A DIY: The Stair Project. Part One.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

planed pine wood
This is it.  It's time.  It is time for the stair project.  THE Stair Project.  The main stair, the only stair taking us from the first floor to the second.  The Right By The Front Door When You Enter stair.  The Big Stair DIY.

Only after eight years and change of living here, cough, after all.

stair before
Go big or go home, eh?  Well wait, I already am home.

Since I've been teasing this over on the Instagrams, I felt I should get rolling on sharing it here too.

So what has been my hold up all these years?  Oh.  Well.  Lots of things.

current before
....right, this is the current today before actually.  With the spiffy new paint on the walls, what a dreamy color. Oh and the heh, the paint for the metal stair out front repair too!
Cost for one.  Hampered by design ideas, two.  Obviously it was going to be a DIY so that was a major factor in the design decision and the cost.  A design decision based on DIY and cost then also materials too.

Something that won't be slippery.  Something that will look sharp and not like a sloppy hack.  By someone who isn't a fancy pants carpenter.  With limited tools (no table saw, remember).  And a shop located in the basement.

I went through a slew of ideas in my head.  A slew.  Aaaah freakin' slew.  Years worth of slew.

From re-carpeting (eh I am not a carpet fan personally -- allergen and dirt trappers), to covering or painting or stenciling or something on the risers, to paint or something on the treads with a runner, to covering everything with veneer or thin plywood or boxing them in.  Covering the treads in skim coat concrete....

I mean, my concepts were everywhere....yet nowhere.

Searching online for stair images, modern stair images, DIY stair images.....They're generally pretty much alike:  a white painted riser with a stained or painted tread.  

A white-painted riser seems incredibly impractical with shoes and dog paws banging against them, scuffing and smearing dirt.  I'd be scrubbing daily.  No thanks.

Super popular look and super popular easy DIY for sure; just not workable for our house nor my personal taste.  

Plus, I need to stick to the tread thickness; I can't put in a thinner (typically 3/4" thick) tread as that would change the rise height, which equals dangerous trip hazard.  They vary too much as it is.

Last I left off had I ripped the carpet off the top two steps and stained the pine to match-ish the existing wood floors.

Staining pine, if you've ever tried, isn't necessarily easy.  Pine takes stain weirdly and unevenly, the end result usually dull, highly lackluster.  Plus of course pine is a soft wood unlike a walnut or oak so it wears faster.

But, the more I thought about staining the pine, while a great blog post for my enthusiastic DIY'ers out there, it wasn't the right solution for this stair.  I did figure out how to do it so it looks terrific.

As it turns out though, the new stair is going to be pine.  Ha!  But pine from trees that grew in the 1800's.  Pine circa 1898 says the tag.

tag for salvaged reclaimed pine wood
It's old-growth pine and that means it's quite different than pine you can buy at your local home improvement store.  And the 2x12 construction grade pine as treads currently.

Great Lakes Yard was in the process of downsizing for a move so I popped by in search of, well, I guess browsing.  I met Meegan the owner who clearly has a passion for old and salvaged wood.  It's my fault for following her on Instagram; I did this to myself.

First thing she directed me to was that particular pine and after a few (several) discussions with Mike, it became clear this was the path to take.

One major monster glitch?  I needed a planer.*  

Baby didn't have a planer.  Neither did the Chicago Tool Library which is an outstanding resource if you're in Chicago.  Start one in your community today!  And neither did any home improvement store have one for rent.

Yeah those were um, entertaining chats with Mike.  He opted to gift baby a planer.  Iiiiiii know.  On the condition I find lots of things to plane.  So uh, what do you need planed?

It's a beaut.*  And it is so fun.  And soooo messy!  And so loud!  (Get a pair of those earmuff type* ear protectors with a high dB rating.)  And super heavy.  But so fun.  SO fun!  Seriously, what do you need planed?  I'm on it.

sawdust shavings from planing wood
There's a garage floor under here somewhere.
So I ran a few test pieces of random wood through the planer and it was just so damn cool.  

Then I got brave and ran a few pieces of The Pine through and was utterly agog at how beautiful the wood was.  Like jaw ---> floor.

pine before
Piece of pine going in....

old growth pine planed after
.....and out the other side.  Insert googlie eyes here!
I'd originally planned to stain the wood but the planer altered that plan.  Along with that plan change is also now figuring out design, disassembly, assembly, finishing and of course a zillion other little things along the way that requires testing, planning, scheming, and loads of contemplation.

pine before and after planing
Left, after.  Before, the last board on the right.  Picture doesn't do it justice.
As I sit here writing this to you, there is a lot yet to figure out.  A lot to test, check, think on, and build.

prying up stair tread
New wrecking bar* in hand, sneaking a peek under the first existing tread.
So stay tuned my friends, this DIY Stair Project is on!  On!  Woo hoo!

*One planer link is an Amazon affiliate link, along with the ear protection and wrecking bar while the other planer link is a Home Depot affiliate link.  Mwah, thanks!  Please see the "boring stuff" tab for more info.


  1. Now I see why it took you 8 years to start. I've been there my friend and you'd think I've learned my lesson--that being to just get on with it and figure it out as you go--but noooo, I think and plan everything to within an inch of it's life only to change my mind mid project. Sometimes you desperately want things that just aren't right for you only to concede, after trying, that indeed, it was a lousy idea. Like buying a piece of clothing you wanted to shoehorn yourself in cause it's so damn perfect...just not for you. Don't get me started. Here's eagerly awaiting the continuation of what you'll be doing with the stairs.

    1. We seriously share the same brain! And we work in the exact same way, down to planning within the very last inch! But you’re truly so right, despite best laid plans and wishes, things can change and not be the right fit. Accepting and changing course is tough but in the end, the results are better for it.

      Thank you very much for your fantastic comment and I’m excited to have you along with me on this project!

  2. The wood looks amazing! What a find. Can't wait to see how it looks.


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