I need help from experienced stair makers. We are all apprentices for life, as a friend of mine once said, but that being said, I have put in the time and paid my dues and fairly well mastered cabinet making, furniture making and finish carpentry. I just received an opportunity to lay some treads and risers on a stairway in a newly constructed house. The carpenters left the traditional space at the sides for skirt boards and the rough stair is in place. I believe there is OSB nailed to the top of the two by treads.
I live near Portland Oregon and the stock for the finished treads and risers is Oregon Myrtle Wood. The Myrtle stock is on site and acclimating to the house. I have never laid treads and risers but I have the experience listed above and a fully equipped wood shop. I will also need to install hand rail with goosenecks if I land the work. The stair has two flights and a landing.
I am wondering if a stair maker would take me under wing and assist me in pricing this work and also offer advice in methods that are unique to stair making, as opposed to general finish work.
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor A:
One main thing to consider is the fact that even though you most certainly have the skills to tackle such a job, you don't have the everyday familiarity with the task at hand. Stairways take an incredible beating as you know, so the treads have to be glued with polyurethane glue. Goosenecks are tricky the first time but with your joinery experience they will go together smoothly. Break it down to every conceivable task at hand. Put a time frame on it, multiply your hourly wage, add 25% and pray.
I have a few questions: What type of stairway is it? Open on one side or both sides? Or boxed closed? What will the landings surface be covered with - Myrtle flooring? As far as railings, are there no balusters? Goosenecks and easements can be risky, especially the first time.
There are really only three things to know in basic stair building. Everything else is a variation of those three things. They are rise, run, and rake. I believe that major manufacturers like Coffman put out some basic installation guides. The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words fits well here.
Let the client know that you have never done this before but with your skill and ability you can do a good job. They will be more forgiving about minor things if you are up front with them.
The stairway is already built by the carpenters, and I donít see any reason to remove it. The stair is one flight down to a landing, with another flight of equal length at 180 degrees to the first. The stair is closed on both sides by sheet rock wall. A space was left between the rough treads and risers and the walls on both sides for skirt boards. The landing will be covered by Myrtle wood flooring laid by the floor man. There will be no balusters or newel posts.
The contractor (my friend) wants hand railing with goosenecks, continuous around the corner at the landing. The handrail and skirt boards will be purchased at a millwork supply and made of Hemlock. The tread and riser stock is .9375" thick and I can flatten it in my shop if necessary and re-run the bullnose.
I know rise and run - is rake the pitch or angle (hypotenuse)? I am also not familiar with the term easement in this sense.
Step 1: Skirt boards:
First, snap a line that will be used to line up the top of the skirt board, measuring from the inside corner where the tread will meet the riser. Your measurement should be the exact width of the skirt board. Make a mark at the top and bottom of the steps and snap a line.
Since they have left you space (probably 1-1/2" inches) you should only need to cut the two ends of the skirt board so you can slide it in place. I always rip a piece of 1/8" plywood to the exact width of my skirt board and then use this as a template for my work. I like a template to be about 4' long so it is easy to handle. You can figure out the angles you need by using the rise and run of the treads and a nice framing square. Trim template until it fits exactly. Note - the cut at the bottom of the steps will have a different angle than the cut at the top of the steps. Likewise, my template has a different cut on each end that I mark with the words top and bottom.
Once the template is fit, mark out the bottom end of your skirt board on the back of the board (pick the worst side). I then make my cuts with a clamped straight edge, a skill saw, and a finish blade. You must cut with the saw on the bad side so that the cut is clean on the good side. Test the bottom cut before measuring and cutting the top cut.
Once both ends are cut, you should be able to slide the skirt board into place using your chalk line as a guide. I like to cover the chalk line so that you don't need to touch up with paint. Find the studs and fasten with 15 or 16 gauge finish nails. Repeat steps for other side.
Step 2; Install treads and risers
First you will need to tear out the temporary treads. Then, starting at the bottom, install the first riser. I put a slight back angle on each end so there is no gap between the riser and the skirt board. I use PL1 framing glue and my 15 gauge finish nailer. You want the riser to be about a 1/16" higher than the stringer board. This way, there will not be a gap between the riser and tread. Again, a slight back angle when ripping your risers helps. You then need to install the 2nd riser. Follow the same steps with this one.
Once the second riser is in, you can install your first tread. I rip each tread ahead of time by adding 1" to the run of your steps. That gives you a 1" overhang which looks nice. Use a lot of glue to avoid squeaks. I put a very slight back angle on the back and each end of the tread so that there is no visible gap between the tread and the riser, and the tread and the skirt board. I nail the tread with a few 15 gauge nails and then use screws to screw the 2nd riser into the back of the tread. Keep working your way up the steps always putting your riser in first, followed by the tread.
There are many more tips and tricks that you will find as you go through this exercise. There are also other ways of getting this job done, such as using a dado on the riser. I have been using this technique for eight years now and it always looks very nice.
As far as nailing is concerned, I nail directly into the stringers. When I refer to stringers, I am referring to the 2 x 12's that have the rise and run cut out of them. It sounds like your carpenter already has your stringers cut properly and has temporary treads nailed to them. I put a thick bead of the PL/I on each stinger where the tread will be installed, lay my tread down, and then put two 15 gauge nails into each stringer board (there are probably three of them). The nails drive the tread tight and hold the tread in place while the adhesive dries. I want to stress that you should use a lot of adhesive. This will prevent any squeaks.
Always dry fit each riser and tread before applying adhesive. You don't want to have to make a cut once there is adhesive all over the place. You could nail an 18 gauge brad through your tread and into the riser. I typically don't. Also, I sometimes install a small base cap molding (5/8" x 3/4") underneath the 1" lip of each tread. It really gives it a nice look and you donít need to be quite so precise with the fit underneath the tread since the molding will cover it.
Now, use a straight edge to draw a line where the straight edge crosses the stud that you want to install your bracket on. Now remember, this is where the top of your hand rail should go. Your bracket will have to be installed below this line. How much depends on the thickness of your hand rail and the height of your brackets. I install the brackets first and then rest the hand rail on the brackets while installing the bracket fasteners to the hand rail.
There are many methods to join a handrail to a gooseneck or other stairway parts. In the past, I have use a Kreg pocket screw jig to drill two holes in the railing. I then use two 3" finish screws and wood glue (not PL-1). You must clamp the two pieces together with quite a bit of pressure so that the angled screw doesn't force the two pieces to become off. I would then glue in Kreg plugs so that you don't see the pocket holes from underneath the railing.
Recently, our supplier has been sending these parts with a routered notch on the end of each part. A bolt and washer is inserted into one end. You simply glue up the joint, slide the part over the bolt, and tighten a nut. The nut pulls the two pieces together nicely. It is very easy to get the two pieces lined up perfectly with this method. Unfortunately, it is more difficult to cover up the holes underneath the railing. I have filled the hole with some plugs I fitted myself if they are visible from below. These methods have worked for me. I would be very interested to hear if anybody else has a better way.
An easement is an upwardly curved piece of rail. It is used to go from horizontal to rake angle. A gooseneck is its counterpart. It goes from rake angle to vertical. Goosenecks are cut to varying lengths depending on the number of risers needed to climb. The combination of easement and gooseneck equals 90 degrees. Cutting these joints at their correct tangents will require care. If you cut too little, no problem - just cut again. But if you cut too much, you must buy another fitting.
When cutting your skirt boards, they need not be super precise. You have the thickness of your tread (1") and the thickness of you riser (3/4") as a safety zone. Rail height is measured vertically from the riser line, not the front of the tread. Any overhang does not count in the run or calculation of the stair.
Another nice touch is wherever the rail terminates, we return it to the wall with a 1/4 turn or a double 22.5*. We also place our rail bracket no more that 4 feet apart and we also mount then to rosettes. The rail bracket can be pulled into the sheetrock by screws and power tools. They also come loose over time as the sheetrock collapses under them with heavy use.
We also never attach from the top if at all possible. Screw the back of the risers in to the rear of the tread. Glue blocks where the riser and treads meet from behind. PL or any other flexible construction adhesive is always a good idea under the treads at the stringers.
I should mention that when you cut the volute and the easement to match to the rail you use the rake, which is the triangle made from the length of the tread and height of the riser, facing the riser.
My solution is to go ahead and remove the plywood treads and install solid wood .625" shims with a grain orientation to match the treads between the treads and stringer. The carpenter objects to this because he is unsure if three stringers (horses) are enough to carry the .9375"(15/16") thick treads on a 40" wide stair width.
Also, the plywood treads have been fastened with ring shank nails and will be harder to remove. I am leery of installing solid wood with an adhesive to a dimensionally stable material like plywood.
I was told that the flooring guys will install and sand the treads and risers for an amount that equals what I would have to charge for three eight hour days. There are 17 treads and 20 risers that must be cut to fit between skirt boards that will be fastened to obviously crooked walls, from what I saw at the jobsite. Does 24 hours labor sound sufficient for this tread and riser installation? I also need to mention that I was able to inspect the tread and riser material and it has fairly serious planer tear out on both faces of most of the stock. What is the stair makerís responsibility in regards to the sanding of the treads and risers?
It seems apparent to me that it would be easier to sand the riser material before installation. The riser material came in straight lined one edge and rough on the other. The tread is full bull nosed one edge. The flooring guys can apparently sand the treads after laying them even into the corners. I donít have equipment to do it that way so my solution is to bring all treads and risers to my friendís shop. He allows me to use his wide belt sander. It would cost me three hours labor to transport and sand the material.
I know a lot of you will be tempted to tell me to run from this job because of the unremovable tread situation, but I still see it as an opportunity to break into stair work.
Also, I could use a ballpark estimate of the hours needed to install the hand railing for this stair. The main section consists of 12 risers and 11 treads. They want handrail on both walls with returns (gooseneck) at the top and bottom and then the inside wall to have handrail continuous around the corner at the landing. They want hand rail on all walls of the rectangular landing as well. At the landing there is a doorway with a flight of stairs to the left as you descend the main stair with four risers and three treads, open on the left side and they want an inexpensive baluster and newel post. Around the right hand corner of the landing is the rest of the main stair (closed both sides) and it has four risers and three treads and will need returns with goosenecks at the bottom.
I know I will lose money due to my inexperience but I would sure appreciate a proís ball park amount of hours for this handrail. There are no balusters or newels except on the doorway stair which is a wall on the right and open on the left with a between-the-posts installation on a rectangular section balusters and newel. All the rest of the stair is closed on both sides and gets a skirt board.
You mentioned sanding, etc. in some of your earlier posts. We always pre-finish our risers, treads, and skirt boards so that work isn't included in my 2 day estimate. Also, if you start dadoing, that will add some time. If you can't remove the temporary treads, it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to screw the riser into the back of the tread, so you might want to go the dado route.
Is the underside of the stairway accessible? If it is, then you could drive some 1-1/4" screws from underneath through your underlayment and into your treads. You wouldn't have any nail holes then. I'm guessing the underside is plastered already.
Install the next tread/riser combination the same way, but use finish screws from front of riser into back edge of the dado in tread, and continue in same fashion all the way up. This way you are relying on your joinery and not the nailed framing of the rough carpenters. You will not need to take apart their work. You should end up with a space 1/8 to 1/4" space between the side kick board and the sheet rock wall which you will have to trim. The holes in the riser will need to be filled or plugged. Remember, you only tacked the kick board so you can make small adjustments to it as you work your way up.