Flooring should be decided upon before you finalize your stair design. Your flooring is typically not installed until after your mill-made stair is in. By planning ahead, you can allow for your flooring (thickness) when calculating the stair, and it will make installation cleaner and simplier.
When Calculating the Stair
The finished flooring thickness at the bottom and top of your stair should be factored into the overall rise. By doing this, you assure that each individual rise will be a consistent height, and the flooring will flow right into the stair without gaps.
By calculating your riser height from “finished floor” to “finished floor”, you can be assured that your riser height will be consistent for each step. For example:
- rough floor to rough floor height = 121”
- - subtract the thickness of your finished flooring on the first floor -3/4”
- + add the finished flooring on the top floor + 1/2”
- = your rise finished floor to finished floor is 120.75.
- figure your individual rise; divide the overall rise by the number of rise; 120.75/16 rise = 7.546 per rise height.
Had you not factored your finished flooring into the overall rise, the stair would be installed and then ¾” flooring would butt up to the first riser, making the first rise ¾” shorter than the rest. Not only would this be a trip hazard, it would not pass inspection in most areas.
At Designed Stairs, we apply a “Hold Up Block” at the bottom of the stair, under the first rise. This allows the riser to, in effect, float. When flooring is installed, it can easily slide under the riser. With this method, there is no need for special cutting of flooring materials, and it finishes out to a neat and clean look without gaps!
At the top of the stair, the nosing is held up so the flooring can butt up to it. If hardwood, the hold up is the same as the wood flooring thickness (typically 3/4″, as in photo) . If it’s carpet, typically you want to hold it up about 3/8”. This allows for the padding and bit of the carpet. You don’t’ want to hold it up so much that you create an “edge” on the wood nosing. That edge would get beat up over time. The wood edge should be nearly buried in the carpet.
When walking a stair a consistent rise is important. It is amazing how much our body feels an inconsistent step (more than our eyes can see it).
Curved staircases and rails take a considerable amount of time to build, so getting the stairs ordered early will help avoid any delays once your site is ready. It is likely that you will need to place your curved stair order eight or more weeks before your site is drywalled.
We all know the negative effects of scheduling too late; we wait and the job is delayed. But in the case of a curved stair, scheduling it too early is just as bad. Many of your curved components are glue laminated to curves that are specific to your framing. Once fabricated it’s critical to get them installed quickly. Installation ‘locks’ the curved parts into the position.
On the other hand, once a curved staircase is fabricated, and the job site is not ready, there is no choice but to store the components. Storing curved parts for any length of time can cause reactions from both pressure and atmospheric (weather) conditions that can actually change the shape of the parts. As a minimum installation is more difficult, in the worse case, parts need to be remade.
To ensure the best possible results, take extra care with your schedule and eliminate any storage possibilities during the process.
More and more we are investing in the highest quality products for outdoor living spaces. We want our outdoor space to be another room to relax and entertain in. No longer is the “deck” stair enough, we want top of the line, indoor quality stairs and railings for our outdoor spaces.
When designing a top quality stair for outdoor living, choose your material carefully. Consider species that can stand up to water, insects along with heat and humidity fluctuations.
Softwoods often used for outdoor applications are Cedar and Redwood. Cedar is the most poplar and most available. A downside to Cedar is that it is so soft that some cedar can be dented by just a finger nail. For that reason it is not the best choice for stairs. Redwood on the other hand is harder (than cedar), and has a beautiful red color. These soft woods tend to have more movement (as they age) and the design of the stair will need to be adjusted to allow for that greater wood movement.
Typically when we think of premium stairs, we think in terms of hardwoods. Even stairs designed for beauty should be ready to handle 25 (or more) years of heavy traffic. Teak and Ipe, work very well for these high quality applications. Teak has a high oil content that makes it excellent for mildew resistance. Teak has very little movement and shrinkage, and ages to a nice grayish color. The down side of teak is it’s cost. Ipe on the other had is still an excellent hardwood for outdoor use. It too is insect resistant and a good hardwood choice for stairs. Ipe will cost about 25 to 50 percent more than cedar and redwood, but only about one third the cost of teak.
Twenty years ago if you wanted hardwood flooring, it was pretty much limited to “red oak 2-1/4″ strips”. Today we can choose from imported tropical hardwoods, and engineered flooring from laminates to bamboo, in a variety of widths. Our old favorite, red oak is now readily available knotty and rustically scraped.
Typically stair treads are matched to the flooring. In many cases stair treads are not available in these custom species, and treads will need to be custom made. This does not present a problem for a custom stair company, however it will increase the cost of your stair.
Stair treads are typically 1″ to 1-1/16″ thick, while flooring is 3/4″, therefore flooring material is not used for treads. Lumber in the same species is used to make the treads. In flooring, edges are not exposed, however treads have a front nose that exposes the full edge of the material. Engineered or laminated materials are not used for treads, as their layers would be visible on the front edge. It is best to use solid materials for treads.
In cases of the most premium species like Tuscan Olive Wood or Golden Acacia, the lumber is limited, and often not available in the thicker cuts needed for stair treads. In these cases, the thinner cuts must be face glued on another wood to get the tread thick enough. A custom nose is made and attached to the tread front. This adds quite a bit of labor and therefore cost to the treads.
The price of custom species stair treads has no relation to the price of the same species of flooring. It is not uncommon for customers to have their flooring purchased or even installed, when they price out their stair (treads). Matching custom species can cost more than than they expect.
To manage to your budget, prior to purchasing your flooring, contact your stair company and cost out the treads in that species to verify that the treads can be made within your budget.
There are two main design features to consider as you select a wood for your trim: color and grain. Color can be adjusted through stain, while grain gives the wood its style and character. Grain is the more important consideration when choosing your wood.
If you are leaning towards a modern or even elegant feel, a closed grain may wood be the way you want to go. Examples of wood with very little graining: Hard Maple, Poplar, Beach, and Birch.
Straight Grain became popular in the Arts and Crafts period in styles such as Prairie and Mission, in the early 1900’s. Today, you see it in contemporary designs too. Straight grain is achieved by using full grain woods, but cutting of the log at different angle. We most often see straight grain as “quarter sawn” or “rift sawn” oak.
Full grain is referred to as “plain sawn”
is often thought to be “hardy” in its appearance, and at times even rustic with a natural elegance. Oak has a hardy solid feel, while walnut blends the solid feel with a bit more elegance.
There are so many beautiful woods available today, it can be hard to select just one for your project. By making initial decisions based on grain, you will select the right wood species for the style you are designing.
Here is a link to the 27 most poplar hardwoods we build custom stairs in.
There are several species of hardwoods that have very bold natural color, such as cherry, walnut, and mahogany. Historically these were the most desirable woods, due to the natural beauty and no need to stain or color them. These woods have long demanded premium prices.
Other species of hardwoods, may have more subtle color, but they still do have an underlying color that will be more apparent when the finish is applied. For example, red oak has a naturally pinkish hue; white oak is more neutral or slightly brownish. The same can be said of birch, maple and many other species. There are slight variations in their natural color. These woods tend to cost less than those species with a bold natural color.
If budget constrains you, do not hesitate to buy a more affordable hardwood and stain it to look like a premium naturally colored hardwood. It’s no wonder most of the stain colors we buy at the paint shop have these naturally colored woods as their names. It allows us to mask other species to have their color. With all the stain choices we have today that are easy to use, wood color should not be your first design concern when selecting the wood for your stair.
For hundreds of years cherry has a been a desirable wood species due to its beautiful natural color; it’s subtle grain lends itself to elegant applications. Cherry is an excellent wood for furniture, cabinets and stairs. Cherry is easy to work with, however it does present a few challenges to be aware for use in stairs.
Bleaching from light
Cherry is a hardwood by classification, however within that category woods have a broad range of density and hardness. Cherry dents easily. It is not advisable to use cherry on stair treads due to the heavy use, unless you plan to carpet over the treads. Historically, oak or maple was often used for treads, due to their hard character. Today, we have tropical species that do a great job of blending with cherrys natural color. Sapele Mahogany is a tropical species that blends well and has great density for use on treads.
Maple is popular wood for interior trim, flooring and stairs.
Maple has natural beauty with a smooth surface due to its closed grain properties of the wood. The hardness of maple makes it a great choice for stairs and any place that gets a lot of abuse from heavy use. Maple is usually clear coated which highlights its natural tones.
In recent years cabinet and flooring companies started a trend of staining of maple. While these products are typically factory finished with systematic and tested processes, staining maple trim and stairs yourself is tricky. Maple tends to absorb stain unevenly which leads to a blotchy look. The darker the stain the more blotches will be appearant.
What you can do:
Applying a wood conditioner or a shellac seal coat prior to staining provides a barrier between the wood and the stain. This will help minimize the blotchy effect. Also, try a gel stain verses a penetrating stain. A penetrating stain is designed to absorb into the wood, and this does not work well with maple.
As with all finishing projects, test the desired finish on a piece of scrap wood before you begin to stain. Try different conditioners and stains to produce the desired effect. Investing a few dollars and a little time on products to get the best quality will pay a big return when staining an entire stair.
Staining your maple stairs takes patience. But the time invested to do it right will reward you with years of enjoyment and beauty.
How to Fix a Squeaking Stair
A squeak in a stair is generally caused as the lumber dries out over time. Hardwoods are regulated by industry standards for a moisture content of 6 – 8%. This matches the moisture content inside the average home and allows the wood to remain stable under normal conditions. Pine (grades used for basement stairs and stairs to be fully covered with carpet) has a typical high moisture content of 12-16 %. Over time as pine shrinks built stairs will begin to squeak.
If your stair is squeaking, check the humidity level in your home as first step. Verify where the squeak is coming from. You may hear a squeak walking up the stair, but it could be coming from the framing material rubbing against the stair, and not the stair itself.
You can typically fix the squeak, as simply as “toe nailing”* a long nail or two in the area that is squeaking. That is not to say more squeaks may develop over time, as the lumber continues to dry out to equal the humidity level of your home.
*Toenailing. Driving a nail at an angle into a board. It makes a strong joint while it also pulls joining boards into position.