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Finish Stairway Yourself Like a Professional

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Dear Pat: I am having a second stairway from the kitchen roughed in. It has a full wall on one side and half way down the other. I want to finish it myself. What is the most attractive way to do this? — Carolyn F.

Dear Carolyn: Installing a second stairway from the kitchen the second floor is becoming more common in homes. These are the stairs that the children will use most often so they don't wear out the main stairway. Dirty little pounding shoes can wear out carpeted or hardwood stairs quickly.

Even though the new stairway will be in the kitchen, not the front foyer, you still want it to be reasonably attractive. Using hardwood on the lower stairs with the open side and then fully carpeted stairs the rest of the way up would look nice.

Inform the carpenter you will be adding a hardwood layer on the lower stairs so thinner lumber is used there. It is important the vertical distance between each step is identical or people will likely stumble on the stairs.

The first, and one of the most difficult tasks, is to make the skirt boards for the stairway. These are the trim boards, usually made from 1x12 lumber, which are notched to fit over the stairs and against the walls.

There will be one skirt board along the long wall. Another will be on the inside of the stairway along the short wall, and then another below the stairs on the outside. Your existing stairway will most likely be trimmed this way, so inspect it to get a good understanding of the components.

Cut other pieces of 1-inch-thick lumber to close and finish the vertical opening between each step.

This is called the riser. A butt joint is the simplest method to end the riser at the skirt boards. If you have a miter saw, it looks much nicer if the corners of the riser and skirtboards are mitered at 45 degrees for a professional-looking joint.

The risers will be longer for the lower open portion of the stairway. Once all the pieces are mitered, loosely screw the skirt boards to the rough stairway framing and hold the risers in position. It may take a few tries with the saw to get the mitered ends to fit properly, so don't get discouraged.

When you feel everything will fit together, nail the skirt board to the stairway framing. Position the skirt board slightly below the thread (horizontal step). This ensures the stress from a person's weight is carried by the thread and not the skirt board. If the skirt board ends up supporting a person walking up the stairs, the mitered corner joints may begin to open up.

Attach the vertical risers to the stairway framing to close in the stairs. Use a gap-filling type of construction adhesive to bond the risers to the framing. At the visible miter joints at the ends, use standard wood glue for a cleaner look. Nail the risers to the framing, and allow the adhesive time to cure.

Finish the lower threads with a layer of attractive hardwood. This will require an additional hardwood trim strip around the edge of the hardwood and a short return piece around the skirt board. To simplify this, Young Manufacturing, (800) 646-6595, makes threads with preinstalled returns. Cover the stairs with carpet, and they are ready to use.

Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about Pat Logan and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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