Remodeling a Stair
Rebuilding these stairs in place preserved a finished ceiling below but added other challenges.
Synopsis: As part of a kitchen remodel, Michael Patterson needed to remove a wall on one side of a stair and then rebuild the stair’s lower half. Because the upper half needed no alterations, and because there was a finished ceiling below the stair, Patterson decided to rebuild the stair in place. Here, he demonstrates each step of the process: fixing the existing stair’s rough stringers, building new treads and risers, making a template for cutting skirtboards, and finishing up with the skirtboard, tread returns, tread brackets, and tread molding.
I recently remodeled a kitchen, which included opening it to an adjacent family room to improve traffic flow and sight-lines. The views and traffic had been blocked by a stairway with a full wall on one side. The architect for this remodel, Amy Stacy, called for the wall to be removed and the lower half of the staircase to receive new balustrades, returned treads, mitered risers, and decorative skirtboards.
Because only the lower half of the stairway needed to be altered and no work was being done on the second floor or in the finished basement stairwell below, I decided it would be far less disruptive to rebuild the lower half of the stair in place rather than to remove the entire staircase and install a new unit.
Fortunately, houses from this era (mid-1940s) typically have site-built staircases rather than the shop-built units common in modern construction, so there were rough stringers I could reuse. A modern stair, even if it were open on one side, would have a housed stringer (where the treads and risers fit in mortises cut in the stringer and are secured with glue and wedges) on the other side and no stringer in the middle, making it difficult to rebuild the stair without…