Custom Stairs for the DIY Person Custom Stairs for the DIY Person

Custom stairs are a complex project and require patience and careful planning. But they allow you to make them to suit your home exactly. Stairs can be constructed between 2 walls, with one open side or even with 2 open sides coming down into a foyer.

Building Codes

Before you begin construction, check with the local building inspector’s office to see what the building codes are for stairways. Usually you will need to supply diagrams of the proposed project and apply for a permit.  


Stairs must be planned to be easy and safe to use and they must fit within the area where they will be built. First calculate the total rise. The rise is the height from the floor where the bottom step will be positioned to the floor level where the last step will be. A typical rise in a home is about 9 feet. The run is the total length of the staircase. Risers have to be equal to make the stairs uniform. So you divide up the height evenly. Most risers are 7 inches to 8 inches. So if you calculate 108 inches (9 feet) divided by 7.2 inches (the height of the riser) you will get 15 risers. You need one less tread than risers so you need 14 treads. 


Stringers are the supporting structure for the steps. They should be made from high quality 2 inch by 10 inch lumber. You need 2 stringers if the stairs are less than 30 inches wide and 3 stringers if they are wider. Mark the steps on the board using a 2-foot framing square. Remember that the rise includes the thickness of the tread board except for the bottom step which rests on the floor. Do a dry fit with the first stringer to be sure of accuracy and then it can be used as pattern. Careful measuring and cutting will keep the floor from squeaking.

Treads and Risers

The treads and risers are cut out according to the dimensions in the plan and then affixed to the stringers. Risers are nailed on first and checked to be sure they are level. Adding some glue will help to increase durability Treads go on next atop the risers. These can be made of hardwood as the final finish or paint grade wood if they are to be painted. They can be constructed of plywood as an underlayment for carpet.


If the stairs are between 2 walls then you can install a ready-made hand rail. It should be secured to the studs every 4 feet and be at a height of 34 inches from the front of the tread. An open stair railing has a top and bottom post which supports the railing. Balustrades are smaller posts in between to which the top railing will be attached. These types of railings and posts are usually purchased premade with predrilled holes and fasteners.

Building stairs is a skill that takes some time to master. Careful planning and installation can make your project a success.

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