Building a Kitchen Staircase

Project: Bob's Shingle Style Home, Episode 14, Part 1

An elaborate staircase gets installed in the kitchen, and plaster repair and ceramic tile installation get underway. Ryley installs a chair rail and replaces the glass in the doors of the dining room hutch.

Part 1: Building a Kitchen Staircase
Furniture maker Todd Allen builds a staircase from scratch, which will run from the basement to the kitchen, using a technique that is a couple of centuries old. Bob discusses this type of "housed staircase" and reviews the plans and techniques used to build it.
Part 2: Repairing Plaster and Installing Ceramic Shower Tiles
Part 3: Installing a Chair Rail and Restoring a Corner Cupboard
This project centers around the remodel of Bob Vila's own gracious Shingle Style home in Cambridge, MA. It's a house with a lot of history and beautiful architectural details, many of which were obliterated in remodels of the 50s and the 70s. On the centennial of the house's construction, Bob gets together the best talents in the business to recreate and renew it to its former glory, making some important modifications along the way that will transform this into a dream house for today.

Also from Bob's Shingle Style Home

Hi, I'm Bob Vila, welcome home again. We're working inside the house today.

I'm going to be showing you how to to build a staircase from scratch and we're using a technique that really is a couple of centuries old.

We're building from the basement up to the kitchen today. Also in the dining room we're putting back the trim work and installing a couple of doors that we think disappeared from our sideboard a long long time ago.

And we're doing some plaster patching in the library. And then upstairs, we're beginning the ceramic tile work .

Lots to show you, stick around, its good to have you home again.

Bob Vila's Home Again.

Joining us is Todd Allen, furniture maker, master staircase buildier. And this is looking real good Todd, what's the piece you're putting down in there?

This is a scotia, which is a finished piece that goes between the riser and the tread.

And it's a moulding.

Yes it is.

Now this type of staircase is called a housed staircase, right?

That's correct.

What... define that term.

Well actually the housed staircase is a lead in staircase into the skirt board which actually supports the whole structure, and makes it one solid structure.

So that every piece, every component; tread, riser, and these skirts are structural.

That's correct.

There is no separate, rough construction for the staircase.

That is correct, yes. Nothing for shrinkage . When this stock comes to me, it comes to me about 4 percent.
As opposed to the framing stock, which is at least double that and that.


And that tends to shrink and make for a more sloppy stair, where this stays nice and tight.

This is tight, yeah and of course squeaking in a staircase usually comes from the changes that occur between the wetter lumber as it dries out and the twisting, and the interaction between two sets of wood, really.

That's correct.

Let's talk a little about how you actually make this, I mean did you do the layout?

Actually I had the architect do the main figuring for me.

And on site, I got this good set of plans which the architect, Gregory, gave me. Which gives me the most important piece is the line length, the overall length of this stringer board.

The overall length that goes from finish floor, here at the basement level, to finish floor up at the kitchen level.

That's correct.

Right. And what is the tread and riser ratio.

We have a 9-inch tread to a 7 and 61/64ths, which is nearly 8-inch rise.

Okay. So that's a very comfortable staircase

Very comfortable. Yup.

Let's talk a little bit about how you actually do all of this cutting. I mean, you have to use a router, right?

That's correct. I use a template here, which is a template that I take from job to job. And the only thing that really changes is the thickness of tread. Occasionally the rise will change, but it's mostly the thickness of tread that will change. And so I can use the template on just about any stair.

And the reason for having the flair in each one of these is so that you can then fit in wedge pieces, right?

That's correct.

Okay. Well, let's watch you actually go to work on this.

Plunge router really makes a nice job out of it, doesn't it?

It sure does. Makes my life easy.

And then I just to have to unscrew this.

And that's basically the work that gets done to the skirt board. I guess it is a combination of stringer and skirt board, and then show me how the pieces would fit in there Todd.

Well, what I have to do in the normal application is slide it in from the back,
and up from the bottom, near the risers and the treads fit together.

And then there are a series of wedges that go in, one for the tread... Which go in with glue.

They go in with glue.

And one for the rise

And so, when all of this is crafted together, you get an incredibly tight staircase.

That's correct and underneath all the joints, every joint has glue in it.

Right. Ok lets watch the work you get on this one. Whats next up here?

Well, first I have to put in a tread.

Do you need the glue?

I have that in my apron already.


But I do not need the brad gun.

Thank you. And the next step is the glue.

Yep, here you go.

And also on the bottom.

And the risers were speced, made out of poplar. That's correct which is again a good stable wood.

Nice hard wood.

That can take a paint finish. Do you glue the wedges as well?

Yes I do.
On both sides, so that it gets glued not only to the skirt board but to the tread or riser.

Well, the next step, if you would. Give me a hand for a second, it is to clam that together.

Now do you have to clap each and everyone?

Yes I do a clap of bottom. Of each rise in the top. and the tread that's above it before I snug up the wedges.

And yeah, now you're tightening up those wedges.

That's that one, and.

So all this popler, you had to actually basically run through and put a rabbit into. Right?

Yeah. This was all milled on site.

And what about the oak threads. Are they bought from the lumber yard?

Well they come, yes they are. They come just rounded in the front, and we had mill the back and the bottom of them to accept the risers.

But basically you do all of that on the job right?

Right on site. Yeah. OK.

Ready to come down.

Yeap, that is.


Nice to have an extra set of hands every now and then.

Not to mention our lights.

The brad are just to hold the wedges while the glue dries.

But the glue really does the job.

The glue does the job. It's just So, as I'm working on them, and walking up and down them they don't loosen.

Yeah. What's exciting to watch is the whole process which is a lot like furniture-making, and I know that historic in especially finer houses in 18th century the stairs would be up to a specialist, who would come on the job just to put together and craft this stair case which was considered a piece of furniture.


Okay. Let you keep on going with this project, we'll check back a little bit later. Right now got to break for messages, don't go away. Some of the plaster work on the ground floor of the house was in good enough condition that we've salvaged it. And Jordy here, is doing some of the patchwork in the library.

Now Jordy, you are dealing with a major patch there. And what are the these things that you're driving in?

These are plaster buttons.

Very old fashion technology for repairing plaster that loosened, that's come away from its keys. When plaster was first put on, a hundred years ago, over these lathe. Some of it get's actually pushed down in between them, in that hollow space, and forms what we call keys, which will hold the plaster in place.

And, when it loosens up it's because the keys fall out of place. Now, what is the material you're putting on over this expanded lathe?

This is tructolite. It's the same consistency as the old plaster there.

So it's Structolite, which is a product which is similar, in in terms of its soft So that its compatible with the soft horse hair plaster that's here.
And the reason that you want to use something that's soft is so that when house is settling it cools, it heats up etc, and you have movement so that it moves all at the same rate and then. Here's a patch up above that's already had the brown coat applied, and what's this product that gets installed over.

Thats Durabond 90.

Durabond 90.

That's very much like regular compound except it's

Like joint compound, right?

Yeah, powder form that you mix.

So this is a powder and the idea here is that you going to end up with a fine hard finish, right?


Boy, it's hard to believe that it really was worth saving all the plaster in here but I guess, I guess it's a good call. That's it, now let us go up to the second floor minute and check again and ceramic tile installations.

Lets say hi to Ed Zjawisko from Easy Masonry.

How are you doing?


So you're very far along with this?


This is the shower stall in the guest bathroom, and the tiles are really beautiful. They're from... the white tiles are from?

The are from Spain, and these are from Italy.

So the blue border is from Italy.

Well yeah, these blue borders are from Italy, these are from Portugal, these are from Spain.

They're all from different countries.

And the thing to keep in mind is that we've got several bathrooms with interesting tile combinations, and so the architect provides Ed with a sheet that shows the layout for the floor, and this is the shower floor right there.

This over here is the shower ceiling, shows the pattern of how the white tiles will be laid. And these are the three walls, and he's working on this one right now.

But it's very important because it tells you exactly how far to go up with your borders right?


And you've already of course, roughed out the showering enclosure with this cementitious board.
So what's this product? What kind of a mortar is it?

Well this is a latex modified, flexible bond thin set.

That's a mouthful.


Now what, what's the latex in here for?

Mostly for adhesion.


A little bit for waterproofing, and it also helps keep from cracking and leaking.

Yeah. So you put it on with, what is it a quarter inch notch?

Yep, quarter inch. That's good for most ceramic tiles.

Okay, so you're ready now for one of these little corners, aren't you?

Yep, all ready for that if you want to give me a hand.

Here you go.

This has already been pre-laid out, so it's very easy now. Oh, thanks.

The blue is just one of the borders. And we'll need some of the flowers if you've got them.

The whole ones?

Yep, sounds good. This will be right-centered with this.

So you go from the center outward? 'Cause the size of the flower border is not identically the same as the white ones.

Nope, no because there's three different companies and different products here. We are making each one work.

All set. I think we need some of the cuts if you got them.

OK, here goes a cut.

Yup, thanks.

Speaking of cuts, we're going to have cut out for a couple of messages. Don't go away. Trim carpentry is always the most exciting part of any job 'cause you really see the finished renovation coming together.

In this room, our dining room, we had one piece of cabinet work that we restored or rather, we had all the paint removed. It's the mantle piece, 'cause it has lot of elaborate detailing that we didn't want to lose.

However, all the other moldings in the room were so painted up that you had lost the ability to even see the detailing. This window now has been cased out, and you can see how complicated all these little cuts are.

And Bob Riley over here, if I can interrupt you, you're working on the chair rails, right?

Right, we're just getting started on it.

And this again is a complicated replica of the original molding. You can see all the different cuts there, and of course it's symmetrical.

What are you working on?

Well, we're going to coat this corner. And that's what we've already done. It's for the cross section of this trim, at a 45.

Well, why don't you just miterJoint in a corner like that.

Well, if we had two forty fives in here, they would want to spread apart when you nailed it, and also there's going to be some shrinkage going on here. There's going to be lot less on a cope. A cope is a much better joint.


And there's a lot going on in this trim, but I think we can still.

And it's a complicated cut.

Of course you using a coping saw.

Right, I'm going to highlight it all in pencil here so I can see it a lot easier.
Cut away the excess and then get back in to the fine line.

I guess there's just There's no power saw way of doing this, right Riley?

No. Not with something like this and then for this. Too much detail going on.

Nice, there it is.

See how it fits.

I'll be surprised if this fits the first try.

Yeah it looks like you have to do a little bit of fine-cutting, right?

That's pretty close. Yeah. If it was a lot, I'd use a scribes and scribe the whole thing over again, but all we have were a few high spots so I'm just going to mark those, and take that down with some 80 grit sandpaper.

Looks pretty good.

Yeah, that's good. So now we still have to cut the length, 'cause it, we still left it long.

Of course. That's the important thing to keep in mind. That if you tried to cut it to fit from the beginning you might end up having a piece that's too short.


That's beautiful.

Ok, I am just cut to cut that still just a little bit long so we can force that in there.


Beautiful fit, Bob.


Okay. We'll tack it in place and then let's go look at the corner cupboard.


Now the corner cupboard is one of the original features of the house that is pretty nicely Detailed, and one thing we discovered was that there were no doors here when we got the house, but originally there had been a pair of doors.

So Greg Rockman, the architect designed this particular door taking this square motif from the existing doors from the bottom of the cupboard; which have a very similar, very nicely crafted square as well as here in the casework , the same thing repeats. And Danny Rafini has been working on recreating these.

Hi, Danny.


You're just finishing up the glazing.


Now, are you actually putting the glass into the windows with a hot melt glue gun?


So that works huh?

Yeah, just to mechanically fasten it.

Yeah. And then over each one of these sides you've milled a little piece of...

Quarter inch.Quarter inch stock.

How did you actually make the window, though? Or the door, rather.

I cut it on a shaper. A rail and stile cutter and you can see the profile right here around.

And that's how they're joined.

Yeah. Just a rail and then the stile and I used a cope joint on the shaper.

Okay. So are we done with this?


That's the beauty of the hot melt glue gun.

Okay. So now this one's ready to be installed. Riley?


Want to cut a couple of hinges in?


All right. These are all set to go.


Now the trick here is to start in the middle, right?

Yes. We've already scored where the hinge is going so.

You scored it with a utility knife.

With a utility knife. Danny's already done that.

Thanks. That's a nice fit.

Good. Yeah.

Yeah. Okay. So now we put the screws in. And then we'll take it up to the door.


Okay. Oh, it's going to be handsome.

All right. I'm gonna get the bottom first.

Now, all these little screws that come with the brass hinges are slot-headed screws. So that we're really driving the screws by hand. No Phillips heads here, right? that's right, that's...

Well, Todd Allen has done a fabulous job of crafting this run of stairs up to the kitchen level, he's got one more run to do, but we're out of time.

Come home again next week. We're going to be doing some more finished carpentry.

In fact we have plans for creating a paneled entryway between the main hall and the living room.

And also a very elaborate wooden cornice around the whole ceiling line of the living room. And a trip to Newport, Rhode Island to visit the Isaac Bell house, one of the finest shingle style houses anywhere.

Til then, I am Bob Vila. It is good to have you home again.



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