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Curved Stairs: Add Eye-Catching Value To Your Home

outdoor deck and staircase

Curved Stairs: Add Eye-Catching Value To Your Home

deck and curved staircase stairs

Deckremodelers.com

By Mike Wark

If you’re looking to add some unique flavour to your home or deck, adding a set of curved stairs will bring some serious elegance and style to your next home renovation project. If well designed, curved stairs provide more than just their functional purpose, offering a focal point of design, and a centerpiece of master craftsmanship and artistry. While at first glance, they may appear complex, the design comes down to simple math and a little creativity. Here’s a look at the process.curved stairs

Step 1: Calculating the Numbers and Laying Out the Stringers

curved staircase stairs diagram blueprint

As with any stair, building curved stairs involves calculating the unit rise and run (height and length) of the treads and risers. Similar to straight flights, unit rise is calculated by dividing the total rise of the stair by the number or risers. However, unlike straight flights, curved stairs actually have two unit runs, based on the inside and outside radius of the stair. This is calculated by drawing out a full-sized layout of the stair, based on a radius point set at a given distance from the inside edge of the stair. Oftentimes, the inside unit run is taken as the minimum measurement allowed by building code, which is 150mm (6 inches), but can be calculated by using the radius to find the inside total run of the stair (a percentage of the circumference, based on the total degrees turned by the stair), and dividing this by the number of treads. The outside unit run is found in a similar manner, using the outside radius. Once these numbers are established, we can move on to lay out the stringers, which is done the same as with a straight flight, using a framing square to transfer the unit rise and run to the outside stringer plies.

 

Step 2: Forming the Curved Stringers

curved stairs in development

Once the outside stringer plies are laid out, it comes time to form the stringers to the curvature of the stairs. In order to achieve the desired strength to support the treads and risers, as well as the curve in the stringer, it is necessary to laminate multiple layers of thin plywood together, glued and clamped, and bent around temporary curved walls built in place to support the stairs until the treads are installed, held in place with finishing nails. The on-centre stud spacing on these walls should be no more than 6-8” to ensure a tight curve, and joints in the outer layer of plywood should land on studs.

On a recent stair built for a local theatre company, we used 4 layers of 3/8” plywood per stringer, laminated and held in place along temporary walls. As you can see, make sure you have plenty of clamps!

Step 3: Cutting the Stringers

Once the glue has dried, the stringers can be removed from the temporary walls, and cleaned up using a belt sander to ensure top and bottoms of the plies are flush. Finishing nails used to hold the outside plies to the walls can be cut off with an angle grinder or broken off. After clean-up, a circular saw or jigsaw is used to cut along the layout lines on the outside plies of the stringers, to form the support surfaces for the treads and risers. Once the stringers have been cut, they can be clamped back onto the temporary walls for installation of the treads and risers.

Step 4: Installing Treads and Risers

curved staircase near completion

With the stringers in place, treads and risers now be installed for the curved stairs. It is a good idea to start at the top and work your way down, first installing the top riser, followed by the next tread down, which is glued and screwed to the stringer. By this method, the bottom of the riser is covered by the inside edge of the tread, creating a seamless corner junction. In addition, the stiffness of the riser acts in the same fashion as a beam, providing shear strength between the two stringers, and reducing bounce when weight is applied to the stair.

If the stair will be open on one or both sides, it will be necessary to first install the risers, then remove the temporary walls and support the stair with temporary posts from below, so that a side-nosing on the treads can be accommodated.

Step 5: Finishing and Install

Following installation of the treads and risers, the stair can be removed from the temporary walls, finished with stain, painted, optional veneer on the stringers, or endless other options, and installed in its final location, and handrail installed. With that, you can enjoy your beautiful stair that will receive compliments and catch eyes for years to come!

 

Mike Wark is a guest contributor, and a construction carpenter with Homestead
Custom Carpentry, a general contractor specializing in home renovations, serving the
Central Alberta region. Before entering the field of construction, Mike earned his B.A.
in Political Science from Carleton University, and is currently working towards his
Project Management Professional (PMP) designation, with a focus on construction
management.

 

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A Red Deer Carpenter’s Story

A Red Deer Carpenter Story

red deer home builder carpenter working outdoors wearing cap and white shirtI remember very clearly when I first began learning carpentry, and started the journey it would take me on in the years to come. I had just graduated from university, was recently married and new to the area, and I felt I was at a crossroads as to what the next step in my career would be. Despite my best efforts, local jobs for Political Science graduates in the Red Deer area seemed to be in short supply, and frankly, I didn’t fancy a job as a government analyst or political party staffer. Thus, I found myself retooling my resumé, and seeking out connections in the local construction and renovation industry.

Back then, the economy was still pretty hot on the last housing boom, and it wasn’t long before I found a Journeyman willing to take me on as an carpentry apprentice, working as part of a fast-paced production framing crew. Our company had recently won a large contract to build about a dozen multiplex townhouse units in southeast Red Deer, and the project was expected to take around 3 years to complete.

I quickly discovered that production residential house framing was unlike anything I’d ever done before in my life. The work was almost exclusively outside, year-round in all kinds of weather, labour-intensive, and with a schedule that required strict efficiency, tight quality standards, and a fast learning curve. As the new guy, it took me a little while to find my place on the construction crew. I made my fair share of mistakes, like anyone learning anything new does, but it wasn’t until later on that I discovered that this was just part of the learning process, and I learned not to beat myself up too much for it. Over time I gradually improved in my skills, and began to appreciate seeing the transformation of the build site, from what began as nothing more than an empty field with a hole in the ground, to a series full-fledged homes with dozens of guys working on site in different roles.

Framing multiplexes had some funny moments – like the time I got my boots stuck in ankle-deep mud while building a roof on the ground, and my boss refused to get me out until he’d snapped some pictures of me struggling. We also had some not-so-funny moments – like the time I spent the afternoon in the ER after a run in with the nail gun. Overall, the experience was a challenging, but incredibly useful one for me, and I now look upon my first year and a half spent framing as my “trial by fire” into the world of construction.

While learning on the job provided me with valuable hands-on experience, my time attending Carpentry school at Red Deer College supplemented my education with many of the technical aspects I needed to know, and helped round out my skill-set as a carpenter. In Alberta, the apprenticeship program is structured that every year, you spend 10 months working on the job, and two months attending technical training, and you must attain a required number of experience hours and pass a competency exam (the dreaded “TQ”), to be recognized at the next level. As Carpentry is one of, if not the most varied of all the trades, the sheer amount of material learned is surprising to many seeing it for the first time – alongside framing (or “rough carpentry” as it is known), prospective carpenters learn skills in surveying, layout, concrete forming, demolition, blueprint interpretation and design, building science and structure, fine finishing, and many other areas. With each progressive year, the subject matter grows more complex, until at the end of the 4-year program, apprentice carpenters are confident in the many required skill areas demanded of them on the job. It’s a point of pride that Alberta turns out some of the most highly skilled Journeyman Carpenters in the world.

Following my first year of Carpentry technical training, I was offered a position with a radically different company, Homestead Custom Carpentry, led by owner, Brent Purdie. “Homestead” specializes in upper-scale renovations and project management, and works directly with homeowner clients to help them realize the potential of their homes, and make their remodeling dreams a reality. I quickly found that while I had enjoyed framing (most of the time), getting into renovations provided a thrill of a different kind, allowing me to understand the greater picture behind home renovation projects, as I got to be a part of the custom process all the way from conception to completion. It also allowed me to develop a greater independence and confidence in my work, and to learn that many times in many places, there’s more than one right way of accomplishing a task.

One of the things I have come to appreciate most about working with Homestead is that integrity is the driving value that defines how the company operates. As a strong Christian, I would say that my faith is the underlying principle defining how I live my life, and since I know the same is true for Brent, I can be confident in knowing that all of Homestead’s interactions with clients, business partners, and the community at large are honest, truthful, and quality-driven. As Colossians 3:23 points out, “Whatever you do, do it willingly, as if working for the Lord, rather than for men.” To find and work for a company that makes a point out of not cutting corners, providing honest quotes, and looking out for a client’s best interests, even at a potential loss of revenue, is a rare thing that I am glad for, and one that has taught me that in both life and business, there are things that are much more important than making a profit.

I am now finishing up the last year of my Carpentry apprenticeship, and still glad to be working for Homestead. Recently, I began taking some courses on project management, in hopes of obtaining my Project Management Professional (PMP) designation, following the completion of my Journeyman Carpenter’s ticket. I’ve had the opportunity to work on some fantastic projects, meet some wonderful people, and learn a lot during the last several years, and I’m excited for what the future may hold.