Killer Stairs: Part 1

The journey to the basement begins with a single step. And then nine more of them.

Stairs 1 Before

And, if you’re lucky, you make it there alive…

Behold, my crappy stairs. You may remember that, before the remodel, these stairs used to live in my garage. I don’t know why that’s relevant. It’s not, really, but here’s a picture anyway…

Stairs in Garage

I had thought my crappy stairs’ only crime was being ugly, but as I removed them, I discovered something much more sinister…

Stairs 2 Demo

Stairs 3 Demo

No, not a body! Don’t be creepy.

Stairs 4 Demo

When I cut through the last step, the stringers (those long pieces on the sides that hold the steps) just fell out. They were connected to nothing. Why is that significant? See exhibit A:

Pool Table in Basement

Last year, three of my friends were kind enough to carry my pool table (which weighs a bajillion pounds) down into my basement. Little did they know they were risking their very lives! If those crappy stairs had shifted under them, who knows what might have happened? I might have accidentally killed my friends! (Sorry, guys. My bad.)

So, obviously, stairs have a pretty important job to do. Their ability to support you makes all the difference between arriving safely on another floor and meeting your doom. You would think that building new ones myself might be a lot of pressure for me, but, compared to the death stairs I had (and survived), odds were that I could do better. And, of course, I did.

So here are my not professionally engineered plans:

Stair Dimensions

My stairs are at a steep 45 degree angle, but they have to be; otherwise, tall people would knock themselves unconscious walking down. I designed them to accommodate a 6 ft person. People over 6 ft are used to ducking anyway, so those super tall freaks are on their own.

Anyway, here’s how you build stairs:

  1. Watch a bunch of YouTube videos on how to cut stringers
  2. Cut stringers
  3. Figure out a way to support stringers
  4. Install the steps
  5. Do a happy dance (away from the stairs, dummy)

Of course, first I made a template. Because I’m sensible. And I like foam core.

Stairs 5 Template

Remember asking your math teacher when you were ever going to use crappy geometry in real life? Well, here you go. I give you… The Pythagorean Theorem. In case you forgot…

Pythagorean Theorem

So, I used this to figure out the hypotenuse. (OMG am I blowing your mind right now with this crap or what?) In my case, the hypotenuse equals the distance between each step’s outside (or inside – same difference) corner. Why is this important? Because the edges of wood are curved and this made it a huge pain in the ass to draw those outside triangle points.

Stairs 6 Wood Close

So I drew guidelines down the length of my board at 12 3/16″ (the length of my hypotenuse) increments. Then, because I am brilliant (Hello! Using theorems over here!), I MacGyvered this contraption with a couple of clamps, a small piece of wood and my square and set it up so that each tread and riser would measure 8 5/8″. Then all I had to do was line up the point of my square with each guideline and draw my cut lines. My dad would be so proud. (If he were to read this post, which he won’t because his flip phone has no access to the interwebs.)

If you were lost during that whole part, that’s OK. Your takeaway should just be that I’m super smart and awesome.

Stairs 7 Cutting Stringers

Stairs 8 Stringers

So, with that part done, I anchored a ledger board to the concrete for my stringers to hang on.

Stairs 9 Bye Ladder

At this point, I had to take away my ladder so I could put the center stringer in place, so I carried all of my cut wood down the ladder and then began literally building myself out of the basement. I installed a couple of risers, one low and one high, and used them to get my stairs square, level and plumb.

Stairs 10 Assembly 1

And then things went rather quickly. Good thing, because I didn’t bring any food or water down there with me.

Stairs 11 Assembly 2

Given that my former death stairs were not attached to the concrete at all, I was already ahead of the game by hanging my stringers on a ledger board. Still, I added L brackets at the top and a couple more concrete anchors at the bottom for good measure. Any deaths that happen on these stairs will not be due to faulty craftsmanship.

Stairs 12 Top Anchor

Stairs 13 Bottom Anchor

I’m calling these stairs “rough”, because I will be putting another pretty layer over them that will close the gap between them and the walls (That’ll be in part 2.), but there’s nothing rough about them. They came together perfectly. In fact, this may be the project I’m most proud of to date.

Stairs 14 After

I freaking built stairs, people! Could I be any more awesome?

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  • Marilyn Piggott

    Once again. …I have not enough words..or even the PERFECT words to say how AWESOME these stairs turned out! WOW..just WOW!

  • Doug @ thumbandhammer

    I am 6 foot 2. As such, I find your complete disregard for the safety of anyone over 6 feet tall alarming and disturbing. Yes, you would think that since achieving this height some 35 years ago I would have got in the habit of ducking when going down stairs as a matter of course, but it’s easy to forget sometimes. I blame that forgetfulness on a possible head injury that resulted from 3 and a half decades of whacking my head going down stairs designed for people 6 feet tall or less.

    And now you make light of this very real trauma? For shame, Vicki. For shame.

    • My Crappy House

      lol maybe I’m just jealous you tall people can reach all the stuff on the top shelf and have the best view at concerts and this is my revenge…

  • Sharon Turner

    This is definitely a big, fat WOW !!! I’ll bet Egor is in 7th heaven now that he can get to his pool table. Looking forward to Part II.

    • My Crappy House

      Yeah, he had about two weeks where he couldn’t get down there and he LOVES it down there. I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about him getting behind the stairs anymore. It was so gross back there!

  • lizzie@mealpreprockstar

    You are amazing for building those stairs!

    I rediscovered your blog today and thought I’d say Hi and tell you how much I loved seeing the before and after pictures of your house. Most especially your bathroom and really practically every room. Was sad when you stopped posting but glad that you started again!

    • My Crappy House

      Well, things did slow to a trickle, but never actually stopped. Don’t worry! I’m not going anywhere

    • My Crappy House

      From… when your parents kept you under the stairs? Or the stairs in your high school were deadly? Help me out… lol

  • judy

    our whole family is very tall and had to look at a lot of for sale houses when transferred. Some of the basements were quite dark also so when someone had taken the trouble to mark the head whacker with a warning bright paint or a funny bright sign we appreciated it. I remember one said low bridge-no trucks. the stairs are a work of math genius and design expert.

    • My Crappy House

      lol low bridge… I like that. Honestly, I think these would be OK for someone under 6’2″. I have some tall friends I plan to use as test subjects. Mwhahahaha.

  • Denise

    Wow! When real math comes into play, that’s when I hire the muscular, rugged contractor guys. You are definitely awesome for resisting and doing it yourself.

    • My Crappy House

      I’m a control freak. That’s why it’s easy to resist. That and the contractor guys around here aren’t all that rugged or muscular…

  • Cheryl

    You are awesome in my book!! I have stairs I need to refinish and figure out how to do the sides that meet the wall. Great job!! I would be proud too!!

  • Jenny

    Okay, so I’m hiding your post. I don’t want my husband to know someone actually used all that geometry shite. I’ve spent the last 25 years convincing him otherwise.
    Great job Queen Awesomeness.

  • sarah

    As an interior designer, I love how pro-active you’ve been on your own apartment, and how willing you are to take on… what?!?! STAIRS!!! You did it, girl. So awesome. I can’t tell you how quickly I would pay someone to do that for me, but now…. but NOW…… I wonder if I would attempt to undertake it myself. BRAVO.

    • My Crappy House

      I know, right? STAIRS! And they don’t feel crappy! Some big men have already used them and they’re still alive. It feels pretty awesome.

    • My Crappy House

      That’s probably the only geometry formula I remember, but it’s probably the most useful. Oh wait, I also use r x 2 x π = the circumference of a circle. That comes up a lot in my job. Is that geometry? I don’t even know. lol

  • Em

    Was looking for new reading and came across your site. Whoa…this specific post…not sure what was more impressive…having friends who would move a pool table for you, almost accidentally killing them, or digging in with a new safe staircase.

    Decided on all three.

    Seriously…I GREATLY enjoyed the visit, signed up for more and will enjoy catching up

    • My Crappy House

      Welcome! I’m glad you were entertained! I’m working on a new post right now, so check your email soon!

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