Rebuilding Very Old Stairs

Reply

  #1  
Old 12-31-12, 12:52 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
Rebuilding Very Old Stairs

I have a very squeaky set of stairs going to the 2nd floor in my 1893 house. Not only are they noisy, but have settled/migrated enough that there are spaces as big as half an inch between the treads and risers. For a long time the gaps confused me but I've torn out the ceiling below and now see how things are framed up: there are two 2x stringers on 1/3 and 2/3 of the tread width, then the skirt boards act as stringers on the ends of the tread. There are actually grooves cut into the skirt board so that it both rests on top of the tread and supports it from below. This seems really weird to me.

I plan to tear everything out, saving the existing 2x stringers, make 2 more identical stringers to replace the funky skirtboard/stringers that are in place now, and put everything back. The stairs are walnut and I think they're worth keeping and refinishing.

My question is mostly about the skirt boards. I built a short flight a while back and I installed the skirt boards first, then cut my treads/risers to fit tight in between them. Reading online it looks like a lot of folk like to scribe the skirt boards in after, which seems like a lot more work and might be a real pain if things aren't perfectly straight like in an old house. Which way is best here? I'll also have to figure out walling - above the stairs is currently plaster/lath, and below the stairs is gutted.

Also, refinish the treads/risers before installing, or wait till everything is in place? Any special glue/fasteners for making sure the stairs stay squeak-free?

Thanks!
 
Sponsored Links
  #2  
Old 12-31-12, 01:11 PM
Temporarily Suspended
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 10,986
Before you do anything, I would want to know why it settled so much & is the floor under the stringers still level? If it's not, what happened below it? I would refinish the treads & the risers first. I don't have an opinion on the skirts.
 
  #3  
Old 12-31-12, 02:27 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
The treads have migrated, I think due to 120 years of foot traffic. They're all pulled away from the risers and that is exactly what you'd expect since the foot pushes that direction stepping up or down.

The other issue is the straightness of the house - one side of the stairwell is about 7/8" lower than the other. A few things caused this, all of which I plan to correct:

The two walls that enclose the staircase are both very important in a load-bearing sense. The north wall rests almost entirely on brick foundation and probably hasn't moved much over time. The south wall rests on a double 2x8, 8' span from brick foundation to a post which sits on the basment floor (around which wrap the basement stairs). This wall has some issues:

-the footer/post has settled a bit
-the beam has bowed slightly
-the wall sits on subfloor about 2" from the edge of the beam and the subfloor is bending under the pressure
-the sufbloor/wall at one point was hacked up to fit ducting through, including cutting out a 14.5" section of top plate and part of the joist that sat on top of it
-the wall has a door opening without a proper header

I plan to:
-sister the beam with lvl, helping straighten it and bring subfloor support right to the edge of the wall's bottom plate
-jack the beam up to proper height, and possibly poor a bigger stronger footer for the post to sit on
-put in a double 2x10 header & appropriate studs where there is an improperly framed 4ft doorway
-spend a weekend fixing cracked walls

I think with all of this work things should be pretty solid and straight. We'll just have to see how it goes. I've kind of learned to 'listen' to the house when you're trying to straighten things out - if it isn't cooperating don't push it too hard.
 
  #4  
Old 12-31-12, 03:52 PM
Temporarily Suspended
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 10,986
All that sounds good. The structure under the stringers is most important. The rest it personal choice.
 
  #5  
Old 01-01-13, 01:42 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
Is there a glue I can use under the treads that will keep everything quiet but still let me pry them up in the future if needed? I prefer to install them with my finish nailer but those nails don't have a ton of holding power.
 
  #6  
Old 01-01-13, 05:14 AM
Temporarily Suspended
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 10,986
You can use PL400, sold at Home Depot but don't forget that the structure, from the bottom up, has more to do with it staying quiet, than the glue does. That's why I asked about the floor, under the stringers, in my first response.
 
  #7  
Old 01-01-13, 11:15 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
I've never used PL400, but Loctite says it's "powerful" and "permanent". Would I be able to pry up a tread in the future without destroying everything? Does it dry ridgid or soft? Would I use finish nails too, or just the glue?
 
  #8  
Old 01-01-13, 06:27 PM
Temporarily Suspended
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 10,986
You can't have it both ways. You want a solid staircase. In my opinion, that depends on the structure, as I said a few times already. Then you wanted extra strength, so you asked about glue. Now that you have a glue, to use, you don't want it to be that strong. It's one or the other. I build with the idea that it will outlast me, that I will never have to touch it again. If you do that, you'll be fine.
 
  #9  
Old 01-01-13, 08:58 PM
Nashkat1's Avatar
Member
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 8,470
there are two 2x stringers on 1/3 and 2/3 of the tread width, then the skirt boards act as stringers on the ends of the tread. There are actually grooves cut into the skirt board so that it both rests on top of the tread and supports it from below. This seems really weird to me.

I plan to tear everything out, saving the existing 2x stringers, make 2 more identical stringers to replace the funky skirtboard/stringers that are in place now, and put everything back. The stairs are walnut and I think they're worth keeping and refinishing.
What you have is a closed-stringer staircase. A well-built closed-stringer stair is a bit of a tour-de-force for a stairbuilder. Because both ends of each tread and riser are set and held in routed grooves, it is typically stronger and quieter than an open-stringer staircase. It is also a design feature more commonly seen in the late 19th century than in the late 20th century, and is an authentic detail of your house's original construction. Not to mention that it may be why the stairs have continued to function even as the support under them has become compromised.

In 2003, Andy Engel, a former executive editor of Fine Homebuilding and author of Building Finish Stairs, replied to a reader's question about straight vs. tapered grooves in the stringers. That question, and his answer, still make a good introduction to the art of buildinf a closed-stringer staircase, IMO: Routing closed-stringer stairs

The rebuilding and improvement of the support under your main staircase sound like a solid first step. I would use rough-sawn 2x lumber rather than an Lvl to reinforce the carrier beam, for a variety of reasons, but the strengthening, leveling and straightening all sound like necessary preliminary work. If you follow that with repairing or restoring your closed-stringer stair, you'll have a piece of functional art that should serve well for more than the next 120 years.
 
  #10  
Old 01-02-13, 01:17 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
Pulpo,

I don't want the glue for strengthening the structure (I'd hope the structure is plenty strong before any glue comes into play), I asked about glue for keeping the treads quiet - for inhibiting the slight movements that cause wood to squeak against nails or other wood. Maybe I'm not thinking clearly, but I don't think I'd want to use glue that dries so hard and ridgid that the glue joint could break with time/traffic/movement. I feel like something that stays a bit soft/gummy would do better here and would also come with the assurance that I could take something up in the future if needed without busting up my stringers.

I've had a floor guy do some work for me in the past and he once installed some oak flooring with nails and some flooring glue that he liked. He showed me how the stuff never really dries hard but stays kind of gummy. The floor he put in is super quiet.
 
  #11  
Old 01-02-13, 01:26 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
Nashkat,

Thanks for putting the correct name to what I was trying to describe. I guess I always think of the skirt board as an aesthetic addition so I don't much like the idea of it also being structural. I don't think I'll repeat the same design. BTW, just so we're clear, these skirt boards, or closed stringers, are 7/8" board.

I'm all ears on rough-sawn 2x vs lvl for my beam. Why?

I'll try to get some pictures of my old stairs up today.
 
  #12  
Old 01-02-13, 06:21 AM
Temporarily Suspended
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 10,986
Chimpywrench, I worked for a floor guy & I worked for a carpenter. Neither one of them ever used glue, in that situation. If your structure is correct, from the bottom up, it should be quiet. If you are still interested, in the glue, call the floor guy & ask him what he used.
 
  #13  
Old 01-04-13, 10:12 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
Here are some photos of the stairs:
Name:  IMG_9209.jpg
Views: 4689
Size:  45.7 KBName:  IMG_9210.jpg
Views: 2938
Size:  37.5 KBName:  IMG_9211.jpg
Views: 3199
Size:  42.4 KBName:  IMG_9212.jpg
Views: 3055
Size:  46.3 KBName:  IMG_9213.jpg
Views: 3496
Size:  33.3 KBName:  IMG_9214.jpg
Views: 3202
Size:  24.4 KBName:  IMG_9215.jpg
Views: 3675
Size:  24.4 KBName:  IMG_9216.jpg
Views: 3006
Size:  24.7 KB
 
  #14  
Old 01-04-13, 10:29 PM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
And here you can see the 4ft doorway that needs a proper header (I plan for double 2x10):
Name:  IMG_9220.jpg
Views: 6205
Size:  23.5 KB

Here you can see where the basement stairs match the profile of the stairs above. The 4x4 post they wrap around carries a double 2x8, adjacent to which is a load-bearing wall. I plan to make it a triple beam which will bring support under the bottom plate. See where the oak t/g flooring stops and there's a small sheet of wood? There's a hole there where someone cut through to run ducting, (the doorway didn't used to be 4ft wide).
Name:  IMG_9219.jpg
Views: 3428
Size:  32.0 KB
 
  #15  
Old 01-05-13, 01:50 AM
Temporarily Suspended
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 10,986
I was in a house with similar stairs. I bet that the newel post is teak that someone painted along the way. We had some doors like that. I don't know why there is such an obsession with paint & wax. People will put wax on any floor, including marble & granite & paint everything else.

You are undertaking a huge project. You could probably repair those stairs without rebuilding. If you have already decided to rebuild, make sure you hire a day worker to help you. There is no way that you can do that job alone.
 
  #16  
Old 01-05-13, 11:40 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
I don't see why I couldn't do it alone (I'm very strong), but yes, I'll have a helper mostly to follow me around and cleanup the mess I make :P

I don't see any decent way of doing this without taking up all the treads and risers, and that can't be done without taking out the skirt boards. Taking up the treads/risers without busting things will be the time consuming part - everything is nailed in at multiple angles and nothing will come out in a trivial way. Once I've done that only a handful of nails takes the stringers out and then I can start fresh.

I'm going to be so much happier at the end if I just rebuild everything than if I try to navigate some kind of fix.
 
  #17  
Old 01-05-13, 11:57 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
I have an idea and would love to hear some feedback: I want to screw down 3/4 or 5/8 osb treads to the stringers (should be pretty solid and quiet with screws and maybe glue too), these would be sub-treads. Then (after installing the risers) I can screw my walnut treads to the osb ones from the bottom, with greenglue between the tread and sub-tread. Greenglue is an acoustic glue that stays gummy and is very good at dampening noise like footfall.

I could use ply instead of osb for better screw holding power?

I think this could make for an extremely quiet and sturdy set of stairs. It also lets me hide all the fasteners since there's no face-nailing. It also gives me treads to walk on while I'm doing other work and refinishing the walnut treads/risers.
 
  #18  
Old 01-08-13, 08:42 PM
Nashkat1's Avatar
Member
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 8,470
I want to screw down 3/4 or 5/8 osb treads to the stringers (should be pretty solid and quiet with screws and maybe glue too), these would be sub-treads.
That sounds like a solid idea. Will you build a closed stringer then, to hide the edge of the ply? I would, BTW, use ply for its superior ability to hold the screw heads, as you suggested.
 
  #19  
Old 01-09-13, 06:40 AM
Temporarily Suspended
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: NY
Posts: 10,986
Sub-treads will throw the height off. You would have to cut stringers differently.
 
  #20  
Old 01-10-13, 10:11 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
I don't like how stairs are often put in like finish work where the drywall goes in first then the stairs get put in with the trimwork. I think stairs should be treated like real framing. My plan is to to cut 4 stringers and have the outer two bolted straight to the wall studs, then I'll screw down my subtreads/subrisers, the edges of which will span from one wall stud to the other. Using 3/4" ply this will be extremely solid and stable framing.

Then I can play around with surface treatments like wallboard, skirtboards, and treads, any of which could be rejiggered or replaced without having to affect the 'framing' or usability of the stairs.

And yes, of course I'll consider the subtreads when designing my stringers.
 
  #21  
Old 01-10-13, 11:44 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
Is 4 stringers on a 40" wide staircase overkill (assuming my 3/4 ply subtread/riser design? The first flight (stringer length) is 5ft and the second is 10ft.

4 stringers in a 40" space leaves about 11.3" between each stringer. I guess three stringers would leave 17.75" which seems a bit much.

For headroom reasons I'll be leaving the minimal thickness in the stringers, which I think is 3.5"
 
  #22  
Old 01-11-13, 11:48 AM
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 255
So I've done all the demo and fixed up the framing issues mentioned (sistered beams in basement, repaired damaged top place & joist, added proper header above 5ft doorway, etc...). Right now all that remains is the landing, the decorative banister, and the first two treads/risers because they're kind of locked in by the banister. I didn't want to tear the banister out and have to put it back in plus I was worried about damaging the rounded walnut tread at the bottom.

Right now I have a new framing quandry: the landing is 2x4 construction with walnut t/g flooring nailed directly to it (no subfloor). Also my headroom below the stairs was extremely limited beforehand and the old stringers were made such that only 3" of solid material remained after the cutouts. I'd normally want to use 2x12's but that, in addition to the drop in height I need to make to accommodate my subtreads/risers will take away too much headroom below.

It's only 40" square, but It bothers me that the landing isn't built up stronger (2x6's or 2x8's with 3/4" osb is what I would do). If I tore it out to rebuild it I'd be moving the landing surface up (it can't go down) and that would throw off my height and I'd have to trash the banister.

I can make my new stringers with 2x10's, leaving 3.5" of solid material (or whatever I can tolerate in the stringers. This makes me feel like I'm under-doing it but I think if I use 4 stringers on a 40" wide staircase, plus I have my 3/4 ply subtreads/risers, it sould be rock solid. The outer stringers will be bolted to every stud. In my head the center stringers don't really even add much strength compared to the risers, which stand vertically ~8" and span only 40".

I could also get spendy and upgrade my stringers to lvl or something...

Am I good to go or do I need to break more stuff before I can rebuild?
 
Reply

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Display Modes