Stair Construction
The staircase, when carefully designed and built, adds dignity and charm to a home. The quality of craftsmanship displayed reflects the character of the entire interior of the building. In general, stairwork is considered a special field of carpentry. The main stairway, which may have several artistic features that are difficult to make on the job, is usually made in a mill and assembled at the house. Stairs which are usually built by the carpenter on the job include the porch and other stairs on the outside of buildings, and less important stairs within a building. It is essential that every carpenter have the necessary information regarding the general principles involved in stair building, as well as knowledge of the layout and construction.
Types of Stairs. The staircase in a building is one means whereby one may travel from the level of one floor to another. The ease with which a stairway can be traveled depends upon the proper proportioning of the riser and tread of each step and the number of steps in one series or flight. The design of the building and the space allowed for stairs will control the type of staircase which may be built.
Straight-Flight Stairs. A stairway commonly known as a straight- flight stair, shown in Fig. 68, is the simplest to build, but not necessarily the most desirable. Furthermore, the layout of a building does not always permit the use of a straight flight stairway. A staircase with a long flight, consisting of more than fifteen steps, is tiring because it affords no opportunity for a pause in ascent. For this reason a landing should be introduced somewhere in the flight, usually at the halfway point, as shown in Fig. 69.
Landings also have another function, that of changing the direction of the stairs, as shown in Fig. 70. The staircase returning on itself, as shown in Fig. 71, is economical in space, especially when there are a number of floor levels to be connected. In this case the stairs continue to wind upward.
Winder Stairs. Space limitations frequently demand a staircase with winders to bring about a change in direction. The three-winder stairway, illustrated in Fig. 72, is frequently used. It is not considered dangerous as long as the treads are approximately the same width on the line of travel.

Geometrical Stairs. The most complicated and most expensive stairways are those that are curved, commonly known as the geometrical stairway. The geometrical stairway is a winding stairway, but it is so designed that the tread at the line of travel of all steps is the same width. These staircases may be circular as shown at A, or elliptical as at B, Fig. 73, and often are designed with landings to insure ease in ascending them.

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Safety Precautions in Stairway Building

Statistics compiled by the National Safety Council show that stairways are the cause of the greatest number of accidents in the home, These accidents can be attributed to various factors; some, of course, are beyond the control of those who design and build the stairways. However, there are far too many accidents due directly to faulty construction. The carpenter can make a worthwhile contribution toward accident prevention if he plans and does his work well.
The Safety Engineering Department of the National Workmen’s Compensation Service Bureau has set up the following standards as suggestions to stair builders to help remove some of the causes responsible for many accidents.
1. Stairways should be free from winders.
2. The dimensions of landings should be equal to or greater than the width of stairways between handrails (or handrail and wall).
3. Landings should be level and free from intermediate steps between the main up flight and the main down flight.
4. All treads should be equal and all risers should be equal in any one flight.
5. The sum of one tread and one riser, exclusive of the nosing, should not be more than 18 inches nor less than 17 inches. (Stair ratio.)
6. The nosing should not exceed
13/4 inches.
7. All stairways should be equipped with permanent and substantial handrails 36 inches in height from the center of the tread.
8. All handrails should have rounded corners and a surface that is smooth and free from splinters.
9. The angle of the stairways with the horizontal should not be more than fifty degrees nor less than twenty degrees.
10. Stair treads should be slip proof, firmly secured and with no protruding bolts, screws, or nails.
Tread and Riser Relationship
Stairs must be adapted to meet many special requirements to fit into a particular building and rules have been established to make stairs as comfortable to use as possible. Unfortunately, rules must be overlooked occasionally at times in order to solve a problem. This is particularly true in remodeling work, but is also true when a house has not been well planned. However, a carpenter should know how to make choices which will result in the best stairs under the circumstances. He should be familiar with the building code which applies locally and should bend every effort to build stairs accordingly.
The stair ratio is a relationship between the tread run (width) and the riser height so that as one increases, the other decreases, and vice versa. A minimum tread run and a maximum riser height keep the stairs from exceeding the critical angle of the whole stair. See Fig. 74 and Table II. The economical use of material is also a factor. Good design often requires wider boards for treads than the carpenter would like to use if economy were the main consideration. Some fundamental ideas on tread-riser relationships:

1.  All risers in the same flight must be equal.

2.All treads in the same flight must be equal.
3. For residences, the maximum height of a riser shall be eight inches. (F.H.A. permits 8Ό inches.)

4. For residences, the minimum tread run shall be nine inches exclusive of nosing.
5. The stair ratio: The height of a riser plus the width of a tread shall equal not less than 17 inches nor more than 18 inches.
Minimum R + T = 17”
Maximum R +T = 18”

The formula T + R = 17 to 18 is used by many carpenters because the calculations can be made mentally. Local building codes may have other tread and riser limitations and ratio requirements.
Treads. Material for treads is generally 2 x 10 or 2 x 12 inches (actual size 1½ x 91/2 or 1½ by 11½ inches). See Fig. 75. The run of the tread is the distance from the face of one riser to the face of the one which follows it and is the same dimension as the cut on the stringer. When a 9 inch tread run is required, only ½ inch is left for nosing. When a larger tread run is required (either by the code or by the use of the stair ratio formula) a board wider than a 2 x 10 will be necessary.
The tread is often cut so as to extend beyond the stringers at each side the same distance as the nosing extends in front.
Risers. Stairs without risers (open riser) are permitted for certain applications but are not considered good practice. Risers are usually made of 1 x 10 or 1 x 12 inch boards and are ripped to fit. The risers are placed behind the lower treads and snuggly fitted against the under side of the upper tread. See Fig. 75.



It is very important that all the riser heights on a flight of stairs be equal in order to prevent the danger of tripping or misstepping. Also, the riser height must be limited so that it is reasonably similar in all stairs. However, the board (not the unit rise) for the top riser and the bottom riser in a flight of stairs may vary in height in order to make up the difference in thickness of flooring, etc. See Fig. 75.
Stringer. The stringer is the most important of the stair parts. This is the cut out support for treads and risers. If the carpenter has made the correct layout and made the proper deductions, the stairs will he perfect when installed. The material used is usually a 2 x 10 or a 2 x 12 in order that 31/2 inches are left to carry the load after the cuts are made. Deductions must be made at the top and at the bottom of the stringer so that the bottom rise and the top rise of the finished stair may be equal. The thickness of the tread material must be deducted at the bottom and is added at the top unless the flooring and tread thickness are not the same. Further additions and adjustments are required, depending on the problem. See Fig. 76.
Adequate bearing (4 inch minimum F.H.A.) against the header must be provided so that the stringer may be well fastened.


Calculations Necessary for a Straight-Flight Stair Layout
To help bring about a better understanding of how to go about laying out a stair stringer, let us consider laying out a stair which must have a total rise of 8 feet 4 inches. The stairwell, already established, is 11 feet 3 inches, as shown in Fig. 77.
Before any stringer can be laid out a study must be made of the plans, or stair location if the building is in progress, to determine the type of stair required. The limitations or restrictions must also be considered, such as a beam which may cut down headroom, a door opening at the bottom of the stair, or windows along the stair flight. Frequently such restrictions will determine the place where the stairs will start at the bottom, and may necessitate the shortening of the total run of the stair, thus changing the standard proportions between the riser and the tread.
When the principles involved in the layout of a simple stair with no restrictions are thoroughly understood, then problems which include variations can be solved satisfactorily. The straight flight stair shown in Fig. 77 will be considered as a typical problem.
Two methods may be used to find the exact riser height. One in which a story pole is used is time taking but accurate and the other uses simple mathematics.
Using The Story Pole to find the Unit Rise.
1. Take a story pole (any piece of lumber 1 X 2 preferred straight with square ends) and set it on the finished floor in the stairwell on the basement floor. Mark the location of the finished floor above, or first floor, as shown at 1, Fig. 77. The distance 1 —x will be the total rise of the stair, in this case 8 feet 4 inches. Then place the story pole on two horses.
Note: If the finished floor has not been laid when the measurement is taken, a block of wood should be placed on the rough floor to establish the line of the finished floor, or allowance can be made for the thickness of the finished floor.
2. Set a pair of dividers to 7 inches (a permissible unit rise per step) and step off the total rise on the story pole, dividing the distance 1—X into equal parts. If upon the first trial you find there is a remainder, adjust the dividers and try again. If the remainder is less than 3 inches set the dividers to a setting larger than 7 inches. If the remainder is more than 3 1/2 inches, set the dividers to a setting smaller than 7. Continue adjusting the dividers and stepping off the distance on the story pole, until the last unit is the same as all of the others. The dividers are now set to the unit rise which should be within the allowed


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riser height requirements. Be careful not to disturb the divider setting.
Using Mathematics to find the Unit Rise. The unit rise per step can also be obtained by dividing the total rise in inches by 7 to find the number of risers (drop the fraction if any), then divide the total rise by the number found, to obtain the exact unit rise per step.

Total Rise 8’-4” or 100 inches, 100 — 7 = 14 2.8 risers.
We must choose either 14 or 15 risers:
100 /14 = 7.143 inches or 7 1/8 inches.

Finding the Unit Tread. The stair ratio is used to find the unit tread. There is a little leaway permitted the ‘carpenter because he should choose a tread width which falls between the limits of the ratio:  
T + R 17 to 18.
The riser height has been determined as 7 1/8 inches.
Minimum tread ratio: T + 7 1/8 = 17, T = 9 7/8 inches.

Maximum tread ratio: T + 7 1/8 = 18, T 10 7/8 inches.
A midpoint would be 10 3/8 inches.
Referring to Table II it will be noted that these dimensions, R = 7 1/8, T 10 3/8, fall within the range of preferred angles.
Note: In laying out the stair, the nosing of a step is not considered a part of the tread and does not enter into stair calculation.
Finding the Total Run. To find
the total run of the stair, multiply the width of the tread by one less than the number of risers. The reason for this can be found by studying Fig. 78, which shows that there is one less tread than the number of risers. In the foregoing problem, the width of the tread was found to be 10 3/8 inches and the total number of risers 14. Subtracting 1 from 14 leaves 13, the number of treads; and 13 X 10 3/8 gives 134 7/8 inches, or 11 feet 2 7/8 inches (3 inches), the total run of the stairs.


To find the starting point of the stairs, locate point X, Fig. 77, on the basement floor by plumbing down from the header A in the stairwell. Then lay out the total run of 11 feet 3 inches (2 7/8 inches) of the stair to locate the starting point as shown at 2, Fig. 77.
Finding the Headroom. In this particular stair the length of the stairwell is equal to the total run of the stair. The actual headroom would be the finished floor to floor height minus (1) one unit rise, (2) the thickness of the joist, and (3) the thickness of the flooring components:
Finished Floor = 3/4
Floor Furring    = 3/4
Rough Floor                 = 3/4
Joist                             = 7 ½
Riser                            = 71/8
                        16 7/8 or 1’-4 7/8”
8’-4” —1’-4 7/8” = 6’-11’/8”
A 6’-11 1/8” headroom is very adequate.
Stairwells and Headroom. The length of the stairwell is usually determined by the designer of the plans so that a certain arrangement of partitions will result. He also fixes the location of the foot of the stairs so that the proper amount of space is provided between the lowest riser and adjacent walls or partitions. The carpenter must work within the limits shown on the plans.

Headroom should be measured vertically from the front edge of the nosing to a line parallel with the stair pitch. The dimension should be 6’-8” minimum for main stairs and
6’-4” minimum for basement or service stairs. (F.H.A.) A headroom of 7’-O” is preferred. Where a soffit develops, as shown on Fig. 79, particular attention must be given to provide adequate headroom in order to overcome the illusion of being crushed by the ceiling above.
When the carpenter runs into difficulty in making the stairs work out he should consult the owner and the architect. If he is on his own on remodeling work he may be able to change the header at the end of the stairwell or may be able to change the unit tread, unit rise, or number of risers to achieve a shorter total run.
Laying Out a Stair Stringer. In laying out the stair stringer illustrated in Fig. 77, the following method can be used.
1. Select a straight piece of 2
12 of sufficient length and lay it on a pair of sawhorses.
Note: The required length can be found by taking the unit rise per step (7 1/8, inches) on the tongue of the framing square, and the unit run per step, or tread (10 3/8 inches), on the blade. Lay the square on the edge of any straight stick at these measurements and draw the lines


AC and CB, Fig. 80. The distance AB will be the bridge measure per step. Multiply this bridge measure (12 3/4 inches) by the number of risers (14). The result will be 14 feet 10 inches, the approximate length required for this stair stringer. Allowance must be made because the board must be longer to connect to the header at the top.
2. Begin at the bottom of the stringer, lay the square in the position shown in Fig. 80 (use framing- square clips if available). Take the unit rise (7 1/8 inches) on the tongue and the unit run, or tread (10 3/8 inches), on the blade. Draw the lines 1—2 and 2—3.
3. Reverse the square and draw the lines 1—4 at right angles to 1—2. The length of the line 1—4 is equal to the unit rise of the step (7 1/8 inches). Shorten the rise of the first step from the bottom an amount equal to the thickness of the tread to be used. Draw the cutting line 5-6 parallel to 1-2.


4. Continue to lay out from point 3, along the edge of the 2 x 12, the balance of the steps required for the stairs. Great accuracy is required in laying out the steps. Therefore, use a sharp pencil or knife and make the lines meet at the edge of the 2 x 12.

5. When the point 7 at the top of the stringer has been reached, extend the line 7—8 to point 9, making 7—9 equal to the thickness of the first floor above (joist and flooring), at the stairwell.
6. The thickness of a tread was removed from the first riser at the bottom of the stringer; this will drop the stringer. Then this tread thickness 9—10 must be allowed at the top, if the stringer is to fit up tightly against the joist header of the first floor. ( The cut will be made on line 10-11. )

7. Greater nailing support of the stringer at the top can be obtained by fitting the stringer around the header joist. Therefore, draw lines 10-11, thickness of joist; also 11-12, height of joist; and 12-13, top cut of the stringer.

Stair Widths
The width of staircases is determined by the necessity for two people to be able to pass comfortably on the stairs, and the fact that furniture will have to be carried or down. If two people are to be able to pass on the stairs, the width should be three or three and one half feet. The minimum set by some codes is 2 feet 8 inches for main stairs clear of handrails.
The width of stairs necessary for the passage of furniture depends upon the shape of the stairs and the kind of furniture which will have to be taken up or down the stairs. The straight flight stairway permits the movement of objects more easily than does the winder or platform type of stairs. When winding or platform stairways are open on one side, including open-well stairways, they will afford a better chance for moving large pieces of furniture, because such objects usually can be raised over the handrails and newel posts unless the articles are extremely heavy.
Handrails should be provided on one or both sides of a stairs. The height of handrails should be 32 or 33 inches from the edge of the nosing to the top of the rail, or 36 inches from the center of the tread, as shown in Fig. 74.
Winding Stairs
Winding stairs perform the following functions:
1. They change the direction of travel of a stair.
2. They save room in some cases because not only is the direction changed but a rise is achieved at the same time.
3. They are used to provide an interesting architectural effect particularly when used for finished stairs. See Fig. 81.
When a plan requires that a stair start from one floor and make a quarter turn or half turn before reaching the floor above, either a platform or winders must be introduced. Winders will help conserve space because the turns are used to raise the level also.
Winders are not considered as safe as straight stairs or straight stairs with a platform. The main reasons why they are less safe is because the tread width varies from almost nothing at the newel to a very wide space at the far end. To overcome this fault as much as possible, a line of travel with a radius which would approximate the line where a person would walk, is established. After the line of travel has been drawn, the risers are put in place in such a manner that they are spaced equally and also approximately equal in width to the spacing of the risers in the straight flights above and below.
The carpenter must not only bear in mind the need for safety but also the problems of cutting out the parts, assembling them, and fastening them to the posts or supports. Stringers can either be nailed to the side of the posts or butt against them. When risers converge at posts they should be arranged so that good nailing is provided. Blocks may be used to back up or support the risers for nailing on carpenter-made stairs. The newel post is routed out to receive the risers on mill-made stairs. Outside stringers usually must be made in more than one piece, joining where the straight stair ends and the winders begin. See Fig. 82.
Three-Winder Stair. It is advisable when building a winder stair to first draw a full size plan view layout on the floor, showing size and shape of the treads, length of risers. and all angle cuts of both treads and risers. The stringers may also be laid out easily from the plan view. The following method may be used when building winders.
1. Draw a square 1—2—4--6 equal in width to that of the stair as shown in Fig. 81. Dotted lines show the thickness and location of the outside stringers.
2. Using an 18 inch line of travel, swing an arc with center at 1.
3. Divide this arc into three equal parts 2a—3a, 3a—5a, and 5a—6a and through these points draw the riser lines 1—3 and 1—5. Draw in the back of the riser with a dotted line.
4. The width of the treads at their narrowest point is obtained by drawing the full size newel post in position.
5. The angle of the cuts for the stringer cutouts is obtained by laying the framing square on the layout as at A. The framing square held as at B will give the angle cut for the risers.
Layout of Stringer for Winders. The winder stringer is in two parts a—4 and c—e, Fig. 81. The layout of each part is different and both stringers have a different angle of rise from that of the main stair as shown in Fig. 82.
The layout of the stringer is made along the edge of the board with the framing square, in the same way as shown in Fig. 80. The rise per step is the same as that of the main stair, but the run of each tread must be taken from the full size layout. Fig.

81. Dimensions a—b, b—4, c—cl, and d—e, in Fig. 82, are taken from the layout, Fig. 81.
The angle cut for the riser on the stringer should not be laid out until the horizontal cut for the tread has been made on the stringers. The angles for these cuts are taken from the full size layout by laying the square as shown at A, Fig. 81. Note:
The cut for the upper winder will be different. Use the square in the same way on stringer c—e to get this cut.
The shape of the treads is obtained by laying out lines representing the nosing on the full size plan layout 1Ό inch in front of the riser face. The exact size, angles and cutout at the newel will be shown on the plan layout.
Riser lengths and angle cuts are also obtained from the layout; their heights are the same as the risers of the main stair.
Finished Interior Stairs
The job of making finished interior stairs and rails is generally that of a specialized carpenter called a stair- builder. However, every carpenter should have some knowledge about this part of the building of a house because he must prepare the stairwells, supports and walls for the stairs and under some conditions may be directly involved in assembling a stair. See Fig. 83.
Careful measurements must be taken at the job by the carpenter who will do the work. The stair parts are then usually made in a shop so that accurate woodworking machines may be used. When the stair parts are ready a stairbuilding carpenter goes to the job and installs the stairs making minor corrections as he proceeds.
Two distinct types are used: One type is the open or mitered stringer

stair which is used where the side of the stair is exposed to view. See Fig. 84. The other type is the closed stringer stair which is generally used along a wall. See Fig. 85. Many stairs have a closed stringer along the wall and an open stringer on the side toward the room. See Fig. 83. A closed stringer is used occasionally on the exposed side also to provide a special architectural effect.
In first class stairwork nails are used sparingly. All joints are housed or concealed in some way. Closed stringers are routed out to receive the ends of treads and risers. Treads

are often routed out to receive the top edge of the risers. Wedges are glued and driven in place to make the stairs solid. Blocks are glued to the underside of the intersection of treads and risers to keep the joint from opening up. See Fig. 85.




1. Landing                                                              10. Handrail
2. Raised. panel dado                                            11. Baluster
3. Closed stringer                                                                 12. Volute
4. Riser                                                                   13. End nosing
5. Tread                                                                  14. Bracket
6. Tread housing                                                   15. Open stringer
7. Cove molding under nosing                            16. Starting newel post
8. Goose neck                                                        17. Bull-nose starting step
9. Landing newel post                                          18. Concave easement