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How to Build Wooden Stairs

Updated on April 14, 2011

Building a set of wood stairs is really straight forward if you know the process to follow. This becomes more complicated if you have several landings but the method stays the same. First you will need to get your tools and calculator out.

Here are some basic instructions of a simple set of stairs going from the deck to the concrete pad you set up. Let us take this deck at four feet wide and eye level when you are standing on the ground.

Here are the tools:

  • Circular saw
  • Framing square
  • Hand saw
  • Carpenters pencil
  • Measuring tape
  • 4' Level
  • Masking tape

For materials:

  • 3 - 10'/2" x 12" boards - these have got to be the best with no cracks. You do not want anyone falling through.
  • 2 - 8'/2" x 4" boards
  • 8 - 8"/2" x 6" boards - these are the actual steps so make sure the material is good
  • 1 - 45" / 2" x 6" boards
  • 1 sheet of plywood @ ½" / 8" x 48"
  • Plenty of 3 ½" framing nails, and screws designed for decks or nails for the steps.

What is the overall rise?

To find out the exact vertical distance from the top of your concrete pad to the top of the deck, you will take one of the 8' 2x4's and place on the deck and then put one standing up on the pad. Place the level on the 2 x 4 and level it. Then it is a simple matter of measuring from the bottom of the 2 x 4 to the pad. On our example, we will use 64". This is what would be your overall rise.

What is the overall run?

The first step in determining the run is to figure out how many steps are needed in your stairs.

Begin by taking the overall rise (64") and divide that by 7.25", which is the height of one rise. That comes out to 8.83" and when you round up, you get nine. So we will be going with nine risers.

An important consideration is that there is always one tread less than rises so whether you go up or down, the last step is the concrete pad or the deck so there is one tread less. In our case, we would have eight risers total.

The width of a step is normally 10.5". Multiply that by our eight rises which will give us 84" which is our overall run.

Since we have the calculator out, let's figure out the exact rise of each step. You do this by taking the overall rise (65") and divide by 9 (which would have been our total risers) and we come out with 7.11". That comes out close to 7 1/8" for each riser.

Laying out the steps

Take your framing square. The long leg corresponds to the step leg and the short leg of the framing square is the riser square. Use only the numbers on the outside of the square.

Using masking tape, wrap a piece around the framing square for the rise and run. Pencil in 10.5" on the outside of the long leg and 7 1/8" on the outside of the short leg.

Using a saw horse or work bench, place one of the 2 x12"s on it. The long leg of the framing square should be towards the end of the board and line up the ape marks to the end of the board currently facing you. Mark the outside edge of it in pencil, once the square is in position.

Keep doing this until you have the number of steps you need. Our case is eight. Make sure the first riser is shorter by the thickness of the steps or in this example 1.5". The first riser would be at 5 5/8".

Rev up the saw!

The circular saw will be used to cut out stringers (this is the name for the 2 x 12 with the markings on it). Cut on the waste side of the line. If when you cut into a corner the blade misses some of the wood on the bottom leaving a jagged cut, you can finish it up with the hand saw.

Use the first stringer as a template for the next two. Lay it out onto the 2 x 12's and do a tracing. Cut out the other stringers like the first one.

Stringer Strength

Place one of the 8' 2 x 4's at the bottom of the stringer and mark it to the profile of end of the stringers. Next, cut the 2 x 4 and fasten it to the bottom edge of the stringer. Repeat for the others. This will not only help to keep the step strong, but also the bouncing in the step itself. Use the framing nails to secure the boards in place.

Putting the steps together

The piece of plywood you purchased will fasten the steps to the deck. Place the plywood to the top end piece of the stringers. The two outside stringers should be flush with the edge of the plywood and the third stringer will be centered. Begin nailing through the plywood into the stringers using the framing nails. It should take about four nails per stringer.

The 45' 2 x 6 will be nailed in at the bottom of the steps and will fit into the piece cut into the center stringer. This should give you the right spacing for the very bottom of your steps and attach it to the pad.

Now the stairs should be moved into their finishing position. The stringers should be level and the risers centered. Plumb them as necessary. Fix the 2 x6 spacer to the pad by using 3" concrete nails.

The finishing touches

Lastly, cut the 8 - 8' 2 x 6's in half and keep them square. At the bottom of the stairs place the 2 x 6 stair treads by centering them on the stringers and attach with deck or adhesive to make sure they do not move. Continue up and finish at the top.

Following this method you will get a set of sturdy stairs that has a consistant rise and a comfortable tread. This can be used for a short set of stairs with on two risers or a full set from a full floor.


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    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Nicely explained fellow Canadian!

      Great HUB regards Zsuzsy