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post #1 of 36 Old 02-01-2013, 11:51 PM Thread Starter
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Staircase questions - lots of them

Hi all,

first time posting to this forum - thanks in advance for any help you can render.

I am getting dangerously close to completing my house. I've done everything myself except pouring concrete foundations, shingling the roof, and installing the boiler. I still have a lot of finishing details to complete, but the one I've been avoiding, simply because I'm intimidated by it is the staircase. So I have a bunch of detail questions about "the right" way to do the stairs. I hope you can help.

Question 1. The stairs are open on one side and closed on the other. This question is about the handling of the closed side. I plan to put a skirtboard against the wall and run the treads and risers into it. In a different thread I read someone's recommendation that you just butt the riser and tread to the skirt. I thought it was typical to let them both into the skirt, no?

Question 2. Should the skirt board be fastened to the sheetrock wall, or should the sheetrock be cut out and the skirtboard be applied directly to the framing?

Question 3. Should the treads and risers be joined in some way? For example, I'm envisioning a tongue and groove joint where the top edge of a riser has a tongue that fits in to a groove routed into the underside of the tread above it.

Question 4. What is the best way to fasten the treads and risers to the stringers?

Question 5. What is the typical overhang of a tread, I.e. how far the tread nosing protrudes beyond the riser below it.

So that I don't overstay my welcome here, I'll leave it at that for now though I do have many more of these detail questions.

Much appreciated.
Ken
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post #2 of 36 Old 02-02-2013, 01:44 AM
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Staircase questions - lots of them

I'm half way done replacing carpeted stairs with cherry skirts, risers and treads. I'm no expert but here's what I've learned so far[/SIZE][/FONT]
Question 1. The stairs are open on one side and closed on the other. This question is about the handling of the closed side. I plan to put a skirt board against the wall and run the treads and risers into it. In a different thread I read someone's recommendation that you just butt the riser and tread to the skirt. I thought it was typical to let them both into the skirt, no?
I chose to scribe and butt the risers and treads against the skirt. Since my stairs are all made of dimensioned Doug fir and therefore inconsistent in practically every direction. My thinking is that to make the joint between the skirt board and the steps "tight" it would take more time and effort than I am willing to invest. The scribed but joint worked out very well to my eye.

Question 2. Should the skirt board be fastened to the sheetrock wall, or should the sheetrock be cut out and the skirt board be applied directly to the framing?
I would definitely remove all the drywall. If not it will crush over time and your stairs will creak, that would drive me crazy.

Question 3. Should the treads and risers be joined in some way? For example, I'm envisioning a tongue and groove joint where the top edge of a riser has a tongue that fits in to a groove routed into the underside of the tread above it.
On the first flight I did not join the treads and risers even though stair professional warned that treads rubbing against risers causes squeaks. He was right. I'm planning to do the second flight differently. My new plan is to edge glue and screw the risers to the tread below it and glue the assembly down with a few headless brads till the glue sets.

Question 4. What is the best way to fasten the treads and risers to the stringers?
I used (on a stair makers advice) Pl400 construction adhesive. It worked well, I will apply even more on the next flight. My original plan was to glue, screw and plug each tread and finish in place. I used Waterlox. The stuff gives of fumes that will drive you out of the house for five days. I'm still going to use Waterlox but I'm finishing it in the shop and installing it after it cures.

Question 5. What is the typical overhang of a tread, I.e. how far the tread nosing protrudes beyond the riser below it.
I made my over hang 1 1/4" to the bull nose tip. Their are codes related to this question in many locals. Hope this helps

I tried to post apicture but can't figure out how.
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post #3 of 36 Old 02-02-2013, 02:04 AM
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[QUOTE=maniac;435457]Hi all,

first time posting to this forum - thanks in advance for any help you can render.

I am getting dangerously close to completing my house. I've done everything myself except pouring concrete foundations, shingling the roof, and installing the boiler. I still have a lot of finishing details to complete, but the one I've been avoiding, simply because I'm intimidated by it is the staircase. So I have a bunch of detail questions about "the right" way to do the stairs. I hope you can help.

Question 1. The stairs are open on one side and closed on the other. This question is about the handling of the closed side. I plan to put a skirtboard against the wall and run the treads and risers into it. In a different thread I read someone's recommendation that you just butt the riser and tread to the skirt. I thought it was typical to let them both into the skirt, no?

Before fastening the stair stringer to the stud wall, nail a 2 x 4 flush to to bottom edge of the stringer so that it is between the stringer and the wall. This creates a 1-1/2" space where you can neatly slip the sheet rock behind the stringer and also be left with enogh room to slip a 3/4" thick skirt board behind as well without having to notch it out for the stairs.

On remodel jobs I've seen the skirt board routed out with tapered slots for the treads and risers to fit into. The taper allows for a shim to be wedged in tight from behind so you need access to the underside of the staircase. I would not recommend this method as it is sure to squeak. Every set of stairs I've ever seen built like that squeaks badly.

Question 2. Should the skirt board be fastened to the sheetrock wall, or should the sheetrock be cut out and the skirtboard be applied directly to the framing?

Sheet rock first, then skirt board.

Question 3. Should the treads and risers be joined in some way? For example, I'm envisioning a tongue and groove joint where the top edge of a riser has a tongue that fits in to a groove routed into the underside of the tread above it.

I have always screwed the treads to the risers and then plugged the screw holes with matching wood plugs sanded flush. I just apply a bead of construction adheasive to the edge of the riser and butt the 3/4" edge to the bottom of the tread with out any interlocking joinery. If you were to use a rabbet into a groove it would most likely squeak. I always let the tread hang over the riser by an inch minimum to allow for a little cove molding to be fastened there.

Question 4. What is the best way to fasten the treads and risers to the stringers?

Plenty of good quality construction adheasive and screws, then plug.

Question 5. What is the typical overhang of a tread, I.e. how far the tread nosing protrudes beyond the riser below it.

1" to 1-1/2" depending on the size of the cove molding you will use under the tread.

Bret
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post #4 of 36 Old 02-02-2013, 10:58 AM
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Stairs are a bit intimidating. There are two basic types of construction. One is done with stringers and the stair components are attached on top to these, the other is know as "housed" stairs. Housed stairs don't have stringers. The risers and treads are let into the skirts and mated with each other with a T&G joint where treads and risers connect. This is the type that uses tapered mortices with wedges. This is your confusion, you are talking about two different construction techniques. A housed stair is completely assembled and then put in place where a stringer type stair is built in place, piece by piece. You don't have open treads with a housed stair.

When the rough stringers are installed, this is during framing, before sheetrock is installed. Typically, a 2x4 is nailed on the wall side stringer along the length of it's bottom edge and then the stringer is attached to the wall. This holds the wall stringer away from the wall studs 1 1/2", allowing sheetrock to slip behind it and later for the skirt board to slip in there, too. This gives you a continuous skirt board that doesn't have to be cut to fit against tread and riser cuts in the stringer. You have to know to do this early in rough framing since the underneath of the stair stringers usually get sheetrocked and you would have to remove it to move the stringer out. The skirt installs on top of the sheetrock.

If you didn't furr the wall stringer out and it's been sheetrocked under, you will have to cut a sawtooth skirt board. This is a lot more work and fitting the treads and risers to the sawtooth skirt has to be done gingerly or each will push the sawtooth out of line. Each of the teeth can flex and it can make the fitting of the risers and treads vary with every step.

To cut a skirt, you use a short piece of skirt board 1"x12" or 1"x10" to use as a template. You snap a chalk line on the wall to mark the top edge of the skirt. You want the skirt board to reach to the corner intersection of the riser and tread cut in the rough stringer and be the same top and bottom. The short template piece is held on the chalk line and you cut the angles to fit both the top and bottom. Once you figure those angles, you hold the template in place and put a tick mark on it and on the wall. Then do the same at the bottom. Measure the length between the tick marks. Hold the template on the full length skirt board, mark the top and the tick mark, then measure the length from tick to tick and position the template on the next bottom tick mark and transfer the angle cut. Easier to show than write about.

If you didn't furr out the wall stringer, you position the skirt board so it rests on the tips of the stringer teeth, which should be parallel to the chalk line you placed. Use a short level to plumb up at each riser, then cut a block equal in width to the amount of the riser. Place this block on the tread cut and scribe along the top to the skirt. This is done because the tread cuts may not be level and this marks the skirt cut parallel to the tread cut. If you get it right, the sawtooth skirt should drop into the cuts in the stringer and the top lands on the chalk line. You have a little fudge room since those cuts will be covered by the risers and treads as they are installed.

When you do the outside skirt on the open side, it can be held in place temporarily. Don't just scribe along the cuts in the outside stringer since these may not be perfectly in line with the other two stringers. Instead, use a straight edge held against all three stringers and use that to mark your cut lines. This way, the miters on the risers should fit the open side skirt miters.

When building piece by piece on stringers, you start at the bottom. Risers are typically in the 7 1/2" - 7 3/4" range but some can go as much as 8", particularly on utility stairs where room may be limited. This means you can't use standard 8" boards which are only 7 1/4" wide, you have to rip down 1x10s". Hold the risers level and even with the top of the tread cuts. This will allow the risers to provide continuous support for the front edge of the treads. Place the first two risers, then the first tread. You can reach behind and under the second riser to shim the tread if needed and when this is done, you run a couple screws through the edge of the second riser into the first tread, continue on up this way.

If you are going to use a scotia molding under the tread nose, you want 1" overhang on the tread nosing. If no scotia is used and the treads and risers will be wrapped with carpet or a runner, you only need 3/4" nosing but 1" is still OK. Risers get kicked and marked and treads show wear so it's recommended to use a runner or carpet. It also quiets down the stairs. Risers and treads can be nailed to the stringers, do not use adhesive since it won't allow the risers and treads to move with humidity changes and may cause a tread to crack open. I like to use trim head screws on the treads for greater holding. The holes are easily plugged with filler. Pay attention to where you put nails or screws on the open end so they aren't in the way if you are drilling holes for ballusters.

There is a lot more to it but this should get you started on the skirts.
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post #5 of 36 Old 02-06-2013, 07:46 PM Thread Starter
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Fallbrook, Bret, and Hammer

Thanks for your responses, I appreciate all the input and advice I can get. I have a few continuing questions. But first a few words of explanation, I'll try not to bore you...

I'm operating under a bit of a handicap - that being some knowledge but not enough knowledge. I worked with my father many years ago. He was a builder/carpenter who really emphasized doing quality work. We did everything in a house, from pouring concrete footers, to making and lacquer spraying and hand rubbing the kitchen cabinets. And everything in between. So I learned a lot during that time, some by doing and some by watching. Building stairs is probably the one thing that I never really got involved in so my knowledge comes only from what I saw him doing, and that was 35 years ago.

I do understand the difference in the 2 types of stairs (housed and otherwise). My question really was regarding the possibility of routing the skirt to let in the treads and risers. I thought I remembered it being done that way 35 years ago, but now I suppose I'm mistaken. So, butt jointed is what it is - I get it, thanks for the clarification.

Another thing that's been bothering me is the whole idea of mitering each riser into the outside skirt. Wow! Seems like a fitting nightmare. I'm positve I didn't see my dad do that, so I did some investigation and found that the weasel took the easy way out. What he did was to use something called a "step scroll". He would cut the skirt the same as the stringers, run the risers to the outer surface of the skirt so the endgrain of the riser shows, then apply a thin scroll (like out of 1/4" plywood) onto the skirt and over the riser endgrain. But after doing my own research I can see that this is definitely an inferior technique. I really am pissed at the old man for this shortcut and fully intend to do better.

So to ask my next few questions, I need to explain my current situation a little more (thanks for your patience).

I have finished hardwood on the floors at the bottom and top of the stairs. The stringers have 3/4" Advantech treads and risers attached with screws and construction adhesive (probably very hard to remove). It was done this way by a local guy I originally planned to hire to do the finished stairs. He said that he planned to leave the Advantech in place and put treads/risers onto it. The edge where the tread and riser meet is cut square - no nosing or overhang. All treads measure exactly 10 inches - that is, the visible portion of the tread not including what is hidden under the back riser. The first (bottom) riser measures 7" from finished flooring to the top of the advantech tread. The top riser measures 8 1/8" from the last tread to the finished flooring. All other risers measure 7 3/4".

So now my questions...

1) Is it advisable (or at least OK) to apply the treads and risers onto the Advantech that's there? If so, I assume a lot of construction adhesive?
2) If I use 3/4" treads, all steps except the top one will be identical. Is it reasonable to use 3/4" treads given the extra support provided by the advantech?
3) Where could I get treads like that? I really want to have them be out of Maple to match the rest of the flooring.
4) Assuming I can do the above, that leaves the top step being 7 3/8". How bad is it to have that oddball step? I'm not asking about codes, I asking about safety and comfort. Will it be dangerous, uncomfortable, not noticable?

Thanks in advance for your continued advice and I apologized for the length of this post. I'll try to be more succinct in the future.

Ken
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post #6 of 36 Old 02-06-2013, 08:53 PM
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Given what you currently have it may be your best option to fit treads to the sub-treads and scribe a mitered skirt to fit- construction adhesive, etc. Since the rough stair was framer built, and it would seem not well done it is unlikely that the rise/run are accurate, so you will have to scribe the mitered skirt.

If it were me I would build a housed stair with mitered skirt, tear out what you have and install as a unit. For me it would be faster and imo better. I have a much different opinion of housed stairs then does Bret. If you layout properly the mitered skirt can be cut on a sliding chopsaw and the mortises cut out with a simple jig. I've posted some Youtube vids awhile back which show how to do it.
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post #7 of 36 Old 02-07-2013, 12:21 AM
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Ken,

I don't envy you trying to sort out all this info, some of it conflicting.

I've built many different types and configurations of stair cases but for the most part they have been built over rough framed stair stringers done by the framers. The use of composite lumber such as "Timberstrand" for the stringers will greatly enhance the quality and reduce squeaks. I like construction adhesive for setting the treads to the stringers because I think it has a little give to it which also reduces sqeaks.

The "housed" staircase is limited in it's application and does not lend itself to winders or curves. My opinion is that they were invented as a way to pre-manufacture a staircase for modular home systems of years gone by. 100 years ago when you ordered a home from Sears, they sent a housed staircase that was manufactured in a mill work shop. I have never built a staircase in that manner but I have worked on some in older homes being remodeled and it has been my experience that they are quite squeaky.

I've used both mitered risers and step scrolls. The mitered is not really that difficult and provides a more contemporary, clean look.

Here are some photos of a couple of staircases I've built from my archives. The oldest photo is about 35 years and the newest is about three years ago. Hopefully you will find something useful in them. If not, well I tried!

Bret

Staircase questions - lots of them-stairs.jpg

Staircase questions - lots of them-switchback-stair-curved-landing.jpg

Staircase questions - lots of them-p1010034.jpg
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post #8 of 36 Old 02-07-2013, 07:56 AM
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Solid wood expands and contracts, primarily across the width, with changes in the seasons. Don't use any construction adhesive on the treads to the Advantech. You can get splitting on the solid wood treads.

3/4" treads will be fine. Risers go on first, treads butt against them. You don't have access to reach behind the riser to place some screws through the riser into the back edge of the treads but this is how it's usually done.

Either landing riser can vary from the other risers a little. This won't affect walking the stairs. Uneven risers in the course of a stair can cause tripping because it breaks the cadence.

You father didn't have an electric miter saw. Traditional mitered open skirts and riser miters had to be cut by hand with a handsaw. There isn't anything wrong with using square cuts and scroll returns, I think they look classy, they can be mitered, too. When you are in the business, every minute of labor counts. Using scroll returns and square cuts is an acceptable alternative and just as good in quality and appearance as mitered skirts.

I think you would be over your head trying to route mortices in your wall skirt board. There isn't any advantage to doing it and a whole bunch of disadvantages. If you don't have space to slide the skirt in behind the stringer, you'll have enough of a challenge cutting the skirt in a saw tooth pattern.

Maple treads are commonly available.
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post #9 of 36 Old 02-07-2013, 11:30 AM
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I can agree with everything that Hammer1 says with the exception of the construction adhesive.

I see the adhesive more as a gap filler than a glue. The treads need to fit tightly to the top of the risers, so the top of the riser is the high point. A nice bead of CA on the top of each stringer prior to tread installation fills any gap. Without the filler if there is any gap under the tread it can flex. We all know what happens when a stair tread flexes.

I've built hundreds of stair cases. I can't think of any instance where CA was a problem and I am not aware of any tread ever splitting.

So we might have to agree to disagree on this point

Bret
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post #10 of 36 Old 02-07-2013, 09:08 PM
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Well Ken you do have conflicting advice but each is giving you their best opinion, based primality on personal experience.

Gentlemen, I know you will never embrace housed stairs but you are mistaken about both their quality and application. Housed stairs predate modular or prefab houses by decades, perhaps centuries. They are also quite suitable for curved stairs as well as winders. A properly built housed stair will be glued and frequently screwed together to form a single unit, more akin to a piece of furniture than finish carpentry.
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post #11 of 36 Old 02-07-2013, 11:39 PM
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Keith,

Your stunning stair photos have me re-thinking everything I said.

I have built a couple of those curved laminated stairs. We built a curved stud wall in the shop for both the inside and outside curve to clamp to. I don't remember exactly how we handled the treads and risers but I'm sure we didn't do the housed method that you have shown.

Most of the staircases I've built are much more pedestrian.

Nice work, beautiful stairs!

Bret
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post #12 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 09:03 AM
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The reason I mentioned no adhesive is because of the Advantech sub treads, that's different than gluing to stringers since the Advantech won't move but the treads will. I've had problems with platforms and winders splitting. I've never built a stair with sub treads but platforms and winders often have a sub-base of plywood or similar. I've made the mistake of using adhesive on Advantech and won't do that again. Winders and platforms are much wider than normal treads and that can mean a lot more movement but I won't take that chance. A split tread can ruin your day.

Housed stairs can be an excellent way to build stairs and are often used on spiral stairs as well as closed stairs and full open side stairs but they need planning ahead. When you have half open stairs that kick out flush to a wall, they aren't easily done since that breaks the continuous skirt. Stringers get used to provide a rough stair during construction. Before the stair builder gets on the job, the stringers are typically in place and sheetrocked under. Tearing them out isn't an option or practical with run of the mill staircases. Many of us would like to tear out stringers since they are often done by framers and not very accurate but that's life.
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post #13 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 10:51 AM
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i hope no one minds me piggybacking here but im about to do my stairs too.

but in my case the stairs are in. im ripping out the carpetting and want to put mahogany . i lifted the carpet and all i have is plywood. and 1 side is on a wall.

1- should i just screw and plug risers and treads ?

2- should i take the plywood off and screw the mahogany to the stringer ?

3- do i start at the top or bottom or does it matter ?

thanks guys

build it right or not at all
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post #14 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 11:25 AM
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You will need to check to see if removing the plywood or leaving the plywood and adding the treads will throw your stairs out of code. Some state codes requite no more than 3/8 inch difference in riser height. If you leave the plywood, more wood to wood is just another chance of a squeak.

I think starting at the top or bottom is just a preference, I like to have something to stand on when removing or building.

I have at times installed all of the risers first then the treads, that way you don't switch back and forth cutting the risers and then the treads.

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post #15 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 07:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Lola Ranch
I can agree with everything that Hammer1 says with the exception of the construction adhesive.

I see the adhesive more as a gap filler than a glue. The treads need to fit tightly to the top of the risers, so the top of the riser is the high point. A nice bead of CA on the top of each stringer prior to tread installation fills any gap. Without the filler if there is any gap under the tread it can flex. We all know what happens when a stair tread flexes.

I've built hundreds of stair cases. I can't think of any instance where CA was a problem and I am not aware of any tread ever splitting.

So we might have to agree to disagree on this point

Bret
I've built close to 2000 stair ways . I haven't had anyone complain about treads splitting.
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post #16 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 07:30 PM Thread Starter
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All,

Thank you for your advice. I feel a lot more confident going into this that just a week ago. But once again, I have a few more questions...

1. I looked for stair treads. I want unfinished hard maple. I see some places sell "retreads" which are used for putting on top of Plywooded stairs after carpet was removed. The difference from standard treads is that they are thinner, like 5/8 or 3/4. They come with front bullnose and optionally right, left, or both returns. But it seems to me that I could make these treads myself from clear 3/4 stock. Is there anything special about the ones you would buy that can't be duplicated given one has: table saw, jointer, planer, glue and clamps? I have quite a pile of leftover maple flooring and it seems like I should be able to make my own treads from it, no?

2. I probably will use some CA between treads and sub-treads, not so much as a glue, but as a gap filler to eliminate any sponginess that could also lead to squeaks. I will probably leave the tops of the risers cut square and be sure the treads make full contact with them. Then screw down the tread to the riser and Plug holes. But the joint where theback of the tread meets the riser has me concerned. Because of the sub-treads and risers blocking access, I can't screw the tread and riser together. And if I leave just a butt joint it seems most likely to be the source of a squeak, especially given the use of thinner treads with more flex. So my proposal is to cut a rabbet on the bottom of the back edge of the tread so the top edge becomes a tongue, and to cut a groove into the riser to receive that tongue. When being installed, I would glue that joint. Does this sound reasonable?

3. Now about railing. I plan to make my own railing and would really like to use Doug fir, for aesthetic reasons. Any reasons why this would be a bad choice? I'm thinking that splintering on handrail or tendancy to twist and wind. My local lumber yard has some really nice CVG Fir so I would think it would be stable. Will the fir hold onto a finish like poly or shellac?

Once again thanks,

Ken

BTW, I ran across a document from a stair company that has a lot of step by step directions on installing treads, risers, and skirts. It includes the directions for making and using that U-shaped board for marking out the miter joints on the skirts. If anyone wants that, let me know and I'll post the URL.
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post #17 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 08:35 PM
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Wow, 2000 stair cases is a stair per week for 40 yrs, assuming you take two weeks off per year. My back and knees are aching just thinking about it.
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post #18 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 08:44 PM
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Wow, 2000 stair cases is a stair per week for 40 yrs, assuming you take two weeks off per year. My back and knees are aching just thinking about it.
More like 2 1/2 sets every week. My knees don't have a whole lot of life left in them.
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post #19 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 11:35 PM
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Originally Posted by maniac View Post
All,

Thank you for your advice. I feel a lot more confident going into this that just a week ago. But once again, I have a few more questions...

1. I looked for stair treads. I want unfinished hard maple. I see some places sell "retreads" which are used for putting on top of Plywooded stairs after carpet was removed. The difference from standard treads is that they are thinner, like 5/8 or 3/4. They come with front bullnose and optionally right, left, or both returns. But it seems to me that I could make these treads myself from clear 3/4 stock. Is there anything special about the ones you would buy that can't be duplicated given one has: table saw, jointer, planer, glue and clamps? I have quite a pile of leftover maple flooring and it seems like I should be able to make my own treads from it, no?

2. I probably will use some CA between treads and sub-treads, not so much as a glue, but as a gap filler to eliminate any sponginess that could also lead to squeaks. I will probably leave the tops of the risers cut square and be sure the treads make full contact with them. Then screw down the tread to the riser and Plug holes. But the joint where theback of the tread meets the riser has me concerned. Because of the sub-treads and risers blocking access, I can't screw the tread and riser together. And if I leave just a butt joint it seems most likely to be the source of a squeak, especially given the use of thinner treads with more flex. So my proposal is to cut a rabbet on the bottom of the back edge of the tread so the top edge becomes a tongue, and to cut a groove into the riser to receive that tongue. When being installed, I would glue that joint. Does this sound reasonable?

3. Now about railing. I plan to make my own railing and would really like to use Doug fir, for aesthetic reasons. Any reasons why this would be a bad choice? I'm thinking that splintering on handrail or tendancy to twist and wind. My local lumber yard has some really nice CVG Fir so I would think it would be stable. Will the fir hold onto a finish like poly or shellac?

Once again thanks,

Ken

BTW, I ran across a document from a stair company that has a lot of step by step directions on installing treads, risers, and skirts. It includes the directions for making and using that U-shaped board for marking out the miter joints on the skirts. If anyone wants that, let me know and I'll post the URL.
I would like to take a look at the instructions, would you post the link?

http://www.diychatroom.com/

BigJim

Anything is possible IF you don't know what you are talking about.
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post #20 of 36 Old 02-08-2013, 11:57 PM Thread Starter
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Go to the following location, and scroll down to the section on stairs. I only looked at the second section, the one on treads, risers, and skirts since that's what I'm after right now.


http://www.bayerbuilt.com/resources/...e/installation

Ken
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