How to build stairs.
I said before that this is not a blog about how to build a dollhouse, and for the most part, that’s true. But I think I found the ‘right’ way to build two elements: stairs, and egg carton stones. I’m not saying that there are no other ways to build these ‘correctly.’ I’m just saying I think if you follow these how-tos, you’ll end up with stairs, and stones that you can be proud of. There are a number of ‘right’ ways to build these things, this is one of them.
I have built a handful of stairs now, and while I am still definitely not an expert, I think I found a easy and professional looking way to build stairs.
What doesn’t work for me?
I have built a number of sets of stairs now. Even though I’ve only built two dollhouses before this, I have built a dozen sets of stairs, because of the number of times I had to throw away my work on those first two dollhouses. I think I was unsuccessful on those first few attempts because I was trying to build the stairs more like you would in real life.
I tried measuring and building the skirtboard first. That’s the diagonal piece of wood that runs on the outside of the stairs from the ground to the next level. Each stair tread rests on the horizontal faces of the skirtboard, and the risers between each stair are nailed to the vertical faces.
Here’s an image of stairs I found here:
There are two problems with this for me:
- I am horrible at math. And figuring out how to build that skirtboard requires knowing how triangles work, and something about the pythagorean theorem. Hell, I can’t even spell pythagorean.
- I have to make sure that the stairs are built to scale, so I have to get that skirtboard perfect. That requires reliable maths, and precise saw cuts – two things I struggle with, immensely.
- In order for the stairs to appear correct, the rise and run need to be consistent from one stair to the next. When I rely on the skirtboard to get this consistency, I have to make sure every single cut on the skirtboard is perfect. No thanks.
What Does Work for Me:
Since the first problem I have is cutting perfectly consistent risers, I decided to instead rely on the perfectly consistent width of my plywood. In real life, stairs should be 11 inches wide (that’s the run), and the rise between each stair tread should be 7 inches. My spreadsheet tells me that at half-scale, my run should be 11 mm, and my rise should be 7mm. My plywood is all 1/4 inch thick, which is almost exactly 7mm. So, the thickness of my plywood is the exact rise I’m looking for. All I need to do is cut out a bunch of little chunks of 7mm thick wood, and make sure there are 11mm from the front of one chunk to the front of the next. I’ll spare you the paragraphs of text, but that little insight was the linchpin in how I built these stairs. Let’s do this as a step-by-step from here out:
- Cut a long straight piece of 1/4″ plywood, as wide as your stairs will be.
- Cut the strip of wood into pieces at least 15mm wide. You’ll want them all to be the same width at the end. It doesn’t matter if each one is 15 or 18 mm wide, as long as they are all the same, and they are all wider than 11mm.
- I have a box of popsicle sticks that are all 12mm wide. These will become the stair treads.
- Cut the rounded edge off of the popsicle sticks. I use a miterbox for this to ensure 90 degree cuts.
- The popsicle stick needs hang 1mm past the front of your stair.
- Use the popsicle stick’s width to draw a line on the stair.
- Add glue behind the line (I mark an X where I want the glue to go on each stair, that way I can measure and cut all the stairs at once, and I don’t risk getting confused on which end the tread needs to be glued on.
- Glue the second stair on top of the first.
- Scrape away any glue that squeezes out.
- Clean the under-side in case any glue squeezes out there.
- It’s really important that you got rid of all the glue that might have squeezed out
- Repeat this process for every stair.
- Glue all the stairs together (I liked the idea of a wider stair at the bottom, for the banister to rest on.
- Check your stairs to make sure they’ll go from the floor to the ceiling
- Cut all of your stair treads.
- I like to mark the ‘master’ tread with an M. This way, I’m sure to use that same tread to measure all the rest. If I didn’t do this, I could accidentally cut the second stair a half mm too short. If I used that stair to measure the next, and repeated the mistake, the mistake would grow with each stair. Using one ‘master’ tread to measure the rest minimizes these errors.
- Stain the stair treads. (I just use tweezers to hold the popsicle stick treads, and dip them in the can of stain. Then I set them out to dry.)
- Paint the ‘rise’ face of each step white.
- Add glue to the ‘run’ face of each step.
- Glue the stair treads to the run face of each step.
- Assemble all of the steps.
- Glue the stairs to the wall they will be installed next to.
- Cut the wall that will be on the outside of the stairs.
- Install a thin piece of wood on top of that plywood.
- Build a bannister, and cut toothpicks (these will be the spindles)
- Glue a handrail on top of the spindles, and glue it all to the outside edge of the stairs.
- That’s it – the stairs are done, and they look consistent from floor to ceiling.
What others have to say:
Here are a few other ideas about how you can build stairs:
- Let’s Build a Dollhouse explains how to build the stairs that inspired what I built.
- My Miniature Madness explains some of the math required to build stairs.
- Tiny Distinction has a tutorial on how to build dollhouse stairs.
- Our Pastimes has a tutorial on how to build dollhouse stairs with popsicle sticks.
- Build Eazy shows how to build a spiral staircase – this is where i got the idea for using the width of the plywood to establish consistent rise.