What a week for new experiences and big projects. While my nights were spent toiling on the Thorsen Table… and trying new things, the day job had me wrapping my mind around several new things as well.
The last basement dad and I refinished (sub contracting for Owens Corning) included perhaps the pinnacle of woodworking projects – redoing the stairs. Ripping off the 2×8 treads and replacing those with oak, adding oak risers, newel post, railing and 52 spindles.
The double 2×4 railings were the first to go, followed by the treads so we could scribe a new stringer (pre-primed) to cover the warped and out of square stringers built back in the 80’s. I would have loved to rip down the stringers and put up new ones, but that wasn’t part of the job, plus the homeowner already had the floor tiled, and the tiles were cut around any and all obstacles previously in place.
I’ve done rails and spindles before. Normally we’d build a knee wall and the spindles would rise out of the diagonal top of the kneewall. Once the spacing is figured out, it’s easy (though meticulous) to plot out where the spindles go, and all things being equal, the spacing on the railing is identical (on center).
I cut my own facegrain plugs to better blend in and hide the screws to hold down the treads. The oak end grain ones on sale at the big box looked horrible by comparison. I intended to nail them down, but the 22 authors of that same book recommended screws for squeak free stairs. One described a method for using screws and glue blocks from beneath, but without enough experience, or pictures to go by, I didn’t quite follow.
The homeowner preferred that we keep the area below the stairs open, a kneewall was definately out. The spindles would have to come out of the treads. This I’ve never done before. I have done railings and spindles on both sides of a staircase, so I know how to work equal and level on both sides of a staircase, even though sometimes the floors are way out of level, though I’ve never more than 12 spindles (six steps).
The spindles on my stairs at home rise out of the treads, so I had a model to study. Would have been easy to replicate if all the stairs were equal, but after 20 years of settling, (and less than perfect install on basement stairs), some were quite off. Some of the stairs were nearly an inch off of the adjoining tread. I did my best to minimize this, and ended up with no more variation (if any) than 3/16th over the course of the spindles if at all. From what I’ve read in a Taunton press book on stairbuilding, this is an acceptable amount.
Unfortunately, there were 6 lolly columns on both sides of the stairs, these were wrapped in oak pole wraps, but they do interfere with the stairs a bit. We’d have liked to have built a wider bottom step, but that wasn’t practical in this case.
As for being instructed to not build under the stairs, we encased the underside, and existing support with drywall, (the homeowner has painted this to match the ceiling texture). The homeowner stained and poly’d the treads, (and all the oak for that matter) before we installed the spindles, which turned out to be a big help – I thought it’d be a pain having to be extra careful, but making my marks on painters tape (besides pencil erases right off poly, super easy)
As the stair sides are visible on both sides, we couldn’t use the stock treads from The Big Box with the custom mitered side pieces. The oak treads were routed on both edges by me. I got good at routing and climbcutting to avoid tearout (and having to re-rout the front bullnose.
The routertable proved invaluable for this. My first attempt going freehand (with a bearing bit) was less than perfect, I had a heck of a time holding it steady as the locking lever kept coming loose. This was my first project with my router, the one which required me to Mac it out.
Despite being a little nervous, I knew I’d be able to pull off this project. It was pretty much given to me as, oh by the way….
The homeowner was really excited to get her basement redone, and was spending good money to turn her basement into a great place to kick back and relax. She also stated repeatedly that she was so excited to see the stairs all finished. Ok, this was going to be her favorite part of the room, the central showpiece of the space. No pressure.
When all is said and done, she was very happy with how they (and the rest of the basement) came out – beyond her expectations. Personally, I’m thrilled with the stairs, and as long as she doesn’t read this, she’ll never know (neither will the project manager) that it was the first time I’ve ever attempted such a project. Because I ain’t gonna tell them and they’d never suspect!
Oh, I just got the Before pix: