An Un-Tutorial for the Front Steps

As Kim mentioned yesterday, we’ve started to realize around here that once in a while, the better fiscal (and marital saving) decision can sometimes be to hire a job out. And after an almost entire wasted day this past Saturday, the stairs leading up to our front porch  just may have been another one of those times! But after cutting our losses Saturday night and a fresh re-start on Sunday, we’re ultimately glad we pushed through ourselves:

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While you can see the faded, splintered wood and crooked construction on the left, above, the photo  just doesn’t do justice to how rickety the stairs really were. In a completely inexplicable move, the cracked, crooked concrete pad had actually been poured around the old stair stringers, which had led the wood to rot and slowly sink down and to the left. Paired with our (spoiler alert!) formerly crooked exterior lights, our house had started to look like it was three sheets to the wind, so to speak. (Go home, house; you’re drunk.)

It all started over Memorial Day weekend when my folks came to town, and my Dad and I were on Team Rebuild the Sloppy Staircase. Our concrete guy had made quick work of the old steps with a sawzall to properly pour our new pavement, so we started with a clean slate.

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After some brainstorming, a bit of quick math and a handful of trim cuts, the three stringers went in pretty quickly. Tip: Save yourself time and hassle and buy these pre-cut. You’ll gain yourself a few hours and LOTS of hassle – and only spend a couple extra bucks.

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Your math (and local building code) will vary significantly from ours if you decide to tackle this project on your own, so this post is not meant as a tutorial. Rather, this is an un-tutorial? (Quick web research will turn up a handful of online plans and tutorials if you’re feeling brave!) Once the stringers are in and level, the stairs pretty much assemble themselves. Place your risers in first (we used pressure treated 1″ x 8″ boards ripped down to fit), then screw your treads in place.

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Fasten! Fasten! Fasten! If you don’t have a CC of your own to supervise your work, consider consulting a friend or family member. Pops and I ended up finishing the stairs over the long weekend, but ran out of time to construct the railings. That’s when all hell broke loose. Hence, the un-tutorial.

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Kim and I picked up where my dad and I left off, and we spent this past Saturday with lots of, a-hemquirky banter being thrown around and an eventual 5pm acceptance of failure and desire for comfort food from our favorite budget pasta spot. And wine – lots and lots of wine.

Admittedly, my initial plan was as flawed as the day is long. I had bought components to build railings that would have looked great but that also made creating accurate, strong joints an incredible challenge. So with a belly full of delicious brunch, we regrouped on Sunday and hit the lumber yard with a modified plan and a simple shopping list of:

4 – Pressure treated 2″x4″x8′
4 – Pressure treated 8′ handrails
16 – 2″x2″ beveled spindles

Our new design would be rock-solid, easy to measure and assemble, and would match the existing porch railings perfectly. Victory!

After some math and a bit of trial and error, we ended up making all of our cuts at 32 degree angles so that the railing caps and 2x4s matched up (nearly) perfectly at the tops and bottoms.

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We mounted our 2x4s vertically, then attached our railings – which come pre-routed with a groove that caps easily over the 2×4 – with little difficulty.

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Again, having a CC nearby almost always speeds up the process and improves the quality of your work. Even if you are rocking some killer hat hair.

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After duplicating the upper railing pattern upside-down on the bottom end, we were ready for the stair spindles. Math, measure, cut, repeat. Drill, level, fasten repeat. This is actually working out! Unbelievable!

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And there you have it – 3 working days later (with only 2 of those days being successful), we had our completed front stairs! What we failed to accomplish in an entire afternoon on a crabby Saturday was completed in about 2 hours on a sunny Sunday. Sometimes all you need is a plan. And a supervising CC.

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Remember the old rotted and crooked, posts? They were swapped out for clean, simple 4x4s and new simple post caps.

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Gone are the days of some pseudo-post, hack-job madness. Clean lines abound!

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Unfortunately, fresh pressure-treated wood often needs a minimum of 30 to 60 days to fully dry before it’s ready for paint, so we’ll be impatiently waiting for that day and focusing on some other areas of our slowly improving front yard. Next on the agenda? New light fixtures for the front and basement doors, an outdoor rug, porch paint and (finally!) landscaping. (Add that to painting the front door, capping the cinder block on the garden level and, ooh, a porch swing!) Bundle all that with the privacy fence we’re planning on the north side of our home (and tearing down the rusted chain link that’s there now), and this yard is coming together – phew! – piece by piece.

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  • David Vargo - June 4, 2014 - 10:14 AM

    Great job on the handrails. Thanks for not mentioning the screw up on the 4×4 posts.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - June 4, 2014 - 10:21 AM

      Ha! That already feels like a distant memory, and I had completely forgotten. We didn’t need to mention it because you just did :)ReplyCancel

  • rachael - June 4, 2014 - 10:49 AM

    I know it sucks, but I would wait a whole season to 6 months before you paint that pressure treated wood. A good test to see if it’s ready is to pour some water on it and if it beads on the top then you know to wait longer, but if it soaks in right away than its safe. You want to wait until the milling glaze has been weathered away, otherwise you’ll end up with flaking. :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - June 4, 2014 - 10:58 AM

      Womp, womp. We’re hoping for a speedy dry time (come on, hot summer!), but we’ll definitely be doing the water bead test. Thanks so much for the input!ReplyCancel

  • Manda Wolf - June 4, 2014 - 2:17 PM

    Looks great, I’m sure it will make you much happier to see the exterior of your house like this, it will be even better once it can get painted. Can’t wait to see what direction you go with that.ReplyCancel

  • Ashley - June 4, 2014 - 8:30 PM

    What are your favorite dishes at that favorite budget pasta spot? :)ReplyCancel

    • Kim - June 4, 2014 - 9:05 PM

      I love anything creamy (aka bad for you!) and Scott loves anything with seafood :)ReplyCancel

  • Julia@Cukoo4Design - June 5, 2014 - 6:30 AM

    You guys rock. I wish my hubby would have a clue how to built stairs ;)ReplyCancel

  • Looks great! I feel like your outdoor spruce up is moving at lightening speed… and I’m a little jealous. I can’t wait to see everything pulled together.ReplyCancel

  • […] last summer, we rebuilt our exterior front staircase. This was after we poured new concrete and painted the front porch, but before we built our garden, […]ReplyCancel

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