The staircase is the most complex volumetric element of a residential building, providing its vertical connections along various paths. Over the centuries of its existence inside the house, it has developed from a tight and steep spiral, hidden in the thickness of a stone wall, into a light corrugated ribbon flying freely in an open space.
We don’t know who this quote belongs to – we borrowed it from one of the fashionable color magazines, but it reflects the very essence of what we call stairs in our house..
That is why we have taken this particular quote today as the epigraph of today’s conversation. And as you may have guessed, today we will talk about stairs. We foresee the smile of those who closely follow our publications: “Well, there are stairs again.” Yes Yes. You are right, only recently our review dealt with stairs. Let us just remind that we were talking about “newfangled” metal-wood stairs, similar to German and Italian, but in Russian version. And today we decided to talk about classic wooden stairs. And not even about the Russian analogs of screw wooden ones offered in our market by the same German and Italian firms, but about the classic wooden stairs, which in Russia they knew how to do at all times.
Of course, we could start our review with history, looking at least a century or two ago. But today we have chosen a simpler tactic and have looked even less than half a century ago – at the time when individual housing construction in our country was just beginning. Why did we open the 1956 Master Builder’s Handbook? Here’s what we read there about stairs in general and about wooden stairs in particular.
“The staircase consists of alternating inclined parts with a stepped surface (flights of stairs) and horizontal parts (landings).
According to the location of the flights in the stairwell, there are one-flight, two-flight and three-flight stairs. The width of the intermediate platform should be no less than the width of the march, and the width of the floor area is determined by the convenient location of the entrance doors to the apartments, but it should also be no less than the width of the march. The most common type of staircase is a two-flight staircase, with upward and downward flights separated in plan by an interval of 10-15 cm. The height of the handrail above the platform level is usually 0.9-0.95 m. The platform floor level is 2 cm below the floor level of the serviced premises..
The staircase must be fenced with solid fire-resistant walls. The staircase should be separated from the attic by walls and ceilings that are no less fire-resistant than the walls of the house. In this fence, only an opening for the entrance to the attic can be arranged.
The steps of the marches can be supported by both ends on stringers or bowstrings (double-stringed), or – with one end on stringers, and with the other – to be embedded in the wall (single-stringed), or embedded in the wall with only one end and freely hang with the other (non-stringed stairs). With no-frame marches, embedding the end of the step into a brick wall is possible only with walls no thinner than one and a half bricks.
Wooden staircases for general use are made single-flight and double-flight. According to the conditions of fire safety, their use is mainly limited to one – and two-story houses. Steps are located on stringers or bowstrings.
All parts of the wooden stairs are made of premium timber with a moisture content of no more than 12%. The steps of the steps are made of 3-5 cm pine or oak boards, if possible without knots. The risers are made of pine boards 2.5 cm thick; the bowstrings are made of boards 18-20 cm wide and 7-8 cm thick. The staircase on the stringers is much more beautiful than on the bowstrings, but for the stringer, beams of a large section are needed, since the notch for the steps weakens the stringers. Marches and landings of common wooden stairs are hemmed from below with thin boards and plaster to reduce the risk of ignition. ”
But I wonder if anything has changed in the world of classic wooden stairs since the time when the reference book was written. In principle, we understood that the wooden staircase, as it was the favorite brainchild of an individual developer, remained so – nothing could change here. But after all, nothing could have changed for so many years? We asked the employees of the production and commercial firm “MaLes” to help us understand this. Today we are talking with a representative of the company, Alexander Serafimovich Topilsky.
Let’s start with an obligatory question. What stairs does your company offer??
We offer only marching wooden stairs. We do not make spiral staircases and there are reasons for this. The staircase installed in the house serves as its decoration. She should be beautiful, smart and as individual as possible. The interior of the house is immediately transformed after the appearance of the stairs in it. For example, deep down in my heart I consider a staircase to be as important an element of the interior as furniture, but furniture that you can also walk on. We do not make spiral staircases. Of course, we can make individual elements: steps, etc., but we do not make stairs entirely. We do not do it because spiral staircases cannot be made one by one, they must be made at once in a series.
For their manufacture, a slipway is needed in which the railings will be bent, etc. How many slipways a company can afford – two or three, no more. On these three slipways, two or three standard sizes of stairs will be produced. One-time customers come to us, and somehow I don’t want to offer each of them three types of stairs with small changes in geometry from one order to another. Better to offer a marching staircase, for that each client his own. And we offer our clients a full range of services from project to turnkey delivery. In addition, of course, we can make any parts according to the customer’s drawings..
For example, restoration of stairs in old houses requires an exact repetition of the pattern of an old staircase, because railings and balusters crack during such a long period of operation. We had a chance to be engaged in the restoration of stairs and make doors according to drawings, which are already two or three hundred years old. Naturally, some nuances will differ, if only because the old doors were made by hand, and now they are made on machine tools. But in general, it repeats the door of three hundred years ago.
Loss of project identity is the only reason why you refuse to manufacture spiral staircases?
There is one more reason. In my opinion, spiral staircases, whatever their size, are inconvenient to use. Climb back and forth, but go down … That is, a spiral staircase is a staircase with a risk to the life of the customer.
There was a boom on the spiral wooden staircases. This was facilitated mainly by magazines promoting fashionable interiors..
All of them vied with each other to write that spiral staircases are compact, beautiful and convenient. Compact – what is, that cannot be taken away from these stairs. Beautiful – well, that’s for whose taste. But I will never agree with the fact that they are convenient. We have already had cases when we replaced a spiral staircase with a marching one. It’s just that people at one time paid tribute to the fashion for these stairs, putting it in a room where there is enough space for a normal marching staircase. And when such a ladder was installed for them, it seemed to them that it was good. After using it for a year or two, they decided that it would be better to pay again, but to have a more comfortable ladder. Marching stairs in operation, of course, are more convenient.
What do you call a marching staircase?
We call a marching staircase one that either all consists of one straight section, or of several straight sections with turns between them. The staircase can be located along the L-shaped wall, or in the U-shaped wall, or in a square closed on four sides. In this regard, modern staircases are no different from those that are mentioned in the very classic “Handbook” that you mentioned.
But the modern principles of staircase construction as the most important functional and decorative element of a residential building and a full-fledged object of engineering thought from the classical ones can be very different.
The choice of requirements and characteristics of the staircase, as a rule, is due to the general architectural and planning solution of a residential building. There were mansions in which the staircase was, as they say, the “nail” of the interior (but this is a rather rare case). This should be an open staircase, arbitrarily placed in double-height rooms.
It is clearly visible from different points of view and has a ceremonial, more precisely representative character. Mirror-like duplication of flights of stairs is possible to achieve symmetry. The upper landing is sometimes turned into a balcony or part of the gallery on the upper floor. In general, to arrange such a staircase, you just need to have a huge house.
Another staircase can serve as a “nail”, for example, such as shown in the photo on the right. Such a planning solution, as a rule, determines the nature of the planning and artistic and decorative decisions of the whole house, i.e. these are stairs that require the entire interior to correspond exactly to them, and not vice versa.
An open wall staircase is an option when at least one flight rises along the wall. It is possible to arrange unequal marches, especially when there are more than two.
Non-standard solutions are also possible, for example, when the first flight remains open and it is given a presentable look (by increasing the width or careful finishing of all details, etc.), and then the staircase becomes more modest or, if you like, more hidden and purely functional … By careful finishing of details we mean, for example, the use of carved balusters. For example, these balusters can be made on CNC machines.
The introduction of elements of a spiral staircase into the structure can help to save space – with straight flights, run-in steps are arranged on the turning platforms. In some cases, run-in steps help to reduce the angle of inclination of the flights, which makes the stairs safer and more comfortable. The opening of doors to turntables and balconies makes them difficult to use. A prerequisite in this case is the organization of staircase lighting..
Since we are talking about the safety and comfort of stairs, let’s dwell on these issues in more detail. The requirements for ensuring maximum safety and comfort of use are so important that it really is worth dwelling on them in more detail..
We must start with the fact that marching stairs have restrictions on the parameters of the flight of stairs. The width of the step should be at least 80 cm. On such a ladder, you can easily climb and descend, although it will be difficult for two people to miss it. A narrower ladder becomes completely inconvenient to operate.
Therefore, a width of 80 cm is the minimum, when it is still convenient to go up and down, 90 cm is acceptable, 100 and above is comfortable. The size of 100 cm is considered to be optimal. The depth of the step must be at least 30 cm, that is, it must be at least the length of your shoe. The heel must fit firmly and securely on the step, otherwise the ladder will not be safe. Some firms suggest limiting this value to 25 centimeters. In our opinion, this is not enough, since the length of the foot of an average person is 27-30 cm (I immediately take a ruler and measure my own foot right in the shoe – 29 cm. So I am just the same average person. – V.K.) Moreover, each of us can rise relatively normally in any stairs, but it’s not normal to go down any of them. The most comfortable steps are from 30 to 35 cm deep..
A comfortable step height is considered to be 15 cm (this value is called in many textbooks and special editions). From my own experience, I can say that the most convenient step is with a height of 17 to 18 cm and a width of 30-35 cm. It is convenient for a person of average size to go up and down these steps..
Where do these values come from?
All of them are calculated on the basis of the average step of a person – 45-50 cm, that is, regardless of the angle of rise, the sum of the size of the step – depth (tread) and height (riser) – should not exceed this indicator. Climbing stairs requires a certain amount of effort, which increases with an increase in the angle of inclination of the flights (from 30 to 60 °) At an angle of more than 45 °, the staircase becomes “one-way”, that is, it is desirable to descend along it in the same position as to climb. At an angle of 60 °, it is difficult even to climb the stairs, therefore, with such an angle of inclination, steps of variable width are usually provided. In general, the smaller the angle of inclination, the more comfortable the staircase..
In addition, it must be borne in mind that children and the elderly will use the stairs. For these reasons, it is advisable to split the rise of the floor into three or even four parts with areas for rest or with winders at the turn of the stairs. It is in this case that the flight staircase acquires the properties of a spiral, but much safer than it. Such a staircase is visually perceived better..
If there are small children in the house, then, in addition to the usual handrails, additional handrails are made for them. For seniors, the handrail is repeated on the wall.
To protect young children when using the stairs, two more tricks are used. Firstly, instead of one baluster, you can install two at each step (in this case, you can use thinner balusters) – even a very small child will not be able to crawl through such a “palisade” and, therefore, fall into the stairwell. Secondly, it is possible to install temporary “gates” on both sides of the staircase, with constipation inaccessible to the child. In this case, the child cannot get onto the stairs without the help of adults. When he grows up, and the stairs no longer pose a threat to his life, the “gates” can simply be removed.
When constructing a staircase, one must also remember that a staircase is not only a tool for lifting the human body to the upper floor. It is also a place where you carry things, the same furniture. And the ladder should allow all this to be done. Indeed, not in every house it is possible to install a beam on the roof and, with the help of a hoist attached to it, lift things through the window. And you won’t do this every time you need to raise or lower a closet to the second floor..
How and from what stairs are made?
The material of manufacture and the design of the stairs, first of all, affect the artistic image of the interior. And wooden structures are the absolute favorites of modern developers. Environmentally friendly, warm, various shades of solid wood elements lend themselves to sophisticated processing, traditional, beautiful, affordable, but fire hazard.
Therefore, in a large house or institution, a staircase made of non-combustible materials is desirable. Here you can offer a universal method, when the load-bearing part of the marches and platforms is made of monolithic reinforced concrete, and the steps and fences are “dressed” with wood. This will increase the fire resistance of the structure, ensuring the reliability of this most important escape route in the event of a fire..
The simplest and cheapest staircase is a staircase consisting of one straight section. But such stairs are rarely ordered now. We conducted such an experiment somehow. The customer will ask for the simplest straight staircase. Such a project was completed. But in parallel, we also completed the second project – a staircase with turning platforms. They showed the project to the customer, explained that such a staircase looks much more spectacular and will transform the house. They thought, looked, and nevertheless agreed with the second option. It came out, of course, a little more expensive, the price here depends on the number of turns of the size of steps and platforms.
Of course, the most beautiful staircases are made from oak and beech. But these are stairs, as they say, for people with money. Oak itself is a rather expensive material, only the original board used to make stairs costs from 600 to 1000 dollars per cubic meter. This, first of all, determines the high cost of such stairs. Simpler ones are stairs made of coniferous wood: pine, larch.
They are cheaper than oak and beech – dried coniferous wood of good quality costs from 100 to 200 dollars per cubic meter, i.e. the material costs almost 5 times less. In total, it turns out that a staircase made of oak is 2-3 times more expensive than a staircase made of pine needles of the same size and the same pattern. Well, then everything is decided by the possibilities and taste of the owners. It should be noted that the same staircase made of pine and oak looks completely different..
Whatever they say, oak is a noble material in itself, while pine is pine. Yes, it is functional and beautiful, but it almost always loses out in comparison with oak. Well-finished lacquered oak – it is alive, it even glows from the inside.
The tree can be tinted in a fairly wide range. Oak and pine behave in completely different ways. When you tint pine, the whole texture is revealed: those layers where there is less resin absorb the dye and change their color, where more resin is not absorbed. As a result, the entire texture is revealed so much that the product turns out to be “spotty”, more precisely “striped”. Therefore, a small toning of wood only disfigures. If we are to tint pine, then to a very dark color. This has to be done gradually, applying several layers of stain.
I must say that each of us has his own idea of what the color of the stairs should be. My personal opinion is that conifers should not be tinted in any case. Tinting spoils and degrades the appearance of the finished staircase. The most beautiful, in my opinion, is the natural color of the tree, be it needles or oak. The oak, of course, can be tinted, but very, very slightly. Each customer always has his own opinion on this issue. They require toning to match the color of the doors and the color of the furniture.
The customer is always right, so we will fulfill all your wishes, but sometimes the appearance is hopelessly spoiled. There was one order when an oak staircase was painted with white enamel. Of course, the client’s desire was clear to us – after all, oak is distinguished by high wear resistance and such a staircase will live longer than a softwood staircase. But in general, in my opinion, this is the damage to oak wood. After all, plastic and pine could just as well have been used – you still can’t make out under a layer of paint.
Fitting a staircase into the overall design of a room is never easy. The simplest option is when the furniture and doors are dark (almost black) and the walls are white. Tint the stairs in the same color, and you will not fall out of the “design”. True, in this case, it does not matter which wood these or those interior items are made of, because under the dark color of the stain it is still not visible. It is practically impossible to change the design afterwards – you cannot make light wood from a wood tinted to blackness, because the stain soaked deeply into the wood. You will have to live with such a design for the rest of your life. Therefore, before you “blacken” the first wooden piece of furniture, you need to think carefully.
Of course, you have to tinker with the light wood to match the design of the room. We now have quite a few orders for our own houses, and now they prefer to build their own houses from natural wood: timber, rounded logs, etc. The interior decoration is also natural wood, mainly of conifers. The softwood staircase fits into such a finish simply and easily. But do not forget that it is just as easy to fit an oak staircase into it. This creates an interesting combination of the natural color of coniferous wood on the walls with the natural color of the oak of the stairs..
What are the typical mistakes individual developers make even before they came to order the stairs??
A typical misfortune of those who come to us to order a staircase is that they come to order it already in a finished house, where a place is left for the stairs, not tied to the possibility of climbing these stairs. Usually an opening of 1.5×1.5 meters is left and it is believed that a comfortable and convenient staircase can be entered into such an opening. This is self-deception. Only an inconvenient and not very beautiful staircase can be entered into such an opening, but it will still be possible to climb it. But very often you have to redo the openings..
The first recommendation for those who want to make a staircase is that the staircase project must be linked to the house project. That is, from the very beginning to lay a staircase in the project and not in the way most architects do – he draws a symbol for a staircase, and then it turns out that the drawn symbol has nothing to do with the staircase, since it is simply impossible to fit it into the space left. And the whole trouble is that now there are so many architects, and there are so few people who know how to design stairs that this, as a rule, does not fit. The staircase must be designed by a specialist. And this must be done at the very initial stage of making a house.
There is a huge contingent of developers who do not hire any architect, but design everything themselves. There are also quite sensible projects that are carried out with minimal alterations, but there are also design errors. This is quite understandable – many simply do not know how to design a staircase. For them, you can give another advice – contact a company that will subsequently make the stairs. There will certainly help.
At what stage should they apply?
It is better to do this at the design stage. For example, we will not design the staircase itself in this way, but we will definitely tell you which opening should be left, where the beams should go and how the supports should be made. Unfortunately, we give such consultations when the house has already been built, and as a result something has to be redone. And this happens with almost half of our customers..
Another mistake that I want to warn individual developers against. Nowadays metal-wooden stairs are in fashion, i.e. stairs with a metal base, “sheathed” with wooden elements. Many people want to save money when building a staircase, and try to make such a staircase in a “handicraft” way (we are not talking about the option that you described in your magazine in issue 8, but about stairs made by an ordinary welder, even if very experienced, but not a specialist in the area of stairs). How many such stairs we have not sheathed, we have hardly seen a single normal one among them. It’s just that those who cooked a ladder, no matter what specialists they call themselves, cook it strictly by eye, and cook it, as a rule, in the way that is more convenient to cook, and not in the way it is necessary to make a ladder.
As a result, each step has its own height and width, and the staircase turns out to be uncomfortable when walking. Moreover, all these defects are not visible before sheathing with wood. And as soon as it is sheathed, it immediately becomes clear that the staircase is “kurguzaya”. Therefore, in all cases, they were forced to redo the metal base. In general, for a wooden staircase to look beautiful, its metal base must be beautifully designed and equally beautifully crafted..
As a rule, most customers forget about the design of the staircase, that is, about protection from falling into this opening. Then it suddenly turns out that the design of the opening costs almost half the price of the stairs. And people sometimes shy away when you tell them that. But without this, the ladder simply cannot be made..
And the last thing I would like to draw the attention of your readers. Some firms offer the customer to cover the stairs with colored varnish. There is no need for multi-layer passes with stain, etc. labor-intensive operations. True, we also use this method, but we always warn the customer about what this will lead to. And he leads to this. After a while the varnish will wear out – it will simply “rub off” on the steps. And it will be impossible to restore the original color of the varnish at home. That is, after 4-5 years, the staircase loses its appearance..
With the traditional method, you tint the wood itself, and cover it with colorless varnish on top. Any varnish, of course, is erased, no matter how durable it is. The only difference is that one erases faster and the other slower. To restore the “wiped” layer of colorless varnish, just pick up a brush and apply a new layer. This operation will take only an hour or two, and your staircase will look like new again. Colored varnish cannot be restored so easily. It will dissolve the previous layer of varnish and the result is a daub. You can, of course, use a spray gun to restore, but how many houses do we have in which you can safely work with a spray gun? After all, you will fill in the walls and …. In general, you will ruin the interior. So the classic option in terms of maintainability is also preferable.
We began our today’s conversation with a mention of imported stairs, which are widely represented in our market. This is not to say that Italians or Germans have no place in our market – they offer really cool stairs. But neither country has its own forest – their forest is mainly ours, Russian. So why, from the same forest, Italians and Germans make a staircase corresponding to the best world standards and worth “big money”, and we make stairs that are much cheaper and worse in quality. I asked this question in one of the firms that sell Italian stairs. And do you know what you heard in response? – “We would be happy to trade in domestic stairs and elements for their construction.
Domestic firms often come to us and offer their goods for sale. The same balusters bring a feast for the eyes. But over time, these beautiful balusters are covered with cracks, and the buyer immediately returns to us with claims. We’re just afraid to get involved. Quite normal staircases come from the Baltic States – these are rather expensive products, since each baluster is decorated with hand carvings. But at least it’s not scary to sell them – they do not dry out and do not cause complaints. ”
So why is this all happening? Is it really in Russia, in which there is not even a centuries-old, but many-thousand-year experience of using wood for the construction of everything, there is no way to make high-quality stairs?
The question is complex. One of the reasons for this is this. Foreigners buy timber from us, as they say, “on the vine”, i.e. in the form of freshly sawn logs. They do not buy dried wood from us, but prefer to saw and dry the logs themselves. It takes a lot of energy to dry wood, and energy is expensive. A domestic manufacturer, in order to reduce energy costs, often shortens the drying modes, or conducts accelerated drying. And the result is either poorly dried wood, or wood burnt due to an overestimation of the drying temperature. Moreover, the board outwardly looks just perfect. But as soon as you start to process it, it immediately bursts.
And if it doesn’t burst right away, it will surely crack over time. We have repeatedly “pushed ourselves into this” until we gained the appropriate experience and selected normal suppliers. That is, we no longer take timber anywhere and where it is cheaper, we take timber only from those dryers where we are confident in adhering to the drying technology. To force the adherence to the drying technology can only be done economically, i.e. refusing to take poorly dried wood. If you refuse, the forest is immediately bought up and does not lie in the warehouse. That is, it is snapped up. And we cannot afford to build stairs from “junk” – after all, we must respect the client and ourselves at least a little. If you cheat once – then you will lose much more.
Therefore, if you want to get a high-quality staircase that would last a long time and outlive you, all the details of the staircase must be made of dry material and must be glued. The fact is that steps, balusters and other elements made of solid wood, as a rule, lead, and after a while they lose their shape and appearance. References to the fact that in the old days stairs were done in this way are not entirely consistent. Previously, wood was dried for decades before it was used to build stairs. This happened under awnings in the breeze, and as a result, the tree was completely dried.
Now all the drying is artificial. And artificial and natural drying are, as they say in Odessa, two big differences. Therefore, if a step is made from an artificially dried board, then after a while it will certainly be led and it will crack. Therefore, it is imperative to glue it from separate boards – plots. The plot must be of a certain size. Cheap glued products are joined into a smooth joint – two smooth surfaces are glued together. I must say that such a gluing does not provide long-term service. Much greater reliability and durability is provided by gluing the plots through the “key”. “Dowel” has a certain ratio of dimensions in relation to the plots to be glued.
When connecting parts, cavities remain between them to compensate for possible changes in dimensions due to changes in moisture. In order for a staircase, which is quite expensive, to serve for a long time and without failure, it must be “glued”. And all self-respecting stair manufacturers around the world do just that..
Well, and the last mandatory question. Prices?
The average price of components for one running meter of a straight section of a staircase looks like this:
TOTAL: $ 520
This list does not include finishing and other necessary elements, such as support posts, skirting boards, plugs, etc., as well as the cost of assembly, tinting (+ 5%) and varnishing (+ 5-10%). When estimating the cost, it should be borne in mind that the cost of the winder is about 2.5 times higher than the usual one.
In general, a good “turnkey” staircase for one floor costs: from pine needles – 2.5-4 thousand dollars; from oak – from 4 to 7 thousand dollars.
Text: Vadim Kovalev