How to Build Stairs

There's a lot to consider: the rise/run ratio, treads, and essential tools, like the carpenter's square. Follow these guidelines for help building stairs.
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Want to know how to build stairs? In many ways, the task of laying out a staircase resembles that of rafter layout. The carpenter’s square is essential; the rise/run ratio, too, comes into play, as it’s applied to the risers and the treads, the boards on the face and top surface of the stairs.

Determining the Rise

The vertical distance between the floors to be linked by the stair­case is the principal deter­minant of the riser and tread dimensions. You divide the height by 7 inches; if, say, the floor-to-floor distance is 8 feet, 10 inches (or 106 in­ches), then you’ll need 15 treads (106 divided by 7 equals 15.14).

Next, you divide the height by the number of treads (15 into 106), producing the exact tread height (7.06 inches).

Determining the Run

Now come the formulas. The Rise plus the Run should equal ap­proximately 17.5 inches. (Some designers prefer the formula Two Rise plus the Run should equal between 24 and 25 inches, but whichever formula you use, your staircase should probably have steps 7 inches or so high and treads 10 in­ches or so deep.)

In our ex­ample, 17.5 minus 7 1/16 produces a tread width of 10 7/16 inches or, to use the al­ternative formula, we would have a width of between 9 7/8 inches and 10 7/8 inches.

Now that you know the rise and run, laying out the car­riage (the side boards that sup­port the risers and treads) for the stairs is not unlike rafter layout. Again, the square is positioned on the board, with the blade and tongue calibra­tions aligned so that the rise and run measurements are at the edge of the carriage. Then you work up the carriage, repeating the process, moving and marking.