Complete Step Building Guide for Beginners

Learn how to build steps like the the pros with this complete guide. It covers maximum rises, minimum runs and how to check for headroom. Discover the most common mistakes and how to avoid them.

About Rises and Runs

The Rise is the vertical distance the steps will travel. In other words, the rise begins on the bottom floor’s finished walking surface. It ends on the next floor’s finished walking surface. It is important to realize how important to realize the significance of calculating and laying from the finished walking surface of not only the top and bottom floor, but of the steps themselves. The steps are divided into individual Risers usually governed by a building code. 7 3/4″ is a common standard for residential homes. This means that 7 3/4″ is the maximum rise a single step can have for use in residential homes. The risers also have to be uniform with each other to 3/16″.

The Run¬†is the horizontal distance the steps will travel. It begins at the leading edge at the bottom step and ends with the back of the last step. The steps are divided into individual Runs also usually governed by a building code. 10″ is common for the length of the run. This means that the minimum cut on the stringers is 10″. It is important to realize that the run and the width of the step are not the same. The distance a step’s tread overlaps the lower step does not count.


Most building codes strictly enforce a minimum Headroom of 6′ 8″. Headroom is measured by the vertical distance from a the lower edge of any overhead structure to any imaginary line on the points of the stringer. Make sure to have adequate headroom.

Cutting Steps

Using a framing square, mark the steps by holding the blade of the square on the run and holding the tongue on the rise. Advance each layout carefully. Framing square stops work well for marking repetitive layouts. Adjust for the thickness of the finished step tread by subtracting its thickness from the bottom step. In other words, the layout mark that represents the part of the stringer that will contact the floor.

Use a circular saw to cut the top and bottom steps only. Position the stringer in place and tack it. Check the layout marks for level. Then make sure you have proper clearance at the bottom of the steps and are maintaining headroom. Cut the remaining steps and use the stringer as a pattern to mark the other stringers with.

It is often necessary to install the steps with temporary treads. 2 x 10 pine works great for this. Nail them down with a minimum of one 12d nail in the stringer under each step. Any more than this will make removal much more difficult.

Closing Thoughts

Use premium materials and fasteners and your steps will be sure to provide years of service. If worse should happen to come to worse, then do not hesitate to enlist professional help. Advice from an experienced carpenter can go a long ways to help you out of a tight spot.