Wednesday one shot


Since I usually sell art, not make it – I thought I’d share my only artistic creation. This is looking up from the bottom of the Woman Cave stairwell. See? I told you there were lots of drywall corners. Happy Wednesday everyone.


Woman Cave – Finished Staircase

Well, there you have it – a project finished. Mmmm, maybe not completely, let’s just call it a photo-finish.

1 stair well

I’m not going to bore you with the tedious, multi corner drywall finishing. I counted 28 outside corners and 11 inside corners for the stairwell area. Why so many? Bulkheads and plumbing runs will make that happen. You’ll get glimpses of all the angles – the memories are too painful for me to show just how many there are in one shot.

2 wall insulation

The walls were finished and painted before the final stair goes in. The area under the stair stringers was framed with 2X4’s and was insulated with spray foam. Drywall was then placed to finish.

3 riser measurements

I’ve added the stair skirt boards and wrapped it around the tricky angled wall. The wall is reinforced for the stair tread supports.

4 all risers in place

All the risers are cut to the width of the opening.

5 stair tread template

Since this will be a carpeted stair, I used 1″ pine treads. Here is my handy cardboard template to figure the angle cut.

6 trim pieces

Speaking of angle cuts – these are the trim pieces I needed to fabricate to trim out the stair/wall junctions. Top Clockwise: 1st tread back trim, Bottom RH trim, Top RH trim, LH Top trim bottom block, LH Top trim.

7 buscit joiner layout

The bottom RH trim required a piece 14″ wide. So out comes the biscuit joiner. 1st we mark the biscuit locations.

8 biscut joiner

Cut the slots for the biscuits and glue it all up. The moisture in the glue expands the beech wood biscuits and makes for a solid joint.

9 finished stair

And that finished the stair – time to move on.

Time’s a wasting.

Basement Stairs – Getting to the Woman Cave

Welcome to spring my fellow renovators! As usual, I have a dozen projects going on at the same time – and most aren’t very photogenic – yet.

Let’s go down to the woman cave and get that pesky staircase built for the basement.

Here we go – watch your step. And a warning – this is  a longer post than most.

First we need a plan. Go to My Carpentry.Com for a really good calculator. You need exact measurements of the distance from one finished floor to the next to make a good, safe set of stairs.

1 stair plan

The items needed for laying out stairs is pretty simple. A framing square and some stair nuts, or some other means to make stops on the square to make consistent marks on the stringer. And for me, a life size cardboard template.

2 mock up

Calculating the proper size of the stair is easier if you use a template like this. Here the cardboard template is in place. The 2X4 wood in the foreground is a mock up of the bottom step height to make sure I have enough head room to meet code.

3 stringer template

Once I’ve gotten the stringer template made I’m ready to transfer to the real stringer. The wood for the stairs is typical Misadventures material. Most use a 2X12, but here we’ll use a LVL or Laminated Veneer Lumber beam. I like using laminated lumber on stair stringers for several reasons.It’s really strong, straight and won’t warp or change after cutting, which is something dimensional lumber will sometimes do.

4 stringer jig

Since I’ll be making 3 stringers for this project, I’ll make a set of jigs for the cuts. The one on the left is for the ‘run’ cut and the right one is for the ‘rise’ cut. I find it so much easier and faster to take a few minutes and make a jig if I have a lot of repetitive cuts to make. On stairs consistency is a safety issue, so make ’em right.

5 saw spacer block

One more jig and I’m done – promise. I also make a little spacer that is the width of the saw shoe plus the thickness of the saw blade. This will vary slightly from one blade to the next, so I made a new one to match this blade. You need this little block – so make it.

6 stringer end cut

Jig and block together – so sweet! The block is used to line up the layout mark on the stringer and then you butt the cutting jig next to the block. I screw the jig to the stringer to keep it secure.

7 sawing stringer

Then we cut the stringer stopping right at the intersecting line. No over cutting here.

8 hand saw finish cut

Then we take a hand saw and finish the cut. Over cutting will weaken your stringer, especially if you use dimensional lumber. I could overcut this LVL – but I would never do that – my OCD would never allow it. You can see how straight and square the cut is – that’s why you use a jig.

9 fitting first stringer

Now we check out how we did – we’ll check to make sure the rise and run are correct before we mess up any other materials. You can see how much longer and less steep the stairs are next to the original.

10 checking level

Check for level on the steps and I think we’re ready to make some clones!

11 tracing stringer

Take the finished stringer and clamp it to the next and carefully trace the pattern.

12 stringer end cut

The spacer block is also used to make the end cuts.

13 two down

Two finished and one to go.

14 three stringers together

Once all three are cut I line them up with the framing square and screw them all together.

15 sanding stringers

The three are then tweaked with a belt sander to make them all identical. Now – this is crazy precise for a simple stair stringer – but remember this is my hobby. It does show that taking a few minutes building a jig will make your project a lot easier to build.

16 old stairs

I think it’s time to say goodbye to these 81 year old stairs.

Hang in there – we’ll make something out of this place yet.

Steep Bungalow Stairs #6

Well – it’s time to finish up the preliminary stair project. Preliminary? Why sure – you don’t think I’d finish the stairs when I have so much more to do. Remember, this has gone from a simple cosmetic upgrade to a full home reconstruction. We’ll get the stair functional and move on to the next area – we’ll start finishes as soon as I get all the structure and mechanicals updated. This will include all new wiring – plumbing and HVAC systems. Oh, and my dear wife Francia – who has never asked for a single thing has one request. A basement woman-cave with steam shower and whirlpool tub.

Yes dear…

Man, I get tired just thinking about all this stuff…sigh.

closet door frame

One of the problems with the new stairs is the lower angle clipped the closet door, making it impossible to use. The solution is to remove the door and shift the frame over to gain some clearance. Here’s the after.

office wall 1

The office wall is being reframed.

office wall 2

Since I have the space, I’m extending the closet all the way under the staircase.

closet wall

This will give me about 10 feet of floor space.

reinforced wall header

On the kitchen wall side the area where the chimney was is reinforced with a header.

stair to bathroom

The bottom of the stairs has the first floor bathroom. So to keep the design coherent, we’ll do the same at the top.

new closet door

We’ll inset the door with the same obscure glass we used for the bath.

new closet door inside

This is the new configuration of the walk in closet – looking from inside out. (Don’t worry – it will change again before it’s done)

kitchen wall

The kitchen wall will be the placement for the main appliances in a modified galley layout.

office wall

The office side after the closet door was moved.

closet crawl door

Now focusing on the closet for a while we’ll tackle whats behind the doors that access the front eaves of the house.

under eave unfinished

Behind door # 1  Yikes!

Stay tuned we’ll make something of this place yet.

Steep Bungalow Stairs #5 The Plan

So now we know what we’re up against. It won’t take much to make a better (and safer) set of stairs. But it will take quite a bit to create a good comfortable set of stairs – and make it work in our limited space.

Let’s make a set – shall we?

First the new and final (I promise) plan for the upstairs.


The red shows the original wall location and top stair position. We’ll worry about what to do up here later.

Now on to making the stair stringers.

Here’s a good video showing how to lay out your stairs.

You’ll need a framing square and some stair gages – or a piece of wood clamped at the right spot.

I’ve made a short run of stairs before – but not 18′ – yikes! no margin for error here. So I decided to make a Masonite template.


I feel much better now. The template allows for mistakes before we get to the big dance.

The problem you might have with a long run of stairs is finding nice straight 2X stock that has limited knots and checks. So Instead of using standard dimensional lumber I used LSL – Laminated Stand Lumber. You can read about it here.

first stringer

I laid out and cut the first stringer only – just to make sure. Here it’s in place so I could finish the top detail cuts.

cheater blocks

The top detail cuts. Here you can see my “cheater blocks” The skinny one is the thickness of the stair tread. The thicker one is the floor joist to top of finished floor. I use blocks like these to make sure there’s no mistake on measuring the complicated cut of the stringer at the top. Usually this top cut is pretty simple, but I’m incorporating the stringer on top of a supporting wall, so it’s a little more complicated.

cutting stringers

Once the first stringer is cut, all you have to do is trace the one to the next. You can see my Masonite template on the ground.

final stringer cut

Two down, one to go. You can see that I used a circular saw to cut the primary cut and then the jig saw to finish the corners to prevent any over cuts. After all three were cut I clamped them all together and belt sanded the surfaces to be identical.

Obsessive? Why sure.

Also, I used this.

stringer jigs

This is a set of jigs – one for the rise and one for the run cuts. I screwed these into the stringer to make the saw cuts with the circular saw perfectly flat and level. In the picture, the lower jig is laying on a piece of wood to show how it was placed on the stringer.stringer spacer

The two stringers that go next to the walls have to have spacers added to give clearance for the 3/4″ skirt board and the 1/2″ drywall. Adding these before you attach them to the walls will make your life so much easier when it comes time to finish off the stairwell.

stringer level

Now all we have to do is attach the stringers to the walls and level the pair to make a nice safe support for the treads. The third stringer will be added after the two end stringers are in place.

top floor stringer attachment

Now you can see the top cuts on the stringers that I laid out with the cheater blocks. The stair stringer lays on top of a supporting wall for the living room, so in my opinion it’s stronger than the 6 nails in the other one. Also the stringers are attached to each side wall stud. It’s built like a tank.

second floor stringer

The first sub-floor down. You can see the cheater block on top of the stringer. There will be a 1/2 plywood underlayment and then 3/4″ hardwood on top of that. This will allow the top stair tread to be incorporated into the floor, making it seamless.

first floor stringer comparision

Here is the original stringer location and the new. By moving the wall over we gained 6″ of run at the bottom of the stairs.

angle difference

This is what all that hard work was about. You can see the original stair elevation compared to the new. The new stair stringers will give us an 11″ tread and a 34 degree incline. Sure beats 45.

Can I get an “Amen”?

Sorry for the long post – but I just wanted to get this out of my system.

One day I’ll get to make something pretty.

One day…

Steep Bungalow Stairs #4 The Investigation

So we have really quite a puzzle on our hands – how to make this stair with a longer run and the only possible way to do that is on the second floor – drat.

closet upI had already framed and drywalled what I thought would be the new upstairs closet. I figured out those tricky ceiling angles and taped and mudded this to finish.

closet insideI put in the electrical and a nifty pocket door.

So since the new stair is going to be 30″ deeper up here – by my calculation I’ll have a roomy 15 inches at the top of the stair. Crap. I have to have much more.

closet demo 1So let’s just rip it out – again. You can see the new/old switch box dangling there. The pocket door newly installed is now gone. So I wasted some coin and a lot of time on this one.

closet demo 3This is so therapeutic! Had a bad day? Feeling a little frustrated? Why grab a crowbar and annihilate a walk in closet – makes one feel so much better!

We’ll deal with the odd angles and headroom issues somehow. But for now let’s just live for the moment – and not overlook the structural steel beams hanging up there.

closet demo 2To make the staircase work we’ll have to move the wall back on the bedroom side around 4 feet. We’ll have to pick up a point load for that structural steel beam so it sets on a floor joist over a perpendicular load bearing wall. Which is right where the post has been placed. Enough of this building stuff.

On to investigating the staircase structure.

stair side viewThis is the office side of the staircase. As you might have noticed, I’ve given up on making that wall work – the bookcase was built, installed and then promptly removed, along with the rest of the plaster lath. Oh, and that closet? I spent a lot of time making it smooth and painted just so. I added some additional height and a hanging system.

office closet demoOnly to end up tearing the whole thing out. This is looking from the kitchen side. The office closet is nothing but some sticks in a bucket and bags of pulverized plaster.

stair profileHere’s a good view of the rise and run of the stair – I told you it was nearly 45 degrees. Actually in this photo the rise looks even greater than the run. I get tired just looking at this thing.

stringer measurementThis is a closeup of the stair stringer throat measurement. The minimum for this should not be less than 3 1/2″. It’s pretty close. What isn’t so hot is the saw overcut. These are areas for potential splitting and stair stringer failure.

stringer attachment 1Uh-oh this is where things start getting a little scary. This is not how you hold up a stair case. Let’s count all the nails together, shall we? 1-2-3 … if we’re lucky we have 6 nails that have some holding power in these stringers. Would you like to prance up and down on your staircase with 6 nails holding you up? I didn’t think so. Yes, it’s only 6. And they had the opportunity to fasten it to the stair well side walls – but they didn’t.

Let’s see this from another angle.

stringer looking upI think I’ll name this staircase “Death Wish”

Hang in there gang — we’ll make something out of this yet.

Steep Bungalow Stairs #3 The Search for 7 – 11

Sounds kinda like a B movie, don’t you think? I have to admit, trying to explain this stair project is more of a head scratcher than the project itself.  I’ll do the best I can –

The 7-11 reference is to a 7″ rise and 11″ run. My goal for a nice usable staircase. For your notes most stair builders figure R (rise) + TW (tread width) should equal 17″ to 18″.

The very first thing you should do is take a look at  the SMA (Stairway Manufacturers’ Association) Visual Interpretation of the International Residential Code for stairs. If you’re going to modify your stairs, you might as well do it to code.

Here’s  a link

There are lots of resources on the web for stair building – this Stair calculator will  help a lot.

There are some basic terms that you must know and they are always going to be with you – like them or not.

Rise = this is the elevation from the 1st finished floor to the 2nd finished floor. It will not change – you can’t make it change – unless you add inches to your 1st finished floor. I say finished, because you must know the measurement of the total rise. Not a guess, not an estimate – the exact measurement. We want a good staircase that won’t hurt us, right?

Run = This is the length of the staircase. It’s the problem that most of us old home renovators struggle with – the longer the run the more options we have. We like to have an unlimited run – we would be free to have that stairway to heaven. Well, almost.

Headroom = This is the other obstacle that old houses face. People must have been really short back then. You need a minimum of 6′ 8″ clearance.

So let’s see how I solve this puzzle.

Let’s start with the basics of my problem stair case.

Rise 117″ or 9′ 9″   Run 117″ or 9′ 9″ these are measurements you really don’t want in a staircase. This gives you a crisp 45 degree angle of incline. Can you say stairmaster? Remember we have got to find more run to make the stair work. We can’t do anything about the rise. It’s 117″ and will always be.


The bottom of the stair is in direct line with the only finished room in the house – the bathroom. The landing requirements by code are the width of the stair tread, in my case that’s 36″ The yellow level on the floor is at 42″ to the bathroom door, so we should be able to gain a few inches for the run here. Let’s put 6″ in the “New Run” bank.


This is the original layout at the top of the stairs. We have 45″ for stair to closet wall. It’s adequate now – but we need like 30″ of additional stair up here. Yikes!

bedroom door

You can see that the pocket door entering to the bedroom is at the top of the stair run. To the right you can see the closet wall. We will have some major changes to make this a workable staircase.

top of stair

So let’s get a saw out and cut something! A little investigational surgery to see what we can do to get more “Run”.

looking into bathroom

This is looking into the bathroom. Of course I had just finished the walls for this area – new closet pocket door and reconfiguration of the bathroom layout – then I decided to tear it all out and put in the staircase. As I have lamented many times – freestyle renovations has its  consequences.


This was the second layout of the upstairs. Again, before the staircase decided it needed a new look.

Yes, this was finished – and yes I tore it all out and did it a third time. More on that in a later post.

Let’s say just for giggles we can steal 30″ or so up here – That’s what we need.


Time for some comparative calculating. Using the above calculator here’s the possibilities. I think we have enough room to get our 9’9″ run to something more like 12′ 10″

landing wall

We’ll start on the easy part first. Here I’ve stripped drywall and the casing from the door and removed 7″ from the left side of the opening.This will allow for shifting the opening to the left and gaining the 6″ for the bottom of the stair.

header detail

Sometimes I hear people comment “They don’t make em’ like they used to”. That may be true for some but not this particular ‘carpenter’ in 1935. Looks like he used a beaver to shave this “header” down to size.


You can see the additional framing members for extending the wall at the stair landing.

The top will be much more challenging. This is why.

ceiling angle

Here’s a side view of the upstairs closet looking into the bedroom with the door wall facing the staircase to the left. The problem is this is a 1 1/2 story Bungalow and there are height limitations at the top of the stair.  You can see the angle of the roof encroaching on the headroom. This will be tricky indeed. We will have to move the closet wall back 30″ or so and deal with the angles of the roof.

stair stripped

Let’s give it a rest and strip the stairwell.

Time for some more doodling to make that staircase be all it can be.

Stay tuned.