DIYer April Wilkerson Shows Us the Best Way to Build New Steps Using Sturdy Pressure Treated Southern Yellow Pine

Prepare to Flex Your DIY Skills

The creaking sound every time you take a step on that one spot, the cracking unsightly treads you’ve learned to skip over, the wobbly handrail you have to warn guests about – there are many signs that your stairs need replacing. And if you’ve been putting it off, no one would blame you. It’s definitely not a simple little weekend project. So if you do plan on building new stairs, prepare to put your DIY skills to the test.

Take April Wilkerson, for example. She’s a woodworking master with countless projects under her tool belt, and it still took her a solid seven days to complete her new stairs. So the first step to tackling this project? Make sure you’ve budgeted enough time to get it done right. The last thing you want is to run out of time after you’ve completed the demolition (more on that later). 

Another consideration to factor in is when it comes to calculating the stringer measurements, you may need to call in a favor from a pro builder or an engineering friend. And when removing existing posts, you may need a little extra muscle. All this is not to deter you from this incredibly rewarding project – just a friendly heads-up on what you can expect.


Best Building Material for New Stairs 

If you’re going to put your DIY skills to the test on this project, you’re going to want a durable building material that won’t need replacing for decades to come. That’s where Southern Yellow Pine comes in. It’s a strong, dense and durable wood. It also has a unique cellular structure, making it the preferred species for pressure treatment. 

And using preserved wood will extend the life of your new staircase even longer compared to untreated materials that need to be replaced more often. This means less work for you down the road and a smaller footprint for the environment. So it’s a green choice too. In fact, using wood instead of manmade materials benefits climate stabilization in a number of ways.

Plus, if aesthetics is one of the motivating factors for updating your staircase, you can’t go wrong with the distinct grain pattern of Southern Yellow Pine. The golden honey color makes it a great choice for DIYers who appreciate wood’s natural beauty. 


Dos and Don’ts of Staircase Demolitions

After you’ve sourced out your material, then it’s time to tear down the old stairs. This may actually be therapeutic for some. As for tools, April began dismantling her steps with a sawzall. She started with the railings, then moved on to the actual steps.

After that, it’s a good idea to inspect your posts to see if they can be salvaged because removing them is a fairly big task in and of itself. In April’s case, she wanted an all new staircase, so the concrete-set posts had to go.

“Now I know that there’s multiple ways of doing this but I tried a way of using a high lift jack which, if you’re not familiar with, can be very dangerous …just like any other tool,” she explains. “So, if you’re going to use one, be sure to be careful. I attached two 2x4s to the front side of the post so that I could essentially start jacking the post directly up out of the ground.” 

Here is where you may need an extra set of hands here. Even with the best tools pulling out cemented posts can be quite tricky. Once you’ve knocked the entire case down, it’s time to build your brand new stairs!

Best Practices for Replacing a Set of Side Stairs After Demo

Add New Post Brackets  

If there is an existing concrete slab leftover from the original staircase, drill holes where each of the four platform posts will go and install a new supporting bracket for each. 

Set Platform Posts 

Put an inner post in a bracket, make sure it’s plumb on both sides and then fasten it temporarily to your home using some scrap wood to hold it in place. Repeat with the other inner post. Then set an outer post and do the same, except use a cross brace to hold it in place. Repeat with the other outer bracket. 

Trim Platform Posts 

Use a speed square to mark the final height of the platform on all four posts. Then cut all four posts to size, using a smaller sawzall.

Attach Header Boards 

Cut four boards to desired size and if using carriage bolts, predrill on the ground before lugging each board up your ladder to attach. Once wood is ready for installation, clamp one board at a time  between two posts on the exposed side, line up the headboard hole into the hole location on the post, hammer two bolts in place on each post and then secure with washers and nuts. Repeat along all three remaining sides of the platform parameter. 

Build Bracing Members

Build four large Xs. For each, clamp the bottom board, mark where the top board will cross over, make multiple cuts using a circular saw and then notch out the bits with the claw end of your hammer. Then install each finished brace between the backside of two posts. 

Install Decking 

Using a joist hanger, install a third floor joist down the center for extra support before laying down all the decking. Run a line of construction glue along the top of two parallel headboards. Then using a ¼” spacer, lay down a board and secure it into place with two screws on each end. For the last board, you may need to rip it to size so that it’s flush with the headboard.

Handrail posts 

Using a circular saw, notch out corners for a more secure fit, then attach to each platform corner with glue and screws.

Lay Out Stringers.

  • NOTE This is where you may need a pro to help you measure and mark. Once that is done, use a circular saw to make initial cuts. Don’t go past the line but just write up to it. For efficiency, make all the cuts going in one direction, and then all the cuts going in the opposite direction. Then come back to complete the cuts with a sawzall or jigsaw. Use the first stringer as a template for the other two and repeat the cutting process.

Install Stringer

Attach each stringer to the platform. The space you leave between the top of the stringer and the top of the front headboard should be the height of one tread, so that it’s flush with the platform 

  • NOTE If your stringers happen to line up with where the carriage bolts are, you’ll need to use the round portion of the palm sander to create some divot so they line up perfectly flush with the header.

Add Kicker Plate 

Place underneath all three stringers at the bottom and secure to a concrete pad, using constructive adhesive and concrete screws. 

Attach Risers 

Start off your installation with the bottom piece. Then take another riser and mark where the center stringer should be and install it around the midpoint of the staircase to square up the structure.Then install the rest of the risers. 

Install Treads

If you want your steps to have a slight overhang, cut a scrap piece of wood to use as a spacer to make sure every step hangs over the outside stringer the exact same amount, then screw in three nails per stringer for each tread.

Build Handrails

Notch out the outer side of the bottom tread as well as another outside tread halfway up the case. Set railing posts on nocthed area of tread and attach using a live bolt. Repeat on the other tread. Install two parallel railings between bottom post and mid post and then mid post and top post. Once installed, use a circular saw to cut posts to final height with angle using two passes. 

  • NOTE  This part is very customizable and Southern Yellow Pine is very versatile, so find a look that you like before tackling this portion. 

Install Spindles 

Attach base rails to between both sets of handrail posts. Then start adding spindles using a spacer, go through and secure spindles to the base rail  and then go through and secure all the top ends to the handrail. Add bottom trim and add caps for a more finished look. 

Almost Done! 

At this point, your new staircase is sturdy enough for use. But you will want to come back at some point and add two more posts in concrete to secure the stringers for the long haul. 

To get started on this Southern Yellow Pine project, visit a local lumber retail yard near you. And for more detailed instructions, visit April Wilkerson’s DIY Plans page.