How to Lay Out Wooden Steps

Planning or laying out wooden steps requires some math skills and knowledge of the components that make up wooden steps.

Wooden steps require some planning.Wooden steps require some planning.
Basically the plan determines the number, height and width of the steps so the stringers -- the wood supports for the steps -- can be cut properly.

Measure the rise and run of the steps. Rise is the difference in the heights of the two floor surfaces the steps will connect. The run is the horizontal distance from the front of the bottom step to the edge of the upper level's floor surface.

Calculate the number of steps. Steps commonly have an individual rise of about 7 inches per step. Divide the rise of the stairway by 7 to determine the number of steps. Since fractional steps are not feasible, you will round to the nearest whole number. For example, a rise of 55 inches equals 7.86 steps. Round this to eight steps. Divide the rise by the planned number of steps -- in this case, 55 divided by 8 equals a rise of 6 7/8 inches for each step.

Measure the length of the riser, using a tape measure, from the top of the upper-level floor to the point on the lower level where the steps will end. Cut a 2-by-12-inch board to this length to be a stair stringer. Standard stairs need at least two stringers; wider stairs require three or four.

Mark a notch in the stringer that has a drop equal to the rise you calculated, and a tread equal to the width of the intended stair tread. Two 2-by-6-inch boards, measuring a combined 10 inches across, are commonly used as the tread.

Continue marking out the notches with the start of the rise at the point where the tread mark reaches the edge of the board. When complete, the marked notches should resemble a sawtooth pattern on the stringer. Use the first stringer as a pattern for the rest of the stringers.

Things You Will Need

  • Tape measure
  • Calculator
  • 2-by-12-inch lumber
  • Carpenter's square

Tip

  • Mark out the stringer and trial place it before making the cuts. Confirm the planned cuts result in evenly spaced stairs with the treads parallel to the floors.

About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.