Old House Journal - - Contents - By Ray Tschoepe

In­stalling porch steps.

Restor­ing a porch? It’s easy to find deck com­po­nents at the home cen­ter, and it would seem that stair-steps can be con­structed by sim­ply nail­ing 2x lum­ber to pre-cut saw­tooth sup­ports called stringers. For a rear deck, that may be fine. But older houses are of­ten graced with more for­mal stairs lead­ing to the porch and to the main en­try. Be­fore you lay out and cut re­place­ment stringers, call your lo­cal code of­fi­cial to get the cur­rent specs on tread widths (wide treads re­quire a cen­ter car­riage) and al­low­able riser heights. In many cases the orig­i­nal mea­sure­ments will be fine, but be aware you may need some re­design to meet code. The assem­bly of treads and ris­ers is crit­i­cal for dura­bil­ity. Choose woods rated for out­door ex­po­sure (i.e., rot-re­sis­tant), and pre-prime all of the com­po­nents be­fore assem­bly.


Use proper join­ery: just nail­ing ris­ers onto, above, or be­hind the tread will al­low wa­ter to col­lect in crevices, where it even­tu­ally will cause rot­ting. And avoid the mod­ern urge to elim­i­nate the solid riser. Ris­ers are im­por­tant to the aes­thetic of the stairs. In ad­di­tion, the ris­ers pro­vide strength and rigid­ity to the en­tire assem­bly.


The best tech­nique for in­stalling treads and ris­ers is to cut them so that they in­ter­lock. If you’re fa­mil­iar with the use of a router, a table saw, or even a rab­bet plane, you can make a good joint. The riser is made to fit into a groove on the un­der­side of the tread, while the tread is made to fit into a groove cut into the lower edge of the riser. This in­ter­lock makes the assem­bly quite stiff and keeps rain out of the joints.

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