I have built maybe 15 stairs in my life, all the while admiring the skill and precision that guys who do this day in and out exhibit. Lately with the economy the way it is I have been doing as much work as I can to save money and last week I found myself looking at an an existing stairway that needed to be reframed for both comfort and code compliance.
I had a pretty tight area to work in so in order for the stairs to be in code they had to use up all of the available run so precision was the word of the day. I measured everything down to the 1/16″ of an inch and got my calculator out, drawing a shop plan in the process. I figured that the best course of action would be to build the stairs and balustrade in my shop where I could confirm all of the measurements and get the close tolerances I needed.
I carefully laid out the first stringer, taking into account saw kerf and other potential compounding errors, and started making cuts after first triple checking my math. Damn this is where all the years of experience comes to bear, so I thought.
After cutting the stringer to size and filing off some rough spots with a rasp I positioned the stringer upright in my shop and dropped a plumb line down from the top step to the floor, taking out my tape and measuring the total run. Success, I was about an 1/8″ of an inch from where I needed to be. The total rise was similarly within acceptable tolerance.
As I sat there admiring my craftsmanship and the accolades that would surely follow, something caught my attention and I referenced my shop drawing and discovered a critical error. The first step, where my plumb line was attached, was what I measured as total rise, laying out my stringer accordingly, but that measurement was floor to floor, meaning my stringer had an extra step… or in other words, given the peculiarities of the original stairs, I managed to, with great care mind you, recreate in my shop the stairs I was trying to replace. Brilliant.
As I pulled another 16′ 2×12 out and revisited my shop drawing something occurred to me. “You dumba$$, the total rise for these stairs was not changing, nor were the number of steps, so you could of just measured the original stairs and used that rise as the measurement for the new stairs.” Given the number of steps staying constant, as well as the rise for each step, all I really needed to do to lay out this stringer was divide my total run by the number of steps I knew I was going to use and I’d be good to go.
I took a job that was exceptionally straightforward and made it really difficult all because “stairs are supposed to be challenging”.