Step by Step: How to Install a Staircase and Balustrades
Installing a staircase is not the most common of DIY jobs, being a skilled task often undertaken by tradespeople with significant experience in the process. But with money being tight for many households, your renovation budget may preclude you from paying for labour. What do you need to know about staircase installation in particular before you begin?
What Constitutes a Staircase?
Before we talk about your approach to staircase installation, it is important to properly understand how staircases are constructed. Timber staircases in particular have a shared anatomy, that is more or less consistent across designs.
The horizontal part of your staircase steps is called the ‘tread’. Treads are stepped vertically by ‘risers’, with both housed by the wall ‘string’ which runs up the wall parallel to your stairs. Another ‘string’ might cap the stairs on the other side, and platform the base rail for your balustrade.
Your balustrade consists of a base rail, banisters or spindles that rise from the rail (or from the treads themselves), and a handrail that sits atop the spindles. The ‘newel post’ is the final post at the top and bottom of the balustrade.
As a priority, you should endeavor to gather the various tools and items of equipment you will need to build your new staircase. Staircase installation is a multi-step process that requires a number of different actions to pull off well; as such, the tools you need vary widely with regard to purpose.
If you are building your staircase from scratch, with raw timber products and a blueprint to work from, you will need a mitre saw and workbench on which to create your treads and risers. Sanding tools will also be necessary to properly finish your timber pieces, or prepare them for painting. Chisels and routers come in handy for properly situating your balustrade spindles.
With regard to installation, there are different approaches you can take. You may wish to affix your staircase using screws, in which case Milwaukee drills are a reliable option for stair assembly. More traditional stair designs might call for the use of nails to finish, in which case a brad nailer may be the better option.
Planning and Measurements
Ahead of your installation, it is vital that you ensure all measurements and values match the dimensions of your assembly space. While the design of your staircase may be sound in and of itself, failure to properly meet your landing height and wall length can lead to significant issues – largely aesthetic, but potentially structural. When measuring, do so from top to bottom as opposed to from bottom to top. A plumb bob might prove useful for getting an accurate floor-to-floor measurement.
The installation process itself is relatively straightforward, especially if you have already measured and cut the various pieces ready for the process. Start with the top of your staircase; your string and final riser terminate with an end piece ‘trimmer’, which is affixed to your floor and also hosts the top newel post. Your wall-side string can be propped by spare timber while you fix it into place.
Once you have worked your stairs structure down to the bottom, you can work your way back up with the installation of your steps and risers. Sometimes risers can be useful to install early, to keep your distance between string and wall true.