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How to Build Wooden Steps That Are Not Steep

Michael Logan

Stairways and steps rely on the principle of an inclined plane to assist people in ascending or descending. Gradual slopes are easier to climb than going straight up, but they take up more space. Building a stairway with steps that have a smaller individual rise lengthens the stairway and lessens the slope while making it easier for people to climb who have trouble with standard height steps. Steps with a short individual rise are less steep than steps with a average or tall individual rise.

Average or higher step risers might make climbing difficult for some people.
  1. Measure the total rise of the stairway from the upper finished floor surface to the lower finished floor surface. Divide this number by 5 inches and round up the result. This is the number of steps. Divide the total rise by the number of steps for the individual riser height, which will be less than 5 inches.

  2. Place the square on the right end of 2-by-12 with the corner of the square pointing away from you and the long leg of the square on your left. Align the 10 1/2-inch mark on the long leg and the riser height on the short leg with the front edge of the board. Draw a line from the corner along each leg of the square to the edge of the board. This makes the cutout for each step. Repeat this for each step, aligning the square on the board edge and the mark for the previous step.

  3. Lower the riser height of the bottom step by moving the last line drawn to the right by the thickness of the treads. Draw a new line parallel to the first on the right side of the last line, all the way across the board. The bottom step is at the left side of the board. At the top step, extend the first line drawn across the board. Cut all the way across the board on these lines when cutting the stringers.

  4. Cut the lines on the stringer layout with the circular saw to the point where the leading edge of the blade just touches the corner of the marks. Use the hand saw to finish each cut. At the top and bottom, follow the cut off line across the board. Use the stringer as a pattern to mark and cut additional stringers. A 32-inch wide stairway requires three stringers and one additional stringer for every additional 16 inches of stair width.

  5. Place the stringer hangers over the end of the stringers and attach them using 1 1/2-inch 10D nails. Nail the stringer hangers to the header at the top of the stairway using the same nails and align the tops of the stringers with the level. The stringer center to center spacing should not exceed 16-inches. Complete the stringer attachment with four 3 1/2-inch deck screws driven at an angle through each stringer hanger, through the stringer and into the header.

  6. Place a stair tread on the stringers. Drill countersunk holes for deck screws through the tread into the stringer. Attach the tread to the stringer with 2 1/2-inch deck screws. Place a riser on the tread against the stringer. Drill countersunk holes for deck screws and attach the riser to the stringer with 2-inch deck screws. Repeat this for each step using 3 screws per stringer for treads and 2 screws per stringer for risers.