How to Cut Step Risers

Stairs consist of three parts: the stringers, the risers and the treads. The treads are the actual step; the risers act as a backstop on the rear of the treads; and the stringers provide the structure that supports the treads and risers.

Risers are normally cut after the stringers have been fabricated and nailed in place, but are usually installed before the stair treads. Risers have a height equal to the distance between the tops of two adjacent treads. The width of the risers depends upon their finish. If the eventual finish is to be carpet, the risers are cut one inch shorter than the wall to wall measurement of the stairwell; this allows the carpet-layer to wrap the carpet into the resulting half inch gap at each wall. If the risers will be left exposed, they are cut tight to the stairwell walls.

These rough stairs are shown without risers.
  1. Measure the riser height of the stringer. Measure each riser separately, as they may vary. Using the saw, cut your material to this width.

  2. Measure the finished width of the stairs. If you have an open stairwell, with one side of the stairs is exposed, measure to the outer edge of the finish stringer.

  3. Mark your material using the framing square. If you are using a sliding compound miter saw or a radial arm saw, you may simply make a tick mark.

  4. Cut the riser to length. For carpeted risers, subtract one inch from your measurement. For open stairwells, the open end of the riser will be beveled at 45 degrees to mate with the beveled edge on the finish stringer.


  • Always wear eye protection when working with power tools.

About the Author

David Brown began his writing career while still in college, writing and editing research grants and scientific papers. His work has appeared in such journals as "The Journal of Clinical Investigation" and "Gastroenterology." He currently owns a construction company in Boulder, Colo.