Wednesday, June 20, 2012 9:45 AM EDT
Last month, tired of perpetually peeling paint and constant clutter, my husband and I decided to DIY a front porch makeover
. First up, the stairs needed a complete rebuild. They had been seriously weathered by rain, snow
and sun for many years, and the wood from which they were fashioned was worn and cracked, making them slippery.
Executing this rebuild extra-challenging because we needed to accommodate both the steps and the back plates, as well as add a nice handrail. Everything had to fall exactly into place for the new stairs to be appealing and functional.
I’m not what you’d call handy, so I left the lion’s share of this task to my husband, Joe (yes, you remember your Audubon correctly: the lioness does
rule). The good news is that although it was a complex task, it only took Joe about one full day of work
to complete. One very full
Here is Joe’s step-by-step (or, steps by steps?) guide, offered with the caveat that Joe is not a professional, but did seek advice
at The Home Depot — and from his dad
. The After Materials
(all purchased at The Home Depot)
Total cost of materials:
- Ryobi Mitre Saw ($169)
- 2 x 6 wood steps
- 1 x 8 wood backing for steps
- 1 handrail, 1 handrail post and 9 pickets
- 1 x 4 railing support
- Veranda 4 x 4 Antique Black Post Cap/Solar Light ($30)
approximately $400 Step 1: Demolition of the old stairs
Joe used a crowbar to pry the old 2 x 6’s off the stringer. He reused the old stair stringer for the new stairs, in order to accommodate the 2 x 6 stair width and a slightly higher rise than a standard 5-step stringer. Still, some of the stringer points cracked during demolition, necessitating that Joe drill a small splint on the inside of the stringer, secured with a bit of carpenter’s glue. Step 2: Painting the new steps
We painted the steps in our garage, at night, to get a head start, completing several coats over 48 hours. (A bonus was that when we ran into our ‘rain delay’ later in the project, the steps were safely in the garage, already dry.) The first coat was intentionally diluted, 50 per cent water/50 per cent paint; it really soaks into the wood and acts as a primer. This was followed with two coats of pure paint; both sides, to seal the wood. The final coat, applied after installation, contained an anti-slip product. Step 3: Measuring and cutting
Joe organized the back steps and footsteps by placing all the new wood on the stringers, in order to determine if pieces had a slight bow in them, or fit better when matched with a similar cut. Step 4: Step installation
We started at the top and installed the back step first, then the footsteps. After all pieces were secured, we touched up the paint on any cut ends. Step 5: The railing
The smallest step, and somehow the longest. In this install, the footsteps extended 4 inches to the side
of the stringer, which made it a little trickier to install the railing pickets, as they can only be secured from the top and bottom, rather than directly into the side
of the stringer. Joe overcame the challenge with a little elbow grease — and, luckily, the kids
were at Nana and Papa’s house, so weren’t present for the bouts of foul language that periodically ensued.
Put two screws through the stringer into the post at the bottom, to make it secure. You can repeat this at the top, or use your existing post, as Joe did (the top post of the stairs was already secured to the wall).
Now comes the tricky part, as measuring angles is involved. (Trust your mitre saw, Joe advises. He spent a lot of trial-and-error time trying to figure out the best angle at which to cut the picket pieces. The angle he finally settled on was approx. 31.6° — which he then noticed was marked on his Ryobi.) Once the angle is settled, the height of each picket post can be measured. To make this easier, help define the shape of the railing with a 1 x 4 piece of wood. This is helpful for two reasons: one, because it is much cheaper to ruin a $2 piece of wood instead of drilling into a more expensive milled railing; two, because keeping the 1 x 4 allows you to increase the strength and thickness of the railing.
Once the handrail frame looks like a parallelogram, the picket can be measured and screwed in. Be sure to have a level attached at all times — the pickets must be vertical, to maintain that magical 31.6° slope. Also measure the distance between each picket, to confirm all is even and consistent from top to bottom. Once all measurements are confirmed, screw in the pickets from the bottom, through the 2 x 6 foot boards, using 3-inch screws.
More measuring, this time for the handrail length. Cut on your predetermined correct angle, then attach to the 1 x 4 rail. Finally, install a post cap. And go relax — you deserve it! Here's a sneak peek of the end result (yes, we intentionally cropped the image so you couldn't see the porch before we're ready for the big reveal): Next up: Choosing Exterior Paint