How do I build curved staircases with real wood?

Written by natasha parks
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How do I build curved staircases with real wood?
A curved staircase can be built properly without professional machinery. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Curved staircases can be built from real, solid wood without the need for cheaper looking laminates, which will suit DIY enthusiasts who are looking for a professional, sturdy appearance from their new staircase. Traditionally, tightly curved handrails and staircase components were made using a technique called "wreathing," but it was time consuming and very expensive. Newer designs are constructed using more recently developed techniques, including "twisting" which uses ordinary woodworking machinery, but is fast and effective.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Solid wood
  • Computer aided design program
  • Tape measure
  • Calculator
  • Pencil
  • Straight rule
  • Thick gloves
  • Eye protection
  • Bench vice
  • Work bench
  • Circular saw
  • Sand paper
  • Indoor wood varnish
  • Paintbrush
  • Wood glue
  • Damp cloth
  • Spirit level
  • Wood screws
  • Screwdriver

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  1. 1

    Choose the type of wood you wish to make your staircase from. Consider a solid wood such as mahogany, which is ideal for darker decors and can be moulded relatively easily, or a lighter wood such as pine or walnut for brighter decors, both of which are also malleable enough to twist. Purchase enough materials to make the staircase, including handrails, plus 10 per cent extra if you find you have underestimated.

  2. 2

    Plan the design, with dimensions to fit your home, either on paper or with the aid of a computer design program, such as "Stair Designer." Input the measurements you know, such as room height, proposed stair depth and proposed "sweep," or angle of the curve. CAD programs can assist you with calculating individual measurements. A sweep angle of 90 degrees is possible, according to KX Cad. Try to fit the staircase against a solid, curved wall as this is easier than making one that stands alone, central to the room.

  3. 3

    Decide on your vertical rise for each step using a tape measure. Aim for the typical step rise of 7.25 inches, as described by What Price. Calculate how many steps you need to make in your curved staircase by dividing the total height of the proposed staircase run (from the bottom step to the top level, such as the upper floor level) by your selected vertical step rise.

  4. 4

    Allow the computer design program to calculate tread depth for you as this is one of the most crucial measurements. Tread depth is the depth of each step and changes the way your feet fit on the staircase. Aim for an optimum tread depth rather than one that is too short, because you will find the staircase uncomfortable to walk up and down if your feet are hanging too far off the steps.

  5. 5

    Create the required number of steps and vertical risers (the pieces of wood at the back of each step). Measure the steps and risers from flat wood using the tape measure. Mark the design onto the wood with a pencil and straight rule. Make each step "tapered," which means the inner edge is not as wide as the outer edge, and fits curved staircases better. You can still achieve a good tread depth with uneven, "tapered" steps provided the angle of the taper is quite abrupt, which means it goes from wide to narrow in a short distance.

  6. 6

    Mount your pieces of uncut wood in a bench vice that is mounted firmly on a quality, sturdy work bench. Cut each step and riser from your flat pieces of wood using a circular saw for neat, straight edges. Turn the saw off and unplug it when finished. Sand the edges of the steps using progressively fine sandpaper until a smooth finish is observed. Varnish each piece for extra surface shine and protection from wear and tear using indoor wood varnish and a paintbrush.

  7. 7

    Build a curved, rounded handrail to fit your staircase using matching wood. Break up the curve design into segments as you plan the twisting process. Cut each segment separately using a circular saw. Number them in the correct order. Fit the segments together using strong wood glue. Wipe excess glue off using a damp cloth. Sand and varnish the handrail as with the steps.

  8. 8

    Make straight, narrow supporting struts to connect the stairs to the handrail. Sand and varnish each piece. Check each step for balance using a spirit level before securing it. Fix the components together using wood glue, wood screws and a screwdriver. Hide the screws away underneath the visible parts of the staircase for better aesthetic appeal, but never compromise on safety by not adding enough fixings.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not attempt to create rectangular or moulded (unique shaped) handrails using solid wood as it can only be used successfully to make rounded handrails, according to NT Designs.
  • Support every aspect of the staircase to avoid collapse and injury. Wear thick gloves and eye protection when operating a circular saw to avoid serious cuts. Never cut wood with a circular saw on an ordinary table or without a vice holding it in place as you could drop the wood and lose control of the saw, resulting in serious injury.

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