Sep 192013

Apparently, I never actually posted any of the project to my blog. I shall remedy that presently!

WARNING: This is an image-heavy post! Images behind the cut.

June, 2011
First, a little reference. These are the stairs that “came with the house.” The wood is old, flaking, there are only two very thin stringers1, and only two very shoddy legs. Oh, and the ledger2 is a flimsy quarter-inch piece of plywood!

The original stairs.The original stairs; from this angle, you can see the flimsy plywood serving as a ledger.

Clearly, this is not okay. I felt wary traversing these stairs on infrequent visits to the basement. If I had any intent to go down there regularly, I needed stairs I could trust.

I designed the stairs on paper first, after taking some measurements of the available footprint, vertical rise, and doing some general research on stair standards. I also made accommodation for my own height and foot size; these were my stairs, why not make them for me?((As it turned out, their form factor ended up being pretty universal anyway!)) Once I’d done this, I took my measurements into Blender to verify them and made some adjustments.

Then, it was off to buy some lumber and a circular saw. My original plan (as far as I can now remember it) was to cut two stringers and the rest of the steps3 and risers4 out of 1×10 boards. As a precaution, I also bought some 2×10.
Lumber and power tools! Aw yus!

August, 2012
As it turned out, buying those 2×10 boards was a good choice. After cutting and staining the 1×10 stringers and realizing that I was just recreating the problem of the old stairs, but now with newer wood, went back and cut two additional stringers out of 2×10. I decided that I would screw the pair of 1×10 stringers together to form a third, middle stringer. A third stringer isn’t strictly necessary, but it adds some additional support to each step. Creating it out of a pair of boards, which struck me as likely to be a little less robust than a single board, seemed reasonable.
Original stringer compared to the 2x10 boards. Cutting a new stringer. New stringer vs. old stringer.

Meanwhile, I had finished cutting all of the steps and risers.
Cutting a new stringer.

July, 2013
Eventually, I got off my butt and started working on them again. New purchases included sawhorses and polyurethane, which I planned to use to cover and seal the boards after I stained them.
Everything cut and ready for staining. The wood stain and polyurethane of choice. Stain applied to the stringers.

August, 2013
With some difficulty, Cody and I managed to move a dead car((Oh, this is a long story…)) out of the garage so that I could move all of the boards out there to finish staining and applying polyurethane. My instincts told me that the urethane odor would be overpowering and an open-air location would better suit its application than the basement. In the end, I was wrong about this; the urethane had even less odor than the very mild odor from the stain.
Urethane application. Urethane application. Urethane application and the uniting of the two 1x10 stringers into a single double-wide unit. Urethane application. Urethane application.

September 1-5, 2013
With everything urethaned and ready to go, it was time to demolish the old stairs! This did not take very long–no surprise–and only required a hammer and large flat-head screwdriver. The timestamp betwen the first and last of these images is less than 22 minutes. Obviously, I had already started in on the demo in the first image, but everything was over and done within 45.
Demolishing the old stairs. The old stairs torn away from their anchor point. Reverse angle of previous image. The old stairs, fully torn down and in pieces. The dark shadow of old dirt and such left behind.

I couldn’t help but do a test fit to make sure everything lined up.
The dark shadow of old dirt and such left behind.

At this stage, I actually didn’t have a ledger yet. I needed to build one! Fortunately, I had some more 2×10 lying around that suit my needs just fine.
The ledger, cut and sanded. The ledger, stained. It won't get urethane, because it's not going to see a lot of actual exposure.

For the final installation, my parents came up to help. Here, my dad is drilling holes in the ledger for anchoring the stringers.
The ledger, cut and sanded. The ledger, stained.

With the ledger ready, it was time to “build the box” — screw the bottom riser and the ledger into the stringers to create a single, mobile, working structure that we could mount in place for the remaining attachments. This necessitated the acquisition of some right-angle clamps to hold everything in place while we screwed it all together.
Assembling the outer stringer box. Inserting the middle stringer. The box, attached to the house.

From here, it was just a matter of attaching all of the steps and risers.
Test fit of all the steps. They're just placed on top of the stringers here. Test fit of all the steps. They're just placed on top of the stringers here. Cody drills holes into the steps and risers while Mom and Dad (and I) attach them. All of the risers screwed in place. That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for a homeowner. One step to go...

Victory. Yes, I’m aware the drill is positioned rather…unfortunately. I was tired and didn’t think much about it at the time.
Hi. These are my stairs.

September 6-17, 2013
But, I wasn’t quite done. The new stairs felt great and since I knew exactly what went into their construction, I felt quite safe traversing them. Even so, I wanted to be damn sure they were going to hold up under any strain. That meant creating new legs. I still had a bunch of leftover 2×10, so I cut one of them in half to create a pair of 2×5 boards, then cut these down to size for the legs. I originally planned to do four, but realized this was just unnecessary. Cue the usual process of cut, sand, stain, urethane and the legs are in.
She's got leeeeeegs!

Done. It only took me two years. Though, truth be told, once I buckled down to work on them the work really only spanned a month or two. I’m very happy with how they turned out and they feel rock-solid. On to the next thing!

  1. A “stringer” is the the diagonal, sawtooth-like board running the length of the staircase. []
  2. A “ledger” is the board that anchors the stringers to the house. []
  3. A “step” is the part you put your foot on. []
  4. A “riser” is the vertical board between each step; somewhat optional on basement and deck stairs []

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