How to Build Wood Stairs That Are Sturdy and Attractive

Wood stairs

Many homeowners are opting to stretch their DIY muscles, save their money and build a wood deck on their own. Much of this project is straightforward, but certain elements can be confusing and even downright frustrating. Learning how to build wood stairs will help you to conquer this particularly tricky part of deck construction.

Strength and Safety

The most important thing about a stairway, whether interior or exterior, is safety. It has to be built according to your local building codes, taking into account maximum and minimum measurements, clearances and support.

Many municipalities, counties, provinces and states follow the IRC (or International Residential Code) for dwellings two stories and under. It's a good idea to check with your local building department for specific rules, but planning with the IRC guidelines in place is a decent start.

Building codes will dictate the type of railing required, the rise and run of the stairs, the size and spacing of the stringers and the placement of the stairs on your property. As you can probably imagine, these calculations can get complicated.

Stair Stringers

Stair stringers support your stairs. These notched pieces are either cut at home from lumber (usually 2x12) or bought pre-made at the store. In order to make the stair stringers, you'll need to calculate the size of the riser (height of each step) and the depth of the run (or tread on each stair).

Most codes state a maximum rise of 7 3/4." Anywhere between 7 and 7 1/2” is comfortable for climbing. To calculate how many steps will be needed, measure the height of your deck off of the ground and divide by the rise height. So a deck 8 feet off the ground with 7” stair risers would need a stairway with 14 rises or steps. The deck counts as the first step, so you will need stair stringers with 13 notches cut out, each at 7” high.

Also, most areas require a minimum run (or tread depth) of 10”. To cover your tread, it works well to use 2 pieces of 6” wide deck board butted together or 1 piece of 2x10 lumber cut into the width of the stair.

Do You Need a Landing?

Calculate how far your stairs will extend into your property by multiplying the tread depth (10”) by the number or risers (14 in our example). This stairway will take up 11 ft. 9 inches of space on the ground.

If that distance will approach your property line or infringe on certain areas of your yard, change the direction of your stairway by adding a landing at the top or in the middle, turning the stairs 90 degrees in either direction.

Open or Closed Face

The front of your stairs can either be open-faced (where you can see through the steps) or closed face. For a smoother look and to keep little children and small pets safer opt for a closed face. Simply use a ripped 2x8 to cover the front of the stair.

Railing Requirements

You will need a railing on any open sides of your stairs that are more than 30” off the ground. In some municipalities, this is required for anything 24” or higher.

Use wood pickets at 4 inch on center spacing to create an easy, attractive railing. A 2x4 across the top and bottom, 4x4 posts every 4 to 6 feet and a grippable top or handrail make up the balance of the railing. Code requires that stair railing be at least 34” tall, measured from the nose of the stair treads.

Be sure to lay out your posts carefully and leave them long until the railing frame is installed.

Last of all, be sure to place a patio slab or other solid surface at the bottom of the stairs, measuring the same width.

By following these tips, checking your measurements and using solid lumber and hardware you can create a solid, sturdy and safe set of wood stairs.

Posted by: TrustedPros
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