream of going to HD or Lowes for something like this.
Danford C Jennings
06-18-2002, 08:45 PM
Guess I'm late, Lou. U.S. Open, Father's Day, work...
Any who, too bad you allowed yourself to get "roped" into this...Hope you solved your problem. But, in answer to your question, no I've never used Southern Yellow Pine for a housed stair case....
06-18-2002, 10:11 PM
If the problem is to find suitable stairhorse lumber,then go to laminated beams,which are probably the strongest cheapest and longest stock at a moments notice.When squared and edgebanded,and filled they will paint up beautifully.They are 1-3/4" thick,solid plywood,as long as 48'and as wide as 16" some to 24" .Have them cut the lengths you need at about $7 a linear ft.at 12".Most of the big yards around here[MA] carry them....Peter A