Create a Curved Stair Riser
Templates and a laminated riser keep the curves fair and remove the guesswork.
Synopsis: A finely crafted staircase is an appealing feature in any house. For carpenter Mike Belzowski, rebuilding a stairway was part of the work he undertook in his fixer-upper home. In this “Master Carpenter” article, Belzowski describes how he built a curved stair riser from thin, laminated layers of poplar and walnut. He built the curved riser using patterns, templates, and forms. The laminating form started with a pattern for half the turn; it then could be flipped over to make a symmetrical template. The template was repeated to make the layers, which were glued up to create the form. Next, Belzowski sliced laminations thin enough to mold around the riser form, glued them up, and clamped the laminated layers around the form. After the glue dried, he scraped the glue from the edges, removed it from the form, and carefully planed it to the correct width. To get the riser ready for installation, Belzowski attached blocking to the floor and bolted steel newel supports in place. This article includes a couple of tricks of the trade, one about maximizing clamp pressure and one about making a perfect roundover. Also, a tool-of-the-trade sidebar highlights a glue applicator Belzowski finds effective.
As a carpenter, I am always attracted to a finely crafted staircase. Stairs are a place where a carpenter’s work really can shine, and they make a statement about the rest of the house. In my house, I wanted to incorporate some curves in the staircase, both to add visual interest and to make the project more challenging.
I designed these stairs with a broad starting step whose curve gradually straightens out over the next two treads. The traditional way to make curved risers is to cut shallow kerfs into the back of the stock so that it will…