6. Interior Staircase
How many of these have you encountered where the top step is an inch taller and the bottom step is an inch lower? That’s a problem of design, sometimes it’s the initial build, often it’s a lazy renovation.
How many times can you build up the floor before you change the top step? Zero, zero times. I get a lot of calls about this type of issue. Believe me, once a stair-way is built, very few times is it ever moved or changed without incurring a hefty expense.
The rabbit-hole goes even further than simple lazy and clumsy renovations. If your average master carpenter could be compared to a well regarded applied physics professor at a state college or university for his knowledge of math and forces, a custom stair builder takes those basic elements and adds a the equivalent PHD in experimental geometry, and teaches sculpture classes at night. There is just no comparison.
A carpenter can not build a stair-case. It’s like asking your residential electrician to fix the wiring harness in your 86’ Audi. You might get the headlights on, but you’ll never get that one brake light to go off. Design makes the difference.
That said, not everyone needs a stair-case, but, everyone with more than one floor needs a stair-way, and it needs to be safe and usually wants to be attractive. There are a lot of people who "think" they know how to do it. That's how you end up with the butchery pictured above. Believe it or not, someone tried to pass this off as a high quality finish! It takes experience, teaching through practice to get good enough at the craft to make a passable attempt at it. And passable is good enough for many of us, but if merely being passable is a challenge for a well rounded carpenter, you can probably guess how many unqualified persons get hired to do the work.
A good carpenter can dress a stair-way, and to the undiscerning client this can be indistinguishable from a true stair-case. Most homes built since the 1950's have a stair-way and not a stair-case, and you probably cannot tell the difference. It's in the design. A stair-way is a brutal translation of the surface form into a reverse engineered structure. It is built on framing stringers like your deck steps. A true stair-case is made only of itself. It has no framing lumber involved and it should fit together like the puzzle-box from "Hell-raiser". ALL of its fasteners are hidden. It does not squeak because it is wedged tighter than me in my summer pants in the month of January. It's structure comes from its precision and accuracy.
It takes a lot of time to assemble either a stair-case or a stair-way, especially if you have a design with open balusters. What we end up with can be both sturdy and striking, functional and formal. What we never want to do: move it, or redo it. A stairway or staircase should be forever. Your family's safety depends on it. Start with a solid design. The stair-way below is one which we dressed this year for our client. You can probably tell it's a stair-way because of the details we've gone over today. When it's done, the client will be happy and safe for years to come.