Build Wooden Exterior Steps

finished steps
Better Homes and Gardens contributing editor Danny Lipford shares his step-by-step instructions for installing exterior steps in an afternoon.

How To Build Steps

Precut, notched stringers take a lot of the work out of building exterior steps. These stringers typically have 7-inch rises and 11-inch runs, and the tops can be cut to fit against the entry joist. With some basic carpentry skills and these simple instructions, you'll have your set of steps up in no time.

Prepare the Area

Start by removing shrubs and plants from the area where the steps will be located. Next, level the ground and build up low spots with fill dirt so the area slopes away from the house.

Precut Stringers

Constructing a set of steps used to require complicated measurements and numerous angled cuts to form the notched stringers that support the treads and riser boards. Precut stringers, available at home centers and building supply stores, make the job much easier. They are usually cut to accommodate a standard 11-inch wide tread with a 7-inch rise per step.

Measure for Steps

Measure the width of the opening and the height from the top step to ground level. Next, calculate the number of steps you will need, allowing a 7-inch rise for each. Once you know how many steps you'll need, compile a list of materials. Materials include a stringer at both ends, one stringer for every 16 inches in between, treads, riser boards, a 2 X 4 anchor board, and corrosion-resistant screws or nails. All materials should be made of pressure-treated wood or rot-resistant material.

Cut Anchor Board to Length

Attach a 2 X 4 anchor board to the side of the house to support the stringers. To determine the length of the anchor board, measure the width of the door opening and subtract 3 inches to allow for the stringers that will be nailed on each end. Square up one end of the anchor board, then cut it to length.

Attach Anchor Board

Position the anchor board on the side of the house and screw it in place. Make sure it's level with the house and centered on the doorway. When attaching the anchor board to brick or concrete, drill pilot holes with a masonry bit to accommodate anchors or masonry screws.

Attach Outside Stringers

Position the outside stringers against the house so they are flush with the top of the anchor board. Be sure the step notches are level and the stringers are square with the house. Bricks or solid concrete blocks can be placed under the bottom of the stringers to keep them off the ground and provide a level foundation. Once the stringers are in place, nail them to the ends of the anchor board.

Attach Inside Stringers

Cut 1-1/2 inches off the top of each middle stringer to allow for the thickness of the anchor board. The cut should be made parallel to the existing angled cut. Toenail the middle stringers to the anchor board so they are flush with the top.

Attach Bottom Riser

Cut the 1 X 8 riser boards to the same length as the step framing where it attaches to the house. Nail a riser to the lower end of the stringers to tie the step framing together. When attaching the riser, make sure it's flush with the top of the step notch on each stringer.

Cut Treads to Length

Cut the treads to length, adding an inch to each end to allow for overhang. Using two 6-inch wide treads on each step will reduce the chance of cracking and cupping.

Attach Treads

Position the treads on the stringers, and nail or screw them in place. Be sure to allow enough overhang on the front of each step to accommodate the thickness of the risers.

Rip Risers to Width

Measure the distance from the top of a tread to the bottom of the tread above it, and rip the remaining 1 X 8 risers to the correct width.

Attach Risers

Make sure the risers are flush with the outside stringers, then nail the risers to the stringers.

Finished Steps

Because these steps were made from pressure-treated pine, they will last for many years. Pressure-treated pine usually arrives wet with preservative, so allow the wood to dry out before finishing with an exterior porch and deck paint or waterproofing stain.

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