How to Build Outdoor Wooden Steps to Spruce Up Your Entry

white house wooden fence
Photo: Kim Cornelison

Create an inviting entry point to your deck, patio, or door with a new set of wooden stairs. These step-by-step instructions will show you how to build outdoor wooden steps in an afternoon with a few basic carpentry skills.

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How to Build Wooden Steps

finished steps

Precut, notched stair stringers ($22, Home Depot) take a lot of the work out of building outdoor wooden steps. These stringers typically have 7-inch rises and 11-inch runs, and the tops can be cut to fit against the entry joist. Put your carpentry skills to work with these how-to instructions for building a beautiful set of wooden steps.

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Step 1. Prepare the Area for Wooden Steps

clear the area

Building outdoor wooden steps requires a clear, level area. Start by removing shrubs and plants from the spot where the steps will be located, which could be alongside the house, a porch, or a deck. Next, level the ground and build up low spots with fill dirt so the area slopes away from the house.

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Step 2: Purchase Precut Stringers

precut step

Constructing a set of wooden 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.

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Step 3: Measure for Wooden Steps

measure the steps

Measure the width of the door 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 2x4-inch anchor board, and corrosion-resistant screws or nails. All materials should be made of pressure-treated wood or rot-resistant material.

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Step 4: Cut Anchor Board to Length

cut anchor board

Attach a 2x4-inch 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.

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Step 5: Attach Anchor Board for Wooden Steps

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.

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Step 6: Attach Outside Stringers for Wooden Steps

attach outside stringer

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.

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Step 7: Attach Inside Stringers for Wooden Steps

attach inside stringers

Cut 1 1/2 inches off the back 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.

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Step 8: Attach Bottom Step Riser

attach bottom riser

Cut the 1x8-inch 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.

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Step 9: Cut Step Treads to Length

cut treads to lengh

For each outdoor wooden step, cut two 6-inch wide treads to length. Add an inch to each end to allow for overhang. Using two treads on each wooden step will reduce the chance of cracking and cupping.

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Step 10: Attach Step Treads

attach treads

Position the wooden step 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.

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Step 11: Cut Risers to Width

rip risers to width

Measure the distance from the top of a tread to the bottom of the tread above it. Cut the remaining 1x8-inch risers to the correct width. Use a rip cut parallel to the wood grain.

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Step 12: Attach Step Risers to Wooden Steps

attach risers

Nail the wooden step risers to the stringers. Make sure the risers are flush with the outside stringers before attaching.

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Step 13: Finish Wooden Steps

finished steps

Your outdoor wooden steps are now finished and ready to paint or stain. Because these stairs 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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