Stepped It Up

August 27, 2013   //  Posted in: Buying and Renting and Selling, Curb Appeal, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  6 responses

Having the driveway replaced at our old house/rental house is a real weight off my shoulders. We were allowed to drive on it for the first time on Saturday, and we did the honors in the Jeep while it was loaded to the brim with pressure treated wood. As it would seem, the work never ends, and we were left with the pleasure of replacing the stairs that led to the front door.

It should have been really easy to replace the stairs–just get some new joist hangers and nail it into place–but because so many layers of old cement and asphalt were removed with the excavation, our overall driveway is actually about 6-8″ lower than the previous one. Rebuilding from scratch was the best course of action, and a little blessing in disguise as we were able to also seize the opportunity to upgrade the handrails. It’s not that the ones we built a few years ago (read: this and this) were of terrible quality (they did pass an inspection as recent as June), but they had loosened up a lot over the last year and we knew we could make them sturdier with a few simple design upgrades.

This post isn’t intended so much to be a tutorial, we relied heavily on online resources to fine tune what we already knew this time around, and benefitted from cutting the stringers ourselves, and figuring out what simply looked best when using simple store-bought balusters. Thank you, Internet.

We didn’t need to alter the number of steps–three up to the landing would still do–but we did have to calculate a new rise and run for the whole unit so that the steps would be even from the ground to the landing. We ended up using two 2×12 boards from which to make our cuts, which cost approximately $32 as opposed to the precut variety sold at our local big box for $8.50/each for a 3-step unit ($25), but customization was necessary in this case, and cutting stringers just seems like one of those things that we should know how to do. Read this tutorial to get a good idea of how this works, and then make it easy on yourselves and clamp the square to a scrap board for consistency from step to step.

Make custom stringers for your staircase.

It was the first real time I got down with the power tools since learning I was pregnant. I blame that lack of labor on a combo of mild fear of hurting myself, moving and spending months trying to organize the tools, and actually finding a new project that needed something heavier-duty than a cordless drill. We missed each other, clearly. And as they say, the baby’s hearing stuff in there and already getting accustomed to noises in the outside world, so I figure that getting it used to hearing power tools will only work in our favor in the coming years.

Cutting boards for the new stairs using the chop saw.

Getting back into the woodworking DIY projects felt really good after so many months off, and there was plenty that I could do to help keep the project moving while Pete still carried the heavy-duty lifting that came with the project, like measuring boards, drilling and screwing using the lighter, cordless machinery, prepping tools, and clearing scraps.

We did a few things differently this time around; because we used 2×12″ boards, we used extra 2×12″ lumber as a ledger on which to attach the stairs to the structure.

New header for the stairs to attach to.

We used 5/4 deck boards doubled up to make 11″ steps, which were a little deeper than what we had used previously. Plus, it matches the top landing.


We also reinforced the 4×4 posts differently as well. As opposed to relying on galvanized cups for the boards to sit in on the surface of the deck boards, we wrapped each post over the joist by notching it with the chop saw and a wood chisel, and bolting it securely in place. Big difference.

Notching the porch railing for reinforcement.

We followed a similar formula as last time for the top rails, but strayed from the previously horizontal board design and opted for traditional 2×2 balusters for the railings. I was always surprisingly opposed to this design, but it does actually look great, and a little less like we’re trying to force a modern design on a traditional home.

New stairs, finished!

I didn’t get an updated picture from the curb (because we worked both Saturday and Sunday until it was nearly dark out), but the completed unit looks great; we’re letting the pressure treated wood dry out considerably for the next few weeks/months and then will weatherproof it before winter. Eventually–hopefully sooner than later–the stairs and rails should weather nicely to match the darker brown landing. Or, we’ll stain or paint it to be uniform.

  • Mark Winters
    4 years ago - Reply

    Looks good!

  • Sharon Dela-Hamaide
    4 years ago - Reply

    Nice job! This is perfect timing, because we just got a new door to an area that USED to have a deck in a location that was far too sunny. Now we will just have a small patio and stairs like this will be perfect. Thanks for all that you share with us. We really enjoy it.

    • Emily
      4 years ago -

      Glad that you enjoyed it – hopefully the references in the post will help you in building your own!

  • jb @BuildingMoxie
    4 years ago - Reply

    Been so long since I checked in, and have really been behind on my reading — just now getting to this one. well done. great starting point for a simple set of exterior stairs. Thanks and hope you guys are doing great.

    • Emily
      4 years ago -

      Thanks jb! We’re great, hope you are as well!

  • John
    2 years ago - Reply


    For connecting your balusters, I was wondering what your top and bottom rails’ material dimensions are? Did you split a larger piece of lumber to create the rails? Thx.

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