Building Confidence

Volume 10 Issue 10
ISSN 1923-7162

Welcome to Dave's Shop Talk's Home Improvement Newsletter of questions from our members on their construction projects, a Tip of the Month and a home remodeling article, both from our website at

Tip of the Month

The height of a chair is 18" off the floor. The height of a table is 30" off the floor. Ref: Useful Stuff 6: How to Renovate an Old Camper.

And a Bonus Tip:

The height of a closet rod is 60" to the center with 2" above the rod for the shelf. Ref: Remodeling 5: How to Install a Window in an Existing Wall.

Ask Dave!

Hello Dave, New member here, and I'm happy to have found your site. I'm currently replacing the staircase in our house. It's an old farm house. There are 12 risers and 11 runs. The main problem is the run width (7 3/4"). It's narrow, and the stairs are steep. The rise is also 7 3/4". I would prefer a width of 10", with a rise of 7 1/2, or no greater than 7 3/4. The total rise from the 1st to 2nd floor, incl. floor thickness is 98.5". I used the Stair Calculator, but end up with a total run of 120", vs. the current 89.5" (the last run has a width of 12"). So, I just don't seem to have enough space to do what I want, or I can't envision the right design. The new staircase doesn't have to be straight like the present. It could for example spiral out into the hallway at the bottom to accommodate the longer run. Is that the answer? I've attached a photo taken from top of stairs to hopefully give you a better idea of what I'm facing. Any help would be much appreciated. This seems to be a truly great site for a home hobbyist like me. Many thanks in advance, and best regards, Andre Southborough, MA USA

Hi Andre and welcome to our site.

This is a very common question in older homes. Thanks for the photo.

Usually, we have 3 options in a situation like yours:

  1. extend the opening at the 2nd floor
  2. extend the the run at the 1st floor ( I can't see the bottom from your photo, but looks like an outside wall)
  3. put in a landing and change directions ( this will work if your ceiling height is high enough on the first floor. You will only gain about 2 risers, usually)

In running these numbers, I think you need to extend the 2nd floor opening. I need some questions answered:

  • Ceiling height of the first floor?
  • the hall space at the bottom of the stairs?
  • width of stairs?
  • if you remove the lower handrail, what is the distance from the bottom wall to the vertical wall where the handrail is attached?
  • Is this job going to be inspected, can we cheat on the code, slightly?
  • Is there room to extend the floor opening at the top floor? How will this affect the space below the stairs?
  • How do you feel about winders?

That should do it for now. Without changing the framing, you will have the same angle of stairs. Putting in winders or a landing won't help if the headroom isn't there. I even had one guy punch the outside wall out for a little foyer to help out his situation. So it really depends on how serious you are to get a good set of stairs.


Hi Dave, Many thanks for your helpful and quick response. I'll gladly provide you with some answers to these questions: Ceiling height of the first floor? Answer: 88". Not very high, I know, but it's an old house built in 1902. the hall space at the bottom of the stairs? Answer: 37". The vertical wall (bottom wall) opposite the bottom of the stairs is the outside wall and front door. width of stairs? Answer: The top 4 stairs are 32 1/4" wide. The 5th is 34". The bottom 6 (where the lower handrail is positioned) are 35 1/2" wide. if you remove the lower handrail, what is the distance from the bottom wall to the vertical wall where the handrail is attached? Answer: 81". Is this job going to be inspected, can we cheat on the code, slightly? Answer: This job will not get inspected. Strictly an "inside" job, so yes, we can take some liberties. I'm sure there are other issues that are a problem with these stairs, like headroom, but all these old houses are like this, i.e. no longer current with the code. As long as I'm not impacting/changing the structural integrity of the house or its main framing in any way, their present layouts are "grandfathered in" and there is no need for me to seek a permit. This is how I understand the rules to be regarding this type of work. Is there room to extend the floor opening at the top floor? How will this affect the space below the stairs? Answer: No, there isn't much room there. As it is, half of the opening to the bedroom at the top of the stairs (to the left as you go up, or to the immediate right in the photo I sent you) already steps down onto the top stair, so extending the floor opening would mean that this entire room would be stepping out onto the stairs. I've attached another photo to make this aspect clearer. How do you feel about winders? Answer: I'm not exactly sure what winders are. Do you mean making the stairway wind left at its bottom half (where the handrail is) instead of keeping it straight? If yes, then I think that's a great idea. In fact, that's what my wife would prefer we do, for appearance sake, if anything. So yes, that would be good if it's something I can do. Also, we were planning on replacing the handrail anyway The main priority of our project is to make the stairs more comfortable (and less hazardous) by widening the tread part. It would be great to achieve 10" or 10 1/2", but even 9" would be better than the current 7 3/4. We also wanted to make them out of hardwood, like oak. But, we're flexible to all options at this time which would make the stairs "friendlier" to use. I've attached a few more photos with this email that address some of the points in your questions. Hopefully those will help also. If I've left anything out in my answers please let me know and I'll do my best to provide the necessary details. Many thanks again for your assistance. You are a great resource! Best regards, Andre

Hi Andre,

This is about as close I can get to the building code:

12 rises at 8.21 (8.25 is max for New York other states is 7 7/8)

11 runs at 7.93 with 1 1/2" nosing = 9.43 (9.25 is code)

Your headroom on the bottom step is 79.79 (80 is code)

The winders are 30 degrees x 3 to make the 90 degree turn. Each winder is a step.

Here is a drawing:

Drawing of Andres stair winders with angles and measurements.

Hope this will work for you,


Hi Dave, Wow. Many thanks for your time and effort. I think this is ingenious! We like it a lot. It's very similar to what my wife was envisioning, but I would have been stumped on how to put it down on paper like that. This is great. What I'll do now is plug those figures into the Stair Calculator, and generate a plan. You have a lot of articles on your site specific to stairs, so I'm sure I can take it from here and "get busy". :) Once again, many thanks for your help, and also for getting back to me so quickly. It's much appreciated. I'll also do my best not to bug you too much with questions going forward. Only if I get really stuck! Thanks again, and all the best, Andre

Hi Andre,

Glad you like it!

The Stair Calculator will only draw the plan of the main stringer. Let me know if you have a problem with that or framing the winders. Actually with the winders, first make a landing at the height of the bottom winder and extend it out under the stringer by one step. Then frame the middle riser on top pf this one to the correct height and shape of the second winder, also flush with the bottom landing under the stringer. Then frame the top winder to the correct height and shape. Then the stringer will be supported on top of the highest winder, exactly as I write about building a landing in a set of stairs: Stairs 4: Installing a Landing in a Staircase (see Figure 1 in that article.)


Hi Dave, Thanks for this additional info. I made a print-out of that landing article and, combined with your info below, will try to match it up to my situation and the drawing you made. This morning I plugged in the winder dimensions, based on the 34" width of the bottom landing, and the 30 deg angle for each. I basically considered it as a square area, with each side measuring 34". As far as the main stringer goes I'll have to plan that one carefully. I did see the video you had on this on YouTube (very well done), but in my case I guess I'll have to be careful to plot out the correct points all along the main stringer, especially at the bottom. I'll have a look at all your info and try to figure it out. One question did occur to me as I looked over the diagram, and it concerns the very top step, i.e. the one right below the second floor. If you recall, that particular step in my current setup has a tread width of 12". I think they made that run wider because it's a landing area from that bedroom location at the top of the stairs. (The doorway opening is 29" wide. 12" currently goes onto that step, the other 17" is the second floor. (I'm sure that this isn't code.) I marked up the diagram in that area. But now if I make all the top steps at the 9.43 dimension, I'll actually be shortening that top step run, meaning that the landing from that bedroom will now include part of the second-to-last step, as well as the top step and second floor, which will mean three different levels. I don't know if I'm explaining this very clearly, but you could probably see what I'm trying to describe from the photo and also from the diagram. Would it be possible to keep the top step at its current 12" dimension as per this plan? Or is there perhaps a better way for me to modify this top area? Many thanks again Dave for your valuable assistance. Best, Andre

Hi Andre,

I missed this top step business. This is a bad situation, but no other solution other than moving the door.

If we keep the 12" step, we need to come up with 4". We could take 3" out of the hall at the bottom of the stairs - minimum is 34" and the run of that top step could be 11", then with the 1 1/2" nosing will end up as 12 1/2".

Make sure you figure the run for your steps as 7.93 or 7 15/16". This is important. The inch and a half nosing is not part of the run, but the finished depth of the tread. It adds 1 1/2" to the final step, not added to each step.


Good morning Dave, Many thanks for your mail and info. I had a good feeling that you would be able to find a way out. I measured the hall at the bottom of the stairs and have 37"! So taking 3" out at the bottom would work, since you indicate that the minimum is 34". That was a close one, but now I think we have everything in place. I'll make sure to keep that 7.93 run + 1 1/2" nosing for all the steps except for the top one. If I can use 7 15/16" as a measurement, that works out better for me since my tape measure is incremented in 1/16ths. The .93 would be more difficult for me to repeat accurately. Also, if the top step ends up being 12 1/2" (11" + 1 1/2" nosing), then I will have picked up another 1/2" from the present 12". So, another plus. All in all, I think I'm in pretty good shape now. Still studying your article "Installing a Landing in a Staircase" to make sure I figure out the main stringer properly. That will be my first step. Thanks so much again for your help. I wish you a nice long week-end! Here it's Columbus Day week-end, but in Canada I believe it's your Thanksgiving! Thanks again, Andre

Hi Andre,

Yes, I think you will do well.

Yes, it is our Thanksgiving on Monday, lots to be thankful for. We are heading over to the Mainland of British Columbia, today. We live on Vancouver Island, about 26 miles off the cost of Vancouver, BC. Our two daughters live right there and the third one is driving down from Kelowna, in the interior. Good to be with family at Thanksgiving - three daughters and 8 grand kids; 5 grand kids will be there. On Monday we plan to drive to Bellingham, WA for shopping.

Have a good Columbus Day!


Hi Dave, Hope you had a great Thanksgiving week-end with your family. I'm still working on coming up with the right numbers for the main stringers, and also how to do that landing. The stair calculator program only seems to work on straight runs. I have a feeling I may need a little bit of assistance on that. I'll let you know if I do. In the meantime, I've taken the second tread off the bottom part of the stairs just to see what it looks like underneath. Not surprisingly, it doesn't seem to follow any of the correct ways to build stairs. The middle triangle stringer is not even attached to the step above it. And on the left, the third step doesn't touch the wood and stringer below it. From what I can tell, only the right side is providing full support. There, the frame of the third step lies flush on the wood piece running diagonally below it. (unlike on the left side). That would also explain why the steps aren't level after years of use. I just put a level on it and they lean quite a bit to the left. I wasn't even aware of that. Below that staircase (as seen from the cellar stairs) is just plaster applied over that thin board below the staircase framing. I'm tempted to take it off to get a better view from below at what I'm facing. I attached some photos just to give you a better idea. I'm sure you've seen worse? :) Good thing my wife and I are skinny! Note, this is just FYI. No questions on my part. I just thought you would find it interesting and informative. But you would have to agree it makes for another good reason to put in the new staircase! It makes me think too that I should perhaps consider getting rid of this framing altogether rather than try to salvage what I can. I would have to put in new framing and stringers in any case. Might as well do the whole thing over. Old houses...never a shortage of challenges! All the best, Andre

Hi Andre,

Those pics are amazing. I've never seen such a mess. Usually, the old houses were built very well. it seems these stairs didn't even have a stringer, except for the 2x4 , then built off of them. I would remove all that mess and start from scratch. Then you can check your measurements for accuracy.


(You can see the finished stairs in the photos Andre sent us at

I have installed a dividing wall [2 X4] in a building. The wall will have an interior door in it. My question: Which do put in 1st; the door or go ahead and put up my 1/2" rock or does it matter. I will put in molding around the door once I have everything in place. Which came 1st?; the chicken or the egg? Kelly in Port Orchard

Hi Kelly,

We usually put the drywall up first, for 2 reasons: 1. to stiffen the wall up so the jamb will be held securely and 2. to ease installation of the drywall. It makes it much easier to trim the drywall when installed over the door opening, then trimmed off flush with the jack stud or cripple.

The chicken came first, by the way.


Hi Dave, I am thinking of adding a patio cover (36 wide x 10 deep) and I am using as reference this design. Before moving forward I need to know if the current layout of the windows on the back wall will allow me to pursue this project. I am concerned about the minimum slope requirement and the distance between the roof and the window). Between the top of the window of the fist floor to the bottom of the window on the second floor I have roughly 22 inches (picture attached). Is there any light at the end of the tunnel or I am pretty much done? Thank you in advance. Wilson

Hi Wilson,

You are good with the 22" slot. Come down a bit from under the shutters to allow enough room for the flashing. The flashing could fit nicely under the vinyl siding if that works. You need a minimum of 30" drop for 10' wide.

Lots of light under the tunnel,


Thank you Dave. Last question. Due to HOA requirements I think I might need to go with shingles instead of metal cover. Is the frame on your project strong enough to hold the required plywood's?

Yes, no problem, just replace the 1x4 strapping for the plywood or OSB.


Hi Dave - what is code for distance between steel stringers for deck stairs? Thanks

It depends on the thickness of the treads.


I am using PT 2x6 for treads.

Okay, I would not go over 24" center to center. There is no actual code on this.


When cutting stairs,should the bottom tread be 3/4 shorter if you plan on putting a 3/4 riser board on, for a finish look on my stairs.... Boston Mass.

Hi Boston,

No the tread should not be shortened because of the riser. The riser affects every tread the same, above and below, which doesn't affect the run, as long as the same thickness riser is used from bottom to top.

The bottom of the stringer is cut off, the same amount as the thickness of the tread, though.


Feature Article of the Month

(taken from our website:

Cabinets 1: Frameless Kitchen Cabinets

Building a set of kitchen cabinets is a project that requires woodworking skills. Building kitchen cabinets, considered part of a modern home decor, is the ultimate test of a finish carpenter's skill. The cabinet builder should be well versed in taking and relaying accurate measurements, in the operation of shop tools, such as the table saw, router and using a circular saw, both freehand and with a guide.

The design of kitchen cabinets depend on the hinges used. The old style kitchen cabinets, with a face frame, used the classic Amerock hinges mounted on the face frame. Some hinges inset into the cabinet door giving a 3/8" thick overlap, others allowed the full thickness of the kitchen cabinet doors to overlap the frame. The concealed pin hinges were popular for awhile, making the cabinet doors flush with the frame. The doors were held shut with spring and roller catches. Finally, the magnetic catch emerged. Hinge design further evolved into a self-closing style, including artistic shapes and colors that forced everyone to re-do their kitchen cabinets. Our globe got smaller and European hinges came onto the marketplace. The design of these hinges revolutionized the kitchen cabinet industry. Frameless European kitchen cabinets were born. Cabinet doors could be easily adjusted three ways, drawers rolled easily on steel drawer slides, and there was no face frame to contend with.

The kitchen cabinet style today relies on...

Almost the End

Well, that does it for another month. I was kept busy with question this month, the way I like it. Thank you for your response.

If you need advice on your projects at work or home, please become a member of our website, then send me an email. Check out our website!


(Ask Dave) (About Dave)

Your source for building tips, woodworking & furniture plans, house plans and building advice directly from Dave...

Hi, I'm Dave Osborne. With over 50 years experience as a journeyman carpenter, foreman and contractor in heavy construction I enjoyed working with apprentices and sharing the tricks of the trade that others shared with me. Now I get emails from Members all over the world and we include many of my answers in our Free Monthly Newsletters. Some of my answers include drawings and instructions specific to a project, but may also answer your questions. I use correct construction terminology, so you can confidently inform your building supply dealers or contractors exactly what you need.


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