Stairs Part II: Making Treads

You can read Stairs Part I: Stringers here.

With the stringers in place, I turned my attention to making stair treads. Back in May 2021, a friend I played in a band with years ago cut down a dying oak tree in his yard and asked if I wanted any of the wood. “Wood, I?” I asked. “Heck yeah!” I came over with my pulleys and chainsaw and a trailer. I made two trips. I had to cut the base into 4 pieces since the monster was too heavy to take in one piece, and then I milled each piece into 1.5″ thick “treads”, lined them up in the sun for a day or two, then stickered them and stacked them behind the house to dry for 8 months.

I debated just milling the treads out of a solid piece, but I think they could warp easier that way – for one thing, I don’t have a kiln, so I can’t control how they dry. For another, I didn’t have thick enough pieces to make all 16 of them the right width. I DO want some things in this house to be square….ish.

The ones at the store are also made of thin – maybe 1″-2″ wide pieces that are then butt-glued together, then finished with a router and planed. I decided to do the same thing – alternating the end of the grain this way controls warping, and actually gives you stronger treads.

My neighbor offered me the use of his planer. I need to get one of these. I have a jointer / table saw combo, but I’m scared of the jointer part of the saw – for good reason: when I first got the saw, I cleaned it up. The knives in the jointer head were all askew, so I took them out and cleaned them and then re-installed them. I tightened the screws down as hard as I could, but still wasn’t sure about a 100 year old saw, so I laid an extension cord outside my garage and stood out there to plug it in and turn it on – I could imagine one of the knives getting thrown out of the head at high speed and slicing my throat. It was an excellent decision – as soon as I turned it on, knives went flying everywhere – stuck in the roof and walls. I disengaged the belt, and have never used it since. I might try again someday – but I think I will use some thread lock or glue or something to hold the knives in place.

I made a series of videos on this process as well:

  1. ripping the slabs into strips with a table saw
  2. planing the edges
  3. edge gluing the strips and clamping them
  4. planing the tread once the glue is dry

Making brackets for the treads

They sell stair brackets at the big box stores, but they are expensive – $3.49 each, and they are thin. I need 32, so that’s over $111. I made my own out of 2″x2″x1/8″ angle iron that I got from my friends at C&J Welding for about $62. You could probably drive a truck up my stairs with these brackets.

Laid the brackets down to show how they will look, but they will go on the bottom of the treads.

In a future post, I’ll show what everything looks like together, except for the risers. Before you gasp, I had to level my sawmill track yet again – but this time, I got a small load of gravel from the county work shed (free for residents!), and carefully spread it out and leveled the whole thing. Once it was level, I made a few cuts and found they were perfect, so I cut enough oak into 1″ slabs to make risers and a future coffee table. Now back to the gasp – due to the way the treads are installed with brackets instead of joinery, I can add the risers in behind them later from the back side, since it may take months for the risers to dry enough to use.

Almost ready – just need to get the final tread length and width, some light sanding, and round the noses.

4 thoughts on “Stairs Part II: Making Treads

    1. yeah. weird, huh? I actually have some scraps leftover from making the treads that I tried to break by stomping on them propped up against a rock – They are extremely hard to break, and when they do break, they never split at the glue joints – always break somewhere along the wood strip. Anyway, it could be even stronger if you use some joinery, but honestly, that’s just overkill for this project.

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