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how do i make flared finish stairs?

Dave Kliman's picture


I've been reading the building stairs book and there's one type of stairway I want to make that's missing.

I want to make a finish flared stairway. so the housed stringer will be straight against the wall, and the flared one will be the one out in the open. only the bottom 3 or 4 stairs will flair out.

the problem I seem to have is with the tangents of the shape of the cuts in the curved plane of the flared stringer. I'm not sure how to go about doing that. also, once I've laid out the cuts for the stringer, there's the whole thing with... do I laminate the hardwood? slicing it into 1/8" slices on the band saw maybe reversing each 2nd piece and gluing up in a jig? or do I steam a 5/4 x 12 20 foot long piece of hardwood? I was already planning on steaming the rail, just because I've been itching to steam something, heh.

could some of you guys walk me through this project? I think I'm skilled enough to pull it off and save the $16K the pros want to charge me to make this stairway.


(post #101256, reply #1 of 27)

As with everything, there are a thousand ways to do things.

IMO, quick and dirty, the outside stringer runs straight just like the inside stringer. Buildup a radiused stringer section from 1/4" plywood at your desired radi and tie it to the outside stringger at the point were the radius starts. Finally, apply a skirt board that fits the length of the run and you did it.  The first tread can be purchased at the Big box store unless you want to build that also.

The railing will need to be laminated or steamed however, unless you get it made out of house.

(post #101256, reply #2 of 27)

i have no problem cutting and shaping the stringer. the problem for me comes in how it is cut to fit the stairs...

(post #101256, reply #3 of 27)

the simple way is to run your common stringers which will support all treads, then where your flair is you will want to support/have something to nail to at these treads & risers...  just frame them out with 2x stock... 3 stair step boxes on each side....


(post #101256, reply #4 of 27)

hm that still doesn't tell me how to make the shape that gets cut out of the curved stringer :-/

(post #101256, reply #5 of 27)

I'm no stairbuilder, but if you make a measured drawing (or full-scale mockup) of the steps, viewed from directly above, wouldn't you arrive at the horizontal dimension?  And the vertical dimension would be the same as those on the rest of the stringer.  Right?  Or am I missing something?

As an aside, here's a shot of the front staircase of the house I was working at today.  Bottom three steps flair out, and also turn inward, with the bottom two risers curved.  Very cool, I think.


(post #101256, reply #6 of 27)

those stairs are beautiful. i'd love to see them when they're all restored. that's very similar to the idea i have for mine. maybe you can see if there's anything special about the stringer if you're returning there.

(post #101256, reply #7 of 27)

Dave, I'll shoot some more photos tomorrow.  Underside is plastered, so no construction details visible there.   House is 1870s.   Years ago I looked at an 1840s house with a curved staircase; from the basement access you see the many kerfs they cut in order to bend the stringer.


Edited 5/17/2006 9:36 pm ET by WNYguy

(post #101256, reply #8 of 27)


I envy you getting into all those old house.

Make sure you keep the pictures coming, that stair way looks cool, would love to build one of those!


(post #101256, reply #9 of 27)

For anyone looking for beautiful photos (and measured drawings) of historic American architecture, go to the HABS website.  It's a great resource for restoration, preservation and ideas for new construction.  "Historic American Building Survey" was basically a make-work program for unemployed architects in the 1930s, but it continues today.

Photos are posted as thumbnails, higher-res reference size, and really big high-resolution TIFFs.  

I'm on the site right now, researching Italianate exterior steps and porch treatments.


Here's a low-res shot of Shaker staircase in Kentucky, for example (photo attached below).



shaker_stairs.jpg30.01 KB

(post #101256, reply #10 of 27)

Well, The easy way would be to just build the uncut radius section, fit it into position and project the layout from the main stringers. The underlying frame work is only a close approx., your not building a piano at this point. That said, however, the skirt board is where you will need to place all your precision and skill cause thats what will be seen at the riser/skirt junctions.

The pics posted are of wonderfully built stairs and I'm not ashamed to say that I would be pushed very hard to duplicate.

Dave, building Stairs from scratch is probably the most testing of any carpenters skill and you should be commended for not settling for the simple stamped format. Daniel Burnahm was known to have said "make no small plans...they do not stir men's souls".  There are not to many carpenters in my neck of the woods who know how to build elaberate stairs of the kind you desire from scratch. Most work now is prefabed and we just make them fit.

Please, I would like to see the finished product, post your pics when your done.

Good Luck


(post #101256, reply #11 of 27)

Hey dave,

Build a full size form and all will be answered.

You need to do all the math stuff first.

Building the form, double checks your math.

Do a full size lay out on the floor,determine your run(tread width 12-16 inches in from inside radius), do the math, find riser location, do the math , find the outside radius of the stringer. That is the key point.

Build your form wall,to that radius with a stud at every riser intersection point.

Do the math, lay out your rise on each stud.

Pay special attention to the intersection point of straight into radius.This needs to be at a stud.

Make the form at least a foot longer in both directions.

Use three pieces of 1/4 inch material(solid wood -no knots) for glue -up.

Use phenolic resin glue(WELDWOOD Plastic Resin glue).

Forget about steaming,you are not building a chair.

Tack the first piece to the form,at the marks,glue up everything, stick them together(you and some friends and acouple hundred clamps)

A good lumber yard should have bending rail and forms and fitting to match.

Keep an eye on the oozing glue so you don't glue you clamps.

I may have left out one or two things .



(post #101256, reply #12 of 27)

I'm building this thing on site, and so the old stairs are in use pretty much constantly. I'd like to minimize the time when there are no stairs in the stairwell.

I would LIKE to try to salvage some of the existing old growth walnut that is being used for the rail and the post on the bottom of the existing stairway, and if I'm not steaming the whole stringer, then at least I'd like to try to do so for the rail. unless, of course, you can show me where I can get rail to match this rail.

due to the new rise that a new higher second floor necessitates, the stairs may not actually end up being precisely the same size as before. we have built a temporary top few stairs just to get up and down while working...

so bottom line is first step: do the math. 2nd build the wall... maybe I'll just do the math first and post here... then see how that goes... here are some more pictures of the stairwell just so you can see the problems I'm facing, like the column at the top side of the stairs.

for example, ought I make the stairs any wider than they were? should I be using a flair shape? would an hourglass shape be appropriate?

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(post #101256, reply #13 of 27)


Heres the one pic turned right side up!

You might try to add on to the existing stringer, that way you could keep the steps in use and only when you have the new (partial) stringer attached would you have to take up the few treads at the bottom to replace, that only taking a few hours you wouldn't have the stair way tied up to long.

You wouldn't loose any integrity of the stair way and you'd actually have extra support on those few flared steps.

Just something to think about.

That wont do your handrail fix but it would take care of the stringer issue.


I see where you said something about making the steps wider, if thats the case you just have to make a temp wall and form up your new stringer.

To see what I'm talking about go over to the Picture gallery and go through there and see some of Stan Fosters stair work, he post a lot of pictures of how he does his curved stringers.

Edited 5/18/2006 3:09 pm ET by DougU

stairway.jpg39.9 KB

(post #101256, reply #14 of 27)

well i can't use the existing stairs because they are douglas fir. i want to put in something like cherry or mahogany.

oddly the picture was turned right side up when i uploaded it but i guess it fell under its own weight after the uploading process O:-)

(post #101256, reply #16 of 27)

well i can't use the existing stairs because they are douglas fir. i want to put in something like cherry or mahogany.

Are you planing on keeping the existing treads on? if so veneer over the stringer with your wood choice.

We did a curved stairway that was supposed to be paint grade and at the last minute(like once the stairs were installed)the guy wanted the stringer to be cherry.

We just veneered over the stringer, worked out fine.

Heres how it turned out.

Sorry, shoulda resized but........


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(post #101256, reply #17 of 27)

those came out very nicely. so a 1/4" thick veneer for treads? the current stair isn't flared, though. the treads under the carpet are white painted nail full old fir.

if the price were reasonable for pre-built stairs, i might go that way, but i've heard of some very scary numbers. so perhaps some of you have good sources for builders in the LI, NY area (or trucked in from further...)

otherwise, the idea of raising the existing stairs and building just lets say the bottom 4 steps with the radius might be an option.

i still have to deal with the fact there's basement stairs under these.


(post #101256, reply #18 of 27)


I think we are misunderstanding each other.

 so a 1/4" thick veneer for treads?

I'm not sure what you mean by this? We only veneered the stringer, which was already 2" thick. The treads were already cherry and we left them alone.

 the current stair isn't flared, though.

Yes I know that the current stair stringer is not flared out, I was suggesting you add on to that stringer at the point that you want the flare to start and then veneer over the whole stringer. That way you don't have to disrupt the stairway to do the work, with the exception of the time you have to take off the few treads that are going to be replaced because of the flair.

Someone else suggested it already but I'm thinking that you'd be better off just tearing the whole thing out and replacing it with a whole new one, any stair shop should be able to handle  that, its fairly simple, hell I could build it hear and ship it to you!

I don't see the basement stairs having any relevance on what your proposing to do. You can flare out the bottom two  or three steps and not do anything to the basement steps.

I don't articulate on the net very well, hope this is more clear!



I just went back an looked at those pic's that you posted, I didn't look close enough because I didn't see that you guys had added on at the top. Seeing that, I'd hire a guy down in Texas to build the stair way and have it shipped up there.

Seriously I think building new is the way to go. Your going to have to have some one come in and do some finish work to blend it all together, that's not going to come cheap.

Edited 5/18/2006 6:38 pm ET by DougU

(post #101256, reply #19 of 27)

Dave, you've gotten some interesting advice so far.  I'll be curious to see what you end up doing.

I took a few more photos at the worksite today.  In many ways, these stairs are very similar to yours.  Black walnut.  Similar newel post.  Anyway, for what they're worth.

Photos attached below.



(post #101256, reply #21 of 27)

hahha that IS my newel post! it looks nearly identical. they must hvae been cheap from somewhere at some point.

maybe i could at least save THAT?

perhaps somebody out there has the knives to make this same rail i have?

ok i will consider having it made, and if you guys who build stairs want to tell me what it would cost at my door in long island, ny, i'm willing to entertain offers...

it would have to include everything....

maybe one day in the future i'll make stairs.. but i do understand the value of 'cut and run' i hope i can make the stairs look like yours there would look once restored.


(post #101256, reply #22 of 27)

Dave -

Who gave you the price? Have you tried Deer Park Stairs - around Bohemia or Sayville area?

Where is the house? In case you hadn't guessed, I'm on the Island too. Want to talk about this at the Tipifest?

Don K.

EJG Homes     Renovations - New Construction - Rentals


(post #101256, reply #23 of 27)

what's tipfest?

i figured the materials at between $900-$2500 depending on which kind of wood i would use... so that one price was probably a bit high but i didn't shop around carefully for flared stairs to be honest. what's tipfest? heh.

(post #101256, reply #25 of 27)

Apologies for the change in topic -

Dave, Since you've only been on board a little bit according to your "profile" (which you haven't filled in), I'll let you in on the secret.

Every year or so, the folks that hang out here decide to have a get together. There is a bunch of wrangling to see where it's going to happen and who is going to get "blessed" with the work to put this together. Last year after the "fest" there was so much interest, it seemed like they would need Shea Stadium to hold everybody, but the size of the crowd now is a little smaller. Our gracious host now has a tipi, so the name is "tipifest".

It's going to be held right here on LI, in Cold Spring Harbor, August 18-20 at the home of Andy Clifford (Andybuildz). Imagine three days of partying with friends, no, no, I mean "construction related seminars and tool displays", with road trips. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Check out the Breaktime Fests threads on the left. With a little reading, you will be up to speed. (And don't worry about the initiation. It's really not that bad. It is worse though if you don't show up and they have to come get you. <G>)

Don K.

EJG Homes      Renovations - New Construction - Rentals

Edited 5/19/2006 8:34 am ET by DonK

(post #101256, reply #26 of 27)

ya that sounds like fun. ok i'll fill it in heh

(post #101256, reply #27 of 27)

Dave -

You need to register and send money. Read the threads, get the address or use paypal.

Don K.

(post #101256, reply #24 of 27)


Nice looking house, you need to start a thread on that project. More pictures would be mo-better.

Keep it up and I'll be sending you a chop saw, I have an extra one. If I gotta bribe ya I will!


(post #101256, reply #15 of 27)


Forget the steaming.You can't steam bend a piece of old walnut that big, without big equipment(think, hydraulic), and you still will need a form wall and a reverse profile form caul, and a steamer that big. It's hard enough to bend big Hickory , let alone  100 year old Walnut.

If.........,you are dead set on reusing the old stuff,you are going to have to get some custom made moulding knives made, and a shop that will be willing to make different fittings for the rail.Now you are talking money!

How about move the old stair up to start at the second floor,end at a new landing on the first floor. The landing would be a transition area, built however you like, but using available stair parts.

NEW BOTTOM LINE ! Know where you are going. This should have been figured out along time ago.

My $.02, as beautiful as they are, tear them out, maybe use them for the basement, or on another project, or build house around them.

It's my experience,this kind of stuff gets real expensive  and unless you are/or know a Master Carpenter it won't turn out the way you want. Blending in the old and the new requires more than technical ability.

Who is going to finish this work of art when it's done? You're not going to just slap some stain and poly on it and call it a day.

As hard as it may be, tear it out, get a plan, get er dun now.

Unless..........., you got a big budget and lots of time, then get to learning.

Oh, yea fill out your profile and welcome.


(post #101256, reply #20 of 27)

I would love to see pictures when you are done. The $16,000 the pro's want will seem like a bargin. I'm not trying to be judgemental, but, you are heading down a very slippery slope.