I am getting ready to work on our stairway. When we purchased the place the
stairs were carpeted. We removed the carpet and plan on hard surface stairs.
The stringers up each side will be painted the trim color. I thought of
staining and varnishing the treads and risers. The only problem I have is
the turning point half way up. These transition treads are large triangles
made of fir plywood and I feel they will not look good finished like the
other solid fir treads. Should I change out the triangles with solid fir?
The long side on the triangles is about 4' Any other ideas? Other finishing
Is there some noticeable difference between the fir treads? Or, are you
possibly thinking that the wider turning point treads won't stain the same?
Sorry, but I'm a little confused trying by your question.
Considering that you've removed the carpet and are just going with bare wood
treads, you're probably right, either now or eventually. If the plywood
treads are veneered fir, then the veneer will probably wear away fairly
quickly due to traffic. If they're both just fir, one solid, one plywood,
I've never seen solid fir that looks exactly the same as firred plywood.
Whatever plywood you're using, mainly because it's layered, it will probably
show wear and tear much quicker than any solid wood. Apologies, maybe
someone else can come up with a constructive suggestion.
It's called a "landing" ... I would remove the fir plywood from the landing
and replace with the same material as the treads (solid fir?), taking great
pains to insure they are the same thickness so that you don't cause
stumbling, then stain and finish with a polyurethane of your choice.
If you don't do that, it will never stand a chance at matching. Most
fir plywood is rotary cut veneer faced, giving your fir appearance a
totally different profile than a plain, flat cut board.
Unless you hand pick your fir boards for appearance, they won't match
much better. The old growth fir used many years ago was tight grained
stuff that was surprisingly hard for a soft wood. The growth rings
were nice and tight. Your challenge will be finding that tight ringed
How important is that? It is really odd to me. Folks that are very
spatially challenged can go up stairs and pick out ONE riser that is
1/2" off. Weird. When I was learning to cut stairs, my boss would
scream at anything over 1/4". I didn't really understand for years
what a trip hazard a fraction of an inch could be.
Hopefully some high resin, long oil finish that is made specifically
for floor duty. If you stain, don't forget the conditioner before
applying. Fir will let you know exactly what the definition of
"blotchy" should be.
Codes vary, but our local code requires no more than 3/8" variation from
tread to tread, and no greater than 3/4" variation from first step, to last
at finished floor above. Besides, I'm one of those who can tell immediately
if stairs don't comply, on the first trip up/down. A phenomenon apparently
attributed to "muscle memory".
And, like your boss at the time, I'm also one of those who raise holy hell
with framers/finish carpenters about this issue ... to the point of making a
spreadsheet and posting it on the unfinished stairwell noting any 'out of
code' variations and what must be done to correct them (Leon has probably
witnessed one of those "spreadsheets"). :)
I've learned to pay the utmost attention to the issue during framing due to
the inherent sloppiness of the culture who builds houses, because an
otherwise perfectly built house will fail a building "final" and no COO can
be issued over something most consider minutiae (damned expensive to tear
out a finished stairwell in a new house); because of the ever looming
possibility of a future lawsuit; and mainly because I don't want anyone to
get hurt on a project for which I was responsible ... particularly an
unsuspecting child or elderly person.
Sad, but true ... a few years ago I mentioned to a cousin that she really
wanted to check her stairs because there a 1 7/8" difference from first step
to the landing above, a straight run, which I noticed the first night we
spent there. They were proud, first time general contractors on their own
home, there were no inspection requirements in the area which was
unincorporated at the time of construction, and she also did NOT want to
hear ANY criticism of *her* house, thank you very much!
Three years ago her elderly MIL fell and broke a hip coming down, and last
summer she, herself, did the same, breaking a leg bad enough to have surgery
to insert a pin.
I could tell by her attitude that she originally thought I was FOS ... sad
thing is, I doubt she will admit the issue to this day.
AAMOF, my youngest daughter spent last summer there as a guest while going
to summer school, and it was one of the things I cautioned her about ...
particularly when carrying anything in both arms on a trip down.
I attribute part of my fixation on this issue to age ... I definitely don't
need any broken parts while I'm responsible for pulling the wagon in these
In the uk if any stairs wer built that far out of spec they wouldnt be allowed
to be fitted .
When i did my apprenticeship if any treads or risers were more than 1/16" or
1.5mm out then you would have to remake the stringers and take a right
bollocking off the forman , this covered all types of stringers wether shop or
site made , same with plumb of the newel posts and when fitted the treads had
to have no more than 1/16" fall when the stairway was finished
The reality of the situation is that I would be tickled to get a 1/16th, am
happy to get an 1/8th, insist on a 1/4, and often have to settle for the
code allowed 3/8th.
The framers, who in times passed when I was coming up worked to "an 1/8 in
8", now seem to think that "1/2 in 8" is something to shoot for, and which
they, more often than not, don't achieve.
For the most part, and last time I visited, there is still a good deal of
"pride of workmanship" in the UK.
Here we have to contend with an unbelievably insolent, total lack of same.
It is an appalling situation, but one quite indicative of a failing culture,
sorry to say.
Let's not let the GC off too easily. Last week I installed three sets
of spiral stairs. Not one of the floor to floor measurements provided
by the GC was accurate. There was no blocking at the wall where my
rail rosettes were to be mounted. The landing was out of level in
two directions. The rock was bowed on the vertical face of the well
at the landing. The drywall inside corners were fat by 3/8" in the
well. There was no electricity within 100 feet of the work area.
Same here. I personally think that's generous as hell, but there are
those around that think those tolerances are unreasonable. I always
think; "why aren't they ALL the same?"
I am that guy as well. I can go ass over teakettle when the staircase
constructors didn't allow for 1/2" pad with 50 oz plush carpet over it
when framing an exposed wooden tread staircase.
Gawd, I got a belly laugh out of that one! A >>spreadsheet<<!?!?!?
Your guys must think you are some kind of math professor. ( "Uh,
yeah.... you know I hear Karl used to work for NASA... I think he was
one of them founder guys... but he was too damn smart for them pencil
necks so the drummed his ass out... that's how he wound up
I feel like our local workforce is in a much more rudimentary mode
most of the time. I have resorted to detailed sketches that are
dimensioned properly. With all the measurements on the sketch, I just
tell the guy "make your finished project look like this". I have gone
to the point of leaving instructions in plastic protective sleeves
attached to the walls.
I think that's the only way to do it. When I remodel, I am always
pleasantly surprised to see something done correctly. For the last 25
years, I follow the advice given to me by an old structural engineer:
build and design your projects around the lowest common denominator.
Strange, isn't it? For a while, I had the same phenomena in my
family. Just because you do this kind of work for a living doesn't
mean you know anything about it.
I'm with you on that one. Even if the parts would heal OK, I don't
want to chance it for me and mine, or anyone else for that matter.
The sad thing to me is that (barring an actual mistake like a math
error) the thing I have never understood about something like building
stairs is that it is just as easy to build them correctly as it is
incorrectly. It's simple math.
With .99 calculators out there, even those that are numerically
challenged have the same shot as we did when we drew them out on a
piece of 1X12 before cutting. But still, those things seem to abound.
Like a balusters on a deck; 25 are spaced 4" apart, then the last one
has a 3" space. It doesn't bother me much if it is old construction
(I have other things to worry about) but if it is new construction and
the guy that did it is there, it bugs the hell out of me.
Worse, to hear the explanation to the client. "Well, we got it as
close as possible, but you know these things never work out exactly.
But we got it as close as we could".
After that, I am usually off to the truck to see if there is any
coffee left in the thermos.
I live in Nashville, TN, and there has been a huge homebuilding boom in
the area and surrounding counties. The lack of craftsmanship is is both
embarrassing and disheartening. It has a lot to do with the sheer
quantity of building, coupled with the demand for fast turnaround.
You end up with fly-by-night crews, with lots of irresponsible,
unskilled, uncaring illegal and *and* legal laborers with no
accountability or pride in their work. The foreman ends up being the
first guy who speaks english and spanish who shows up 3 days in a row,
not high or hung-over.
With the sheer volume of construction, I am certain there is NO WAY
these houses are getting proper inspections. I'm equally certain that if
I chose to, I could make a very good living by just fixing other
people's mistakes. I already have a long, rather comedic, list of
problems I've repaired for friends.
One example was my friend's half million dollar house in which the
electrical outlets in one entire room weren't even wired. The outlets
were in the wall with the covers on, but no wiring in the wall. Same
house... subfloor plywood in living room just floating on the joists, no
glue, no nails, no screws. Add to that, some sheets were 3/4, some were
5/8.... someone had spread drywall mud on the seems to even it out.
I am not making this up, I swear.
"Playing is not something I do at night, it's my function in life"
It is an interesting philosophy problem when you start talking about
the facets of craftsmanship.
Of course, what you are describing is an outright screw job of some
poor client, no quality control, and outright fraud by the builder.
Poor workmanship is just a by product of a criminal builder.
Gauging the speed of delivery/time on the job/and hard cost - to -
craftsmanship ratio is a tough nut to crack.
I have two clients in my book that don't care what it costs to have me
on the job as long as they get exactly what they want. One owns
(outright!) a large chain of walk in med clinics, and the other is a
Quality is the object for them. Materials, finishes, workmanship, and
to some extent design as well are all in my purview. As long as I
deliver, they will pay the freight.
However, my bread and butter clients are not nearly as cognizant of
the perceived "old world craftsmanship ethic" or sometimes even plain
old quality. Most of the time, they are like us when we buy a tool;
they want the most for the least.
My client target is the one that tells me I wasn't the cheapest, but
they like my references (or work if they have seen it) so they are
signing a contract with me. They are willing to pay more to get more.
When you strike that balance, you have enough money in a project to do
a good job, stay in business and still have the ability to have pride
in your work.
Now, if you are following along where I am going, imagine this: Try
to find the folks that are already well trained and experienced, have
pride in their work, consistently show up, play well with the other
"craftsmen", and work inexpensively enough that you make consistent
money with them as employees.
My experience with employees is surprisingly not connected to money.
I pay top wage and expect good work. But my personal experience is
that most of the trades people (33+ years in the trades personally)
either make good employees or they don't.
Money, good treatment, bribes, or gifts for the family, won't keep
them if their traveling bone starts acting up. It <will> encourage
them to call you when they are back in town. I have guys that have
left on good terms that show up after being gone for a few years that
I will hire in a second if I need them.
I think construction/trades guys that aren't a product of the union
environment are gypsies by trade, and when things are going well they
feel like they could get a job anywhere. They're right. And when
they start following the building boom, look out.
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