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Monday, August 4, 2014

The Incomprehensibile Miniature Staircase

Morning folks!

One of the less comprehensible tasks when building from scratch is figuring out how to go about building a staircase that is in scale, yet unique and interesting.  I have built four seven staircases for this house...(4 almost final versions, and 3 mock ups).  I know that some miniaturists shy away from building things such as staircases, because they seem so complex.

I hope that this series of posts will take some of the mystery out of the unfathomable stair.

This entry will address the part all of us creative types hate... the math. I am no math whiz, so when I faced my first staircase build, I had to do a lot of research.  I still don't get math..and yet it is so essential to some tasks, and staircases are one of those areas where math remains a necessary evil.

Rather than go INTO the math...I will pass on a resource I found that takes the "math" out of the process! See, if one can avoid unpleasantness, one should.  Don't you think?

My great SECRET is this website!   

Be sure not to tell anyone, OK?  You have been entrusted with the most valuable of secrets!

There are some terms that we need to understand before the website above makes sense.  These are several components to a staircase that are part of the "math" equation.

Total Rise:

You will first need to know the "Total Rise".  This is nothing more than the final height of the staircase you desire.  For my Grand Staircase, the Total Rise is actually 12.5 ft. (inches).  (After all, these Steampunkers are the cream of the crop!  Their manse must be grand!)

This measurement is one of the more critical ones.  You should measure from the floor of your room to the topside of the floor above. Your staircase must meet the same level as the floor in the above room.

Note that in your stair build, the stair will be slightly taller than the side of the room...this accounts for the additional height for the floor above.  (The stair in the photo is ACTUALLY propped up on the side, but why would I share that?!  There really WILL be a small difference in heights!)

Now for a short aside:  Those of you doing the math...the stair above is NOT 12.5 inches tall...
this is one of those revisions I made along the way!

Ideal Rise:

This is the height that you want the riser on each step.  The riser is the front vertical piece on each stair level.

If you want narrow and steep stairs, you might use a higher number...say 8 in.

If you wanted a more gracious look, you might use a shallower rise. Standard rise, on most staircases, is about 7".

Ideal Run:

The ideal run is the length of the stair footprint from the front of the stairs to the back of the stairs, along the floor line.  This is not measured at the stair angle, but level along the floor.  The total length that you need the stair footprint to stay within is the value you would enter into the Ideal Run.

And that is all you have to have!  Press calculate, and you are left with your answer at the bottom of the page, for:

a)  the number and height of the "risers" you will need
b)  the number and width of the "runs" you will need (this is the horizontal width of each step from front to back)
c)  the length of the stringer you will require
d)  the width of the "throat"  (this is the vertical length of the stringer at an angle at the narrowest point)
e)  the total run and
f)   the headroom required

All is laid out in a nice little set of diagrams at the base of the page!

The website offers many other ways to manipulate the size and aspect of the stairway, but I will let you visit and play with the site.  I think you will find it valuable.  

If you desire, as I did in the staircase base pictured at the top of the post, you can enter the total rise of the base itself, calculate, and then enter the height of the rest of the stair..(the difference between the base and the top of the floor above), and calculate those new values. Some of the additional features of the site allow you to ensure that the rise and tread are the same for both portions of the staircase build. 

Once you have completed the basic real life calculations, you are able to take the number of real life inches (or metric measurements if that is your flavor!) and convert them using a conversion table such as the one on the DIY Dollhouse Miniatures website.    I also use the conversion table on the back of my well used metal ruler from Hobby Lobby.  Would you believe it was new in February?!

All of my measurements were converted to 1:12 scale, so it was extremely easy to convert the calculations.  If you wish to convert to smaller or larger scales, you will have to visit someone who really understands math...(in case you were wondering, it is not me!  There was a REASON I chose 1:12 scale!) 

I hope that this post will take the fear out of the hearts of those of you who have not been willing to take the plunge to design your own staircase.  If I can do this, I would expect that most of the worlds population can manage it...there was never a non-techie quite like me!

There is so much freedom in not being tied to a manufacturer's "cost effective" offerings.  Just learning this skill will provide you with the opportunity to create staircases that are beautiful and unique, using your own materials and design sensibilities. 

Have fun designing!

Until next time! 

Doug S

P.S.  I would like to welcome my 5th follower!   I am excited to welcome Simon from Miniature Enthusiast!  I am thankful to have you on board!


  1. Hello Doug,
    Great job on the staircase. I don't know why so many miniaturists are afraid of staircases. It takes a bit of time to figure out , but in the end they are not that hard to make. Yours is great and will make for a very grand room! Thank you for sharing the website.
    Big hug,
    p.s. I hope the water damage is under controle

    1. Thanks Giac,

      You are so right. The bulk of my time on this house so far HAS been working on those staircases...but I think it is so worth the effort, because it puts an immediate stamp on your work...that says "This is unique."

      I have a long ways to go to finish off all of those staircases...I've built only the bases so far..all the fufu stuff is yet to be done!


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