Archive for Sunday, September 9, 2001

Build a decorative stair stringer

September 9, 2001


Do you have a collection that is begging for a useful and unique display? Give this decorative stair stringer a try; it may be one of the most unusual display shelves you'll ever build, and the most fun. Ours makes eight display "steps"; just adjust your lumber lengths for more or less.


24 inches of 1-inch by 12-inch pine board

8 feet of 1-inch by 12-inch pine board

Tape measure


Carpenter's square


Circular saw


Step 1: Measuring for the stringer

Most real staircase stringers are made out of 2-inch by 12-inch lumber. Because ours is for decorative purposes only, use 1-inch by 12-inch lumber. The decorative stringer did not reach from the floor to the ceiling, but you may want yours to if the stringer will stand alone. To determine the length of your stringer, use a protractor at the baseboard and mark a 35-degree angle. Using a piece of string, follow the line of the angle and stretch it from baseboard to the ceiling. Mark on the wall where you want the stringer to end, then measure the length of the string, add an additional 18 inches, this is the length of the 1-by-12 you will need.

Step 2: Measuring for the treads and risers.

A stringer is made up of risers (the vertical part of the step), and treads (the horizontal part of the step). Riser heights are usually 7 inches, while the tread depth is 11 inches. To draw them out on the stringer, start at the bottom where the stringer will meet the floor. The first line to draw will be from the bottom corner of the stringer at a 35-degree angle from the end of the board. (This ends up being at a 90-degree angle from the floor.) You'll notice that this first riser is about 14 inches or so, and they should be 7 inches. At this point, measure from the top of the stringer down 7 inches and draw a right angle line to the back of the stringer. This will be where the stringer meets the floor or baseboards. (This is the reason for the extra 18 inches added to the lumber length.)

Now, things get easier. Align one edge of the stringer with the 11-inch mark on a framing square, while aligning the same stringer edge with the 7-inch mark on the opposite side of the square. Trace the square profile and then slide the framing square up the stringer. To repeat for the next step, start the next 11-inch line where the previous 7-inch line ended, continuing up to the top. Mark with your piece of string where the ceiling height is, and notice whether the 7-inch riser is ending at a reasonable height, using the square against that last riser, mark the ceiling line as well.

Step 3: Aw, cut it out.

Cut out the risers and treads with a circular saw, stopping just before the corner where the two lines meet. Finish the cuts with a handsaw. Repeat this step up the entire stringer.

Step 4: Measure and cut the steps.

To give the illusion of steps, use the 24 inches of 1-inch by 12-inch board, and cut out small steps that measure 1 inch wide by 12 inches long. To attach the steps, lay the stringer on a flat surface and put the steps into place. Pre-drill pilot holes into the steps to prevent the small pieces from splitting. Secure the steps with finish nails and carpenters glue. Set the nails with a nail set and fill the holes with spackling compound. When dry, lightly sand the filled areas.

Step 5: Finishing touches.

To finish the stringer, prime with a latex multipurpose primer. After the primer has dried, lightly sand the stringer and remove the dust with a tack cloth or damp rag. Apply a finish coat of latex interior satin paint in the color of you choice, allow it to dry and attach it to the wall.

To help you visualize the project, look at the staircase in your home, and try to picture just the edge of it on your feature wall. The stringer really is a unique way to display "stuff," your favorite collectibles, photos, whatever.

Matt Fox writes this column with Shari Hiller. They also co-host the Home and Garden Television show "Room by Room." For more information, visit Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.

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