Archive for July, 2010

Replacing Broken Window Glass

Following these tips and instructions on how to remove and replace broken window glass can help save you time, money and effort. Inside this document you will find information about:

  • Preparing for the New Window Glass
  • Installing New Glass
  • Adding the Finishing Touches
  • Replacing Glass on Doors

PREPARING FOR THE NEW WINDOW GLASS

  • Although removing and replacing windowpanes is not a difficult job, doing the job right requires a certain amount of attention and skill. There is a lot more to it than just inserting a new windowpane and adding a little putty.
  • You can use the instructions here for a windowpane of almost any size. However, if the windowpane is a large one, you should remove the complete window frame and place it on a flat surface before attempting to remove the broken glass or to install the new glass.
  • The first step is removing the broken glass. Use care on this phase of the job-obviously, broken pieces of glass can be very dangerous. Wear work gloves to protect your hands while removing the broken pieces of glass from the frame.
  • A shattered windowpane can be removed quite easily (see image). Pull one broken piece out at a time. Be sure to wear protective gloves while doing this. Don’t take chances!

  • If the glass is only cracked, you may need to remove most or all of the putty in order to take out the broken glass. Regardless of which way you do it, use extreme care to protect your arms from cuts.
  • Next, remove the old putty from the window frame. You can use a wood chisel, a putty knife or a jackknife (see image). Take time to remove every trace of the old putty.
  • Break the old putty into little pieces as you remove it. If you try to remove too much putty at one time, you may split the wood frame on the window.

  • Remove all the glazier’s points as you remove the putty. Glazier’s points are the small metal triangles driven into the frame underneath the putty that hold the glass in place.
  • Some putty may be extremely difficult to remove. If this is the case, you can use a heat source such as a heat gun or soldering tool to soften the old putty, which makes it much easier to remove.
  • Run the heat source along the putty just ahead of your chisel (see image). The heat will soften the putty. This allows the putty to pull away from the wood frame much more easily.

  • Take your time when removing old putty, since this is an important part of a glass replacement. By using heat, a good putty knife or chisel, and a little patience, you can remove even hardened putty that is well-set quite easily.
  • After completely removing the old putty and the glazier’s points, use the point of the chisel or the knife to smooth out any rough spots in the wood frame where the new glass will be inserted.
  • If you are replacing glass in an old window, take a small paintbrush and apply a heavy coat of linseed oil to all sections of the wood around the frame (see image). Allow the oil to completely soak in.
  • Linseed oil on the frame helps keep the oil in the putty from soaking out, which causes the putty to dry out quickly. If you saturate the wood with linseed oil before applying the putty, the new putty remains pliable and lasts much longer.

  • While pure linseed oil works in most cases, check the label on the putty you are using. The manufacturer may have another recommendation.
  • After you have removed the old putty and applied the linseed oil to the frame, apply a very thin layer (about 1/16″) of putty completely around the frame where the new glass will be set (see image). Make sure the base layer of putty is not too thick.
  • This thin layer of putty on the window frame provides a cushion for the new glass to be inserted in. This cushion also stops the leakage of air around the glass and prevents it from resting directly against the wood.

INSTALLING NEW GLASS

  • Now that you have removed the old putty and the frame is ready for the glass, you can insert the replacement glass in the frame.
  • The replacement glass must be exactly the right size. If it is not, cut it to size with a good glass cutter. The new pane should be just a fraction of an inch smaller than the window area it is to fill.
  • Insert the new windowpane into the frame carefully (see image). Press it down firmly.
  • Hold the new pane in position with one hand and insert a glazier’s point on each side to secure the pane firmly in place. The glazier’s points can be inserted with only a small amount of pressure.

  • Insert additional glazier’s points about every 4″ apart, completely around the new pane of glass (see image).
  • Lay each glazier’s point flat against the glass and start it into the wood with the point of the combination glazing tool or putty knife. Then, use the glazing tool to drive the glazier’s points into the wood.
  • Slide the glazing tool along the glass to eliminate the danger of breaking it. It takes only a light blow to drive the small glazier’s point into the wood.
  • Be sure to keep the glazier’s points firmly against the glass wherever they are applied.
  • Putty should be the consistency of rather dry, thick dough when it is applied. If it is too stiff, thin it down with the manufacturer’s recommended thinner.
  • You can use an old piece of glass as a kneading board for working the putty into the right shape and consistency.

  • Knead the putty until it is completely pliable and free of lumps. Then roll it into pencil-size strips.
  • Take a roll of putty into your hands and start applying it in one corner of the window frame (see image). Lay the strip in the frame completely around the new piece of glass.
  • When the putty is completely in place, smooth it out with a putty knife or scraper/glazer using long, even strokes.
  • Hold the glazing tool at an angle and be sure it is clean. Any corrosion or rust on the knife will make it difficult to do a smooth, neat job.
  • Your glazing tool will work better if you dip it into a can of linseed oil just before using it to spread putty.
  • Use long, corner-to-corner strokes with the glazing tool Don’t spread the putty so far out on the new windowpane that it is visible from the other side.

  • A combination scraper and glazer tool makes the job of glazing windows even easier (see image). The angled blade rides along the front surface of the window as it forms the bevel on the putty. The other end of the tool is a scraper for removing old putty.
  • Whether you use a putty knife or a scraper/glazer, it may be difficult at first. However, with a little practice, you can smooth out the putty completely around the windowpane (see first image below). Keep smoothing until the putty takes on a neat, finished appearance.
  • Study the second image below to see how to place the putty on the frame. It should cover the glazier’s points, which are illustrated, and be set at an angle so it holds the glass firmly in place without showing from the opposite side of the window.
  • Scrape completely around the area puttied, and remove any excess putty in corners or along the edges.
  • A fine grade of sandpaper may be helpful in eliminating rough spots.

ADDING THE FINISHING TOUCHES

  • Check the label on the putty you are using for painting instructions. You may be able to paint the putty right away or you may have to wait. This depends on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Use at least two coats of outside paint for a good job.
  • One of the easiest ways to paint window frames is to allow the paint to cover not only the putty but also part of the glass. Don’t worry about straight edges (see image).

  • Use a razorblade scraper for removing the extra paint from the glass. Run the scraper about 1/8″ away from the edge of the putty (see image). Be careful not to gouge the putty.
  • There are products that when applied to the glass before painting make removing the excess paint easier.
  • Make sure the putty left over from your job is kept airtight-it will remain usable for many months.

REPLACING GLASS ON DOORS

  • Although most window glasses are held in position with putty, the glass on many doors is held in place with thin wood strips (see image). Building code in most areas requires safety glazing materials in entrance doors.
  • If the pane of glass on a door is broken, you can remove and replace these wood strips without putty.
  • First, pry out the strip on the long side using a screwdriver, a putty knife or some other prying instrument. Always remove the long side first. After removing one strip, the others will come out easily.
  • After the strips are removed, use a pair of pliers to remove the small brad nails or to pull them through the wood strips.
TOOL AND MATERIAL CHECKLIST
Glass Cutter Putty
Putty Knife or Scraper/Glazer Glass of Proper Size
Paint Window Scraper
Hand Cleaner Metal Shield
Work Gloves Linseed Oil
Chisel Heat Gun or Soldering Tool
Razorblade Scraper Paintbrush
Glazier’s Points Pliers


Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

Installing French and Patio Doors

Patio doors are one of the most popular features in any home. This brochure describes the basic procedures for installing prehung French and swinging patio doors, and for sliding patio doors. This is always a two-person job. Keep in mind that the procedures may vary for different brands of systems. Wherever those instructions differ, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

In this document you will find information about:

  • Types of French and Patio Doors
  • Installation

TYPES OF FRENCH AND PATIO DOORS

  • There are three types of doors that often are lumped together under the category “patio door.” They are:
    • Sliding Patio Doors (see image) may be two-, three-, or four-panels wide. They are sold “knocked down”-i.e., the frame and door panels are packaged separately, and the unit must be assembled on the job site. Available frame materials are aluminum, wood, or PVC vinyl (typically reinforced with steel or aluminum for extra strength). Aluminum patio doors are generally the least expensive, but also the least durable and energy efficient. Vinyl occupies the mid-range in both price and quality, and wood is considered top of the line.

    • A two-panel sliding door has one active (sliding) panel and one inactive (stationary) panel. It may be assembled with the active unit on either side. A three-panel door has one active and two inactive panels; the active panel is typically on one side or the other rather than in the center, for the added security of being able to lock to the jamb. A four-panel door typically has two active panels in the center, and two inactive panels outside.
    • Swinging Patio Doors (see image) are typically two or three panels wide. As a rule, the active panel is hinged to an inactive panel, with the latch at one of the side jambs, although three-panel units may have the active panel in the center.
    • Swinging patio doors are available in wood, PVC vinyl, or in insulated steel or fiberglass. In general, a swinging door tends to be more secure and more energy efficient than a sliding door.

  • French Doors (see image) are hinged at the outside of the unit and contain at least two active panels that swing in or out from the center of the unit. At one time they were considered less secure than swinging patio doors because the active panels were locked to each other rather than a permanent jamb. With the advent of three-point locking systems that secure the door to the head jamb and the sill, French door security is much improved. French doors are typically available only in wood.

INSTALLATION

  • To install a prehung French or patio door, first unpack the new door unit. There may be skid boards or other framing attached to protect the system during transit. Remove any protective materials; if the unit has prehanging clips to keep the door aligned and closed, do not remove them.
  • Swinging Patio Door (two-panel prehung unit, center hinged)-Run beads of caulking along the floor where the threshold/sill will rest. From the outside, center the bottom of the unit in the opening and tilt it up into place.
  • Adjust the unit so the face is plumb, then secure the inactive-side jamb to the wall framing temporarily with two 3″-long drywall screws, placed about 6″ below the head jamb and above the sill.
  • Go inside the house and shim and check the gap along the top of the active door. It should be even along the entire width of the door from the hinge jamb to the latch jamb. If the gap is too wide above the latch jamb, drive a shim under the sill directly beneath the latch jamb until the gap is even. If the gap is too narrow above the latch jamb, drive the shim directly beneath the hinge jamb.
  • Once the gap is even, recheck to make sure the unit is plumb. Then shim the latch jamb, checking it with a straightedge as you work to make sure you don’t drive the shims too far and bow the jamb. Shim about 6″ below the top of the unit, 6″ above the sill and both above and below the lock.

  • Be careful not to allow the unit to be twisted; the inside edge of the jamb should be flush with the interior wall surface at all points. DO NOT SHIM ABOVE THE HEAD JAMB.
  • Place the carpenter’s square at the corners to make sure the unit is square; if not, add shims below the sill. Shim the inactive-side jamb in four locations evenly spaced along the jamb. Drive the shims snug but not too tight. Then go back outside and secure the inactive-side jamb with two 3″ drywall screws through each pair of shims. You may want to countersink the screw holes to fill with wood putty later on.
  • From inside, check again to make sure the face of the unit is plumb and that the gap between the door and jamb is even along the top and down the latch-side jamb. Drive 3″ drywall screws through the latch jamb into the wall framing at each pair of shims.
  • Check the bottom of the door to make sure the door sweep makes even contact with the threshold across the entire width of the door. Adjust the threshold as needed.

  • Inside the house, stuff fiberglass insulation into the gap between the door jamb and the wall framing. Make it snug, but don’t stuff it in too tightly. Nail the brick mold 16″ on center outside and install the interior casing.
  • On the outside, caulk around the outside of the brick mold where it meets the siding. Finish the door according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • French Doors (two-panel prehung unit)-Run heavy beads of caulking along the floor where the sill will rest. From the outside, center the bottom of the unit in the opening and tilt it up into place.
  • Adjust the unit so the face is plumb, then secure one hinge jamb temporarily with a 3″ drywall screw placed about 6″ below the head jamb. Leave a small gap between the jamb and the wall stud.
  • Use a level and a straightedge to make sure the head jamb is level and straight across the entire width of the unit. Shim under the sill directly below either hinge jamb if necessary. Insert shims directly behind the top hinges on both sides, taking care not to drive the shims in too hard (you don’t want to bow the jamb). Drive two 3″ drywall screws just above the top hinges on both sides.

  • Check the gap between the doors and the head jamb to make sure it is even across the entire width of the unit. If not, the unit is out of square. Adjust it as shown here.
  • Once the unit is square and level, shim behind the center and bottom hinges on both hinge jambs. Secure the hinge jamb with two 3″ drywall screws just above the center and bottom hinges. Remove any prehanging clips or braces and test both doors to make sure they operate properly.
  • From inside the house, stuff fiberglass insulation into the gap between the door jamb and the wall framing. Make it snug, but don’t stuff it in too tightly. Nail the brick mold 16″ on center outside, and install the interior casing.
  • On the outside, caulk around the outside of the brick mold where it meets the siding. Finish the door according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Sliding Patio Doors-Installing a sliding patio door is a little different because the unit generally doesn’t come prehung. Consequently, the first step is to assemble the frame.
  • Once the frame is assembled, run heavy beads of caulking along the floor where the sill will rest. From the outside, center the bottom of the frame in the opening and tilt it up into place.
  • Adjust the frame so the face is plumb, then shim behind one hinge jamb near the top. Secure it temporarily.
  • Use a level and a straightedge to make sure the head jamb is level across the entire width of the frame. Shim under the sill directly below either side jamb if necessary. Shim the other side jamb near the top and secure it with a screw.
  • Use a level to plumb one side jamb, and shim at three more points along the jamb, spaced evenly from the top to the bottom. Secure that jamb, then repeat the process on the other side.
  • Once the frame is square and level, set the stationary panel in place in the outside channel (on whichever side you want the stationary panel). Push the panel snugly against the side jamb, then secure it with the brackets provided by the manufacturer.
  • Set the active panel in the inside channel, and test it to make sure it rolls smoothly and fits snugly all along the side jamb. If not, adjust the rollers to plumb the door or make it operate properly. Install the latch according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • From inside the house, stuff fiberglass insulation into the gap between the door jamb and the wall framing. Make it snug, but don’t stuff it in too tightly. Install the outside trim, then the interior casing.
  • On the outside, caulk around the outside trim where it meets the siding. If necessary, finish the door according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
TOOL AND MATERIAL CHECKLIST
Door and Frame Shims
Caulking Level
Hammer Carpenter’s Square
Screw Gun Steel Tape Measure
3″ Drywall Screws Wood Filler
Caulking Gun Sawhorses
Fiberglass Sill Sealer Screwdriver
6d Finish Nails Finishing Materials
Electric Drill Drill Bits


Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

Installing a skylight

In this document you will find information about:

  • Types of Skylights
  • Framing the Rough Opening
  • Installing the Skylight
  • Building the Ceiling Opening and Light Shaft
  • Safety Precautions

TYPES OF SKYLIGHTS

  • Many people worry about cutting holes in the roof, but adding a skylight is actually easier than installing a window. Most skylights come with flashing systems that will seal the roof effectively. This brochure describes how to install a skylight and build a light well to carry the light into the room.
  • There are two basic types of skylights: curb-mounted or frame in place. A curb-mounted skylight is raised above the plane of the roof; it either sets on a wood frame curb or the curb is an integral part of the unit (see image). A framed-in-place skylight is installed flush with the plane of the structure, much like a vertical window. It is held in place with L-shaped brackets (see first image below).
  • Curb-mounted skylights may be glazed with a clear acrylic dome or with glass. Framed-in-place skylights are glazed with glass. Either may use insulating glass, and the glazing in top-of-the-line skylights may have low emissivity coatings and argon gas fill for added energy efficiency.
  • The flashing system on a curb-mounted skylight typically consists of a head flashing, a sill flashing and two pieces of side flashing that run the length of the skylight (see second image below). The head flashing is slipped under the shingles above the opening. The side flashings are slipped under both the head flashing and the shingles on the side of the unit. The sill flashing goes under the side flashings but is set over the shingles below the skylight. The configuration allows water to run around and off the skylight.
  • A framed-in-place skylight also has a solid head and sill flashing, but the side flashing consists of a series of step shingles that match the 5″ exposure of each row of roofing (see second image below). Like a curb-mounted skylight, the head flashing goes under the shingles and the sill flashing goes under them. The step shingles are woven into the roofing, slipped under each shingle.
  • Flashings may be made of galvanized steel or aluminum; most are aluminum, often finished to match the color of the skylight frame.

  • A skylight framing assembly consists of three parts (see image):
  • The roof opening is framed with headers-framing lumber run horizontally across the opening, securely nailed to the rafters to support the structure. Headers are cut from lumber the same size as the rafters.
  • A curb-mounted skylight also requires a framed curb, typically 2x6s but usually specified by the skylight manufacturer (the frame has to project far enough to accommodate the flashing). The curb is set on the roof sheathing around the perimeter of the opening, and the skylight is set on the curb.
  • The ceiling opening is framed in the same way as the roof opening-headers are nailed between the ceiling joists to support the existing framing. Ceiling headers should be the same size as the ceiling joists.
  • The light shaft is the framing that connects the roof opening with the ceiling opening. It is typically framed with 2x4s, insulated like any interior wall and finished on the inside with drywall or other material. The light shaft may be vertical or flared-wider at the bottom than the top. A flared light shaft is a little more difficult to frame but will admit more light.
  • To frame the opening for a skylight, first decide on the approximate location of your skylight. It should be roughly centered in the room.
  • Next, locate the ceiling joists, then realign the opening so it fits between the joists. Depending on the size of your skylight, you may or may not have to cut the ceiling joists and rafters; many skylights are made to fit between 16″ or 24″ on center joists and rafters without removing any framing.
  • Mark the two corners of the ceiling opening closest to the outside wall. Take care to make sure the points are parallel to the wall. The width of the ceiling opening should match the rough opening width of the skylight (specified by the manufacturer). The length will vary, depending on the type of light shaft you want.
  • Drill small holes through the ceiling at your marks and push two pieces of stiff wire up into the attic so you can easily spot the location from above.
  • Go up to the attic; if possible, bring a 2′ by 4′ piece of plywood with you to lay across the ceiling joists so you won’t accidentally put a foot through the ceiling. Locate your corners and clear the insulation away from the area. If you have to reroute electrical wiring, always turn the power off first and double check by testing a fixture on that circuit with an electrical tester.
  • Use a plumb bob to locate the two points on the underside of the roof that are directly above the lower corners of the ceiling opening. Mark those points on the roof (see first image below). Double check to make sure they match the correct rough opening width, then measure up the underside of the roof the specified rough opening length. Drive four nails up through the roof to mark the corners of your rough opening.
  • Go up to the roof and remove the shingles from around the opening, far enough to allow room to install the flashing. Snap chalk lines between the nails, then cut away the roofing felt with a utility knife.
  • Set your circular saw so the blade depth is slightly more than the thickness of the roof sheathing, then cut away the sheathing and remove it (see second image below).
  • How you frame the opening depends on the size and position of your skylight. If the skylight will fit between two existing rafters without cutting, simply cut two headers to fit between the rafters (they should be the same material as the rafters, typically 2x6s) and nail them in place with 16d common nails, flush with the cut edges of the sheathing (see third image below).
  • If you have to cut a rafter, framing is a little more complex. First, nail two 2x4s across the rafters to provide temporary support (see fourth image below). The 2x4s should be long enough to reach at least two rafters on each side of the one that will be cut.
  • Then use a reciprocating saw to cut the rafter out of the opening 3″ back from the edge of the sheathing on each side. Cut four headers to span the distance between the uncut rafters on each side of the opening. Nail the first pair flush against the two ends of the cut rafter. Use three 16d common nails through the existing rafters into the headers on each end and three more nails through the header into the end of the cut rafter.
  • Then nail the second pair of headers in place. Use 16d nails to nail through the existing rafters into the ends of the header and a pair of 8d nails every 16″ to nail the two headers together.

INSTALLING THE SKYLIGHT

  • Curb-Mounted Skylight-Build the curb by nailing four 2x6s into a box (the size is specified by the manufacturer). Square it, then toenail it into place over the opening with 8d galvanized nails. Run a bead of caulking all around the top of the curb (unless the manufacturer says not to), then set the skylight in place and fasten it down. Replace the shingles, leaving enough working space between the edge of the shingles and the curb so you can slip the flashing into place.
  • Install the sill flashing first, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. As a rule, flashings are nailed into the curb and sometimes cemented to the roof with plastic roof cement, but not nailed to the roof.
  • Install the side flashing and fasten it in place. If you’re working with step shingles, slip them under each row of roofing shingles, working your way up from the bottom. Slip the base of the head flashing under the shingles and set it in place over the top of the side flashing. Fasten it in place. Go back to the attic and remove any temporary supports.
  • Framed-in-Place Skylight-Mount the brackets on the side of the skylight, set it in the hole and fasten it in place. Make sure the skylight is square and not twisted in the hole.
  • Install the flashing as described above, or as specified by the manufacturer. Go back to the attic and remove any temporary supports.

BUILDING THE CEILING OPENING AND LIGHT SHAFT

  • From inside the room, find the other two corners of the ceiling opening. Use a carpenter’s square to make sure the opening is square or rectangular. Use a keyhole saw to cut away the drywall.
  • Go back up to the attic. If you’ll need to cut a ceiling joist, place temporary supports across the opening as described above, then cut the joist 3″ back from the edge of the drywall. If the light shaft will be flared, cut the joist at the angle of the flare.
  • Install headers across the ceiling opening as you did for the roof opening-a single header at each end if no ceiling joists are cut or double headers if a ceiling joist has been removed.

  • Use a T-bevel to determine the angle of the rafters and ceiling joists, then cut 2×4 studs for the corners of the light shaft, angled on each end to fit flush against the rafters and ceiling joists. Studs should be placed 16″ on center around the opening; you can use the corner studs as templates for the field studs across the top and bottom of the opening.
  • Nail 2×2 cleats to the inside edges of the corner studs to act as backing for the drywall. From the attic, nail rigid foam insulation over the outside of the light shaft; then finish the inside of the shaft with drywall (see image).

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

  • Always follow standard safety procedures for working on the roof and using power equipment. When working on the roof, always wear loose, comfortable clothing and rubber-soled shoes. Set your ladder so the base is away from the building 1/4 the height of the ladder plus the width of the soffit. Always wear eye protection when working in the attic and when using power equipment.
TOOL AND MATERIAL CHECKLIST
Skylight and Flashing Framing for Curb, Roof and Ceiling Headers
1×2 cleats 2x4s for Light Shaft
Drywall Rigid Foam Insulation
Level Steel Tape Measure
Utility Knife Pry Bar
Keyhole Saw Hammer
Chalk Line Carpenter’s Square
Nails Plumb Bob
Circular Saw Tin Snips
Ladder Reciprocating Saw
T-Bevel Try Square
Roof Cement


Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

Building outside stairs

Building a stairway can be one of the most intimidating tasks any builder-amateur or professional-tackles. But an outdoor stairway is generally not a difficult project, as long as it is planned and executed carefully. This document covers building procedures for a straight-run utility stairway, typically used on porches and decks.

Local building codes regulate the width and slope of a staircase, as well as how the assembly is supported and braced, how the landing is built and whether railings are required. ALWAYS CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL BUILDING DEPARTMENT BEFORE DESIGNING A STAIRWAY, AND FOLLOW ALL LOCAL CODES.

The following instructions are intended as general guidelines only, and local requirements should be your primary guide.

In this document you will find information about:

  • Stair-Building Terms
  • Designing Your Stairs
  • Building Your Stairs

STAIR-BUILDING TERMS

  • There are five basic design elements you’ll need to consider when planning outdoor stairs:
  • The Total Run (see image) is the total horizontal distance covered by the staircase, from the edge of the upper floor (porch or deck) to the edge of the staircase where it rests on the landing.
  • The Total Rise (see image) is the total vertical distance from the surface of the landing to a point level with the surface of the upper floor (Note: You can’t find the rise simply by measuring straight down from the upper floor because the ground directly below may not be level with the landing).

  • Run (see image) is the horizontal distance from the leading edge of one tread to the leading edge of the next tread.
  • Rise (see image) is the vertical distance from the surface of one tread to the surface of the next tread.
  • Passage Width (see image) is the width of the stairway.
  • The ratio of the total rise to total run (or rise to run) determines the slope of the stairway. As a rule, that slope should be between 30 degrees and 35 degrees; an outdoor stairway may be slightly shallower but should not be steeper. The ideal riser height is 7″ with an 11″ run-which also works out well with standard lumber widths-but you may have to vary the proportions somewhat to make the height of each step work out evenly between the landing and the upper floor.
  • The passage width can also vary, depending on how heavily you expect the stairs to be used. As a rule, 36″ is the minimum; 48″ is better for a single person, and you may want to go to 60″ to allow room for two people to pass comfortably.
  • A stairway consists of four basic components:

  • Stringers (see image above) are the sloped members that support the stairway. 2x10s are generally allowed for stairs with four treads or fewer, but 2x12s are sturdier.
  • In most cases, you’ll need good quality material with no large knots, either pressure treated or cut from heart redwood or cedar, to resist decay. Stringers should be placed no more than 24″ apart if the treads will be 5/4 material or 36″ apart for 2″-thick lumber.
  • Treads (see image above) are the horizontal members that you walk on. When building an outdoor stairway, they are typically cut from the same material as the upper floor deck or porch-5/4″ pressure-treated pine or 2″-thick lumber.
  • Risers (see image above) are the vertical members at the back of each tread. 1″ surfaced boards (3/4″ net thickness) are the most common material used.
  • The Railing Assembly (see image) consists of posts, a cap rail and vertical balusters between each post. 4×4 is the most common post material with a 2×4 handrail. Codes regulate the overall height of the railing assembly (usually 30″ to 34″) and may specify a maximum width for the handrail.

DESIGNING YOUR STAIRS

  • To design the stairway, first find the total rise. Divide that number by 7 (the ideal riser height) to find the number of steps. You’ll probably have a fractional remainder, so round your result up or down to the nearest whole number.
  • Then divide the total rise by that number to find the exact height of each riser. For example:
    • Total rise = 40-1/2″
    • 40-1/2″ divided by 7″ per riser = 5.78 risers
    • Round 5.78 up to 6 risers, then 40-1/2″ divided by 6 = 6.75″ or 6-3/4″ per riser
  • This document assumes that the total run is not limited, so you can make the assembly as long as you want. Use the following table to determine the width of the treads, depending on your riser height.
Riser Height Run Width
6″ 14″
6-1/4″ 13-1/2″
6-1/2″ 13″
6-3/4″ 12-1/2″
7″ 12″
7-1/4″ 11-1/2″
7-1/2″ 11″
  • To find the amount of material needed for risers, simply multiply the number of risers by the passage width. To find the amount of tread material, subtract 1 from the number of risers (you’ll need one fewer tread than risers) and multiply by the passage width. Remember to double up if you’ll be using two boards for each tread.
  • To find the length of the stringers, you’ll need a calculator with a square root function. First, find the total run (number of treads multiplied by the width of each tread).
  • Then find the square of the total run (total run multiplied by itself) and the square of the total rise and add them together.
  • The square root of the result gives you the exact stringer length; round up to the nearest standard lumber length, then multiply by the number of stringers you’ll need.

BUILDING YOUR STAIRS

  • To build the staircase, first notch the stringers for the treads and risers. Fasten two stair gauges to a carpenter’s square at the dimensions of the rise and run (for example, at 6-1/2″ on one leg and 13″ on the other). Set the square on the stringer so the gauges are flush against the edge and trace the notch along the edge of the square (see image).

  • “Step” your way down the stringer, repeating the process until you have laid out the correct number of notches. Use the carpenter’s square to lay out the top cut on the stringer. The height of the last riser should be less than the others by an amount equal to the thickness of the tread. That way, when you nail the last tread in place, the step down to the lower floor will be equal to the others.
  • You can set the stringer directly on the lower floor (typically a landing pad) and bolt it in place with a piece of angle iron, or bolt a length of pressure-treated 2×6 to the floor and nail the stringer to it.
  • If you plan to set the stringer on a 2×6, you may have to notch the bottom of the stringer to allow for that piece.
  • Once the stringer is laid out, cut the notches partway only, using a circular saw. Take care not to cut beyond the layout lines. Finish the cuts with a handsaw.

  • Once you have one stringer finished, set it in place to make sure it is cut correctly, then use it as a template to lay out your cuts on the other stringers.
  • You can hang the stringers to the rim joist with joist hangers (see image), or bolt them in place to a joist (see image below). If you need to pour a concrete landing pad at the bottom of the stairway, set the stringers in place temporarily and lay out the location of the pad. Pour the pad and set anchor bolts for the angle iron or 2×6 base. Instructions for pouring concrete are in another brochure in this series.
  • Once the landing pad is cured, secure the stringers at the top and bottom. Rip the risers to the same width as the height of the riser cut in the stringers. Then cut them to length and nail them to the stringers with 8d galvanized nails.
  • Measure the distance from the face of the riser to the edge of the notch cut, then rip the treads to width so they extend 1″ to 1-1/8″ beyond the edge of the notch. If you’re using two boards side by side as treads, rip half the dimension from each board so both will be the same width. Cut the treads to length and nail them to the stringer with 16d galvanized nails.

  • To build the railing, first secure 4×4 posts at the top and bottom of the stringer. Notch the posts 1-1/2″ deep and bolt them to the sides of the stringers with 1/2×4-1/2 hex bolts, using a level to keep them plumb. Use decay-resistant lumber for the posts. They should be at least long enough to extend 36″ above the surface of the treads. Leave them a few inches too long at the top so you can cut them after they are in place.
  • Measure from the bottom of the stringer up the posts to the location of the top and bottom rails. The top surface of the upper rail should be 30″ to 34″ above the tread; the rail should be about 6″ above the tread. Lay the railing material against the posts and lay out angled cuts for any rails that will be fastened between the posts.
  • Cut the railings to length and toenail them with four 8d galvanized nails. If you’ll be using balusters, cut them to length and nail them to the rails. Check local codes for spacing requirements on balusters.
TOOL AND MATERIAL CHECKLIST
2×10 Stringers 1×8 Risers
5/4″ or 2″ Tread Material 2×6 Pressure-Treated Cleat
Angle Iron Anchor Bolts
Hex Bolts 16d Galvanized Nails
8d Galvanized Nails 4×4 Posts
2″ Railing Material Baluster Material
Hammer Carpenter’s Square
Measuring Tape Adjustable Wrench
Joist Hangers


Check your state and local codes before starting any project. Follow all safety precautions. Information in this document has been furnished by the North American Retail Hardware Association (NRHA) and associated contributors. Every effort has been made to ensure accuracy and safety. Neither NRHA, any contributor nor the retailer can be held responsible for damages or injuries resulting from the use of the information in this document.

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