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.

Clip Summary

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.
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.

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?

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.