Before your deck is ready for use, it is going to need steps for access. One common method of building stairs involves cutting stringers, upon which the stairs will be mounted. But what if you don’t want to use stringers when building your steps? This article will explain how to build deck steps without stringers.
To build deck steps without stringers, you are going to build each step as its own box frame. The wooden box frames will be stacked on top of each other. The bottom box will extend the entire length of the staircase. Each higher box in the stack will be less deep than the one it sits on. Once fastened together these boxes will create the stairs.
The remainder of this article will explain exactly how to build deck steps without stringers, step by step. Before we get to the building however, let’s discuss the materials and information you’ll need to get started.
Why to Build Steps Without Stringers?
So, why would you choose to build your deck steps without stringers? For starters, it is much easier to build steps without stringers. Stringers can be challenging to measure, mark and cut properly. Box steps like we will be discussing are simple, robust, and they do not use stringers.
Another reason you may choose to build steps without stringers for your deck is if you will be building very wide stairs. A traditional staircase built with stringers can be less than optimal for very wide stairs. Box steps instead are the preferred choice because they are simple and can be built to any length.
If your deck is low and requires only a few stairs or even just one, then steps without stringers are the way to go.
Before you start to pick out materials for your steps, you’ll need to know a little about stair sizing. Building code does have a few requirements that will need to be met.
Each step cannot be taller than 7+3/4 inches. This is measured from the top of one step to the top of the next. Because of this, 2X6’s are often the preferred building material for building deck steps without stringers.
There is a 10” minimum requirement for the length of each step. This will be measured from the front edge of the step to the back, in the direction that you walk.
There is no restriction on the maximum length of a step. However, all of the steps in any given flight of stairs must be very nearly equal in length.
You are allowed only a 3/8” difference in the length from the shortest to the longest step. If your shortest step is 10” long, then your longest can be no longer than 10⅜” long.
The box for each step will be constructed similar to a 2X6 wall. You will have a top and bottom (front and back) plate with bracing in between. This bracing can be spaced at 12”, 16” or 24” intervals.
You can use 24” spacing for your braces if the stairs you are building will not be very wide. This spacing can also be used if you are using decking boards on top that are 2” or thicker.
16” spacing is the standard spacing for the bracing when building your step frames. This spacing will be appropriate for most applications and is recommended. This will provide plenty of strength and stability while not going overboard.
12” spacing could be used if you have very long stairs, or if you are using thinner decking boards that require the extra support. This spacing could also be used if you just wanted to build your deck to extra sturdy standards.
There are three main materials that you will need to build box steps for your deck. First, you will need lumber to build the box frames. Next, you will need decking boards to floor the top of your steps.
This will usually be the same material that tops the deck. Finally, you will need fasteners to attach the framing together, and different fasteners to attach the decking boards to the framing.
For building the frames, your best choice of lumber is going to be 2X6’s. If you were to use 2X8’s, your steps would be over the 7+3/4” height limit. If you use 2X4s, you’re going to have to build quite a few more step frames.
Since the stairs will come in contact with the ground, you must use pressure-treated lumber to avoid rot and insects.
To figure out how many 2X6s you need, you will first have to determine the overall height that your staircase will be. Take this measurement in inches and divide it by 7, which is the approximate height of a step after decking material is added on top. The quotient of these two numbers is how many steps you’ll need to build.
Now multiply the length of each step by the number of total steps to get your overall length. For example, let’s say we’re building 4 steps that are each 10” long. This would mean we have a 40” total length for our bottom step frame.
Each step will be 10” shorter than the step it sits on. This means 10” is the length of our smallest step frame.
Next, we need to get a measurement of the width of our steps. This is going to be different on each deck. At this point, you will also need to decide what spacing you want to use for your bracing.
For our example, we will be building steps that are 4’ wide with 16” spacing for our bracer boards. We will need bracers on each end, plus 2 more bracers inside the frame.
Now we can use our measurements to figure out the dimension of each step frame. The largest one, which is on the bottom, will be 48” wide and 40” long. To save lumber, it is suggested that you use the long sides as the front and back when constructing your step frames.
We will need two boards cut at 48” for the front and back plates, and four pieces cut to 40” for the bracers. This means that our bottom box will take three 8’ 2X6s to build.
Repeat this process for the remaining three-step frames to determine the total amount of lumber your deck steps will require.
There are three main options to choose from for your decking boards. You could go with a composite material, hardwood, or pressure-treated lumber. Generally, you will use the same decking material that is installed on the rest of your deck.
Composite decking boards will last the longest and are available in many colors and styles. They are also the most expensive.
Pressure-treated boards are the most cost-effective decking boards. They are available everywhere and are easy to work with.
They are not quite as long-lasting as composite. You will get many years out of them, but they will require upkeep and eventually we need to be replaced.
Hardwoods are more expensive and may be more difficult to find. They do not last as long as composite boards but are available in different stains and styles.
To avoid cutting your decking boards length-wise, it is recommended that you choose to build your steps to a depth that will allow you to install whole deck boards. For instance, if you’re using 5” wide decking boards, you may opt for 10” long steps.
This way each one is evenly covered by two whole decking boards. Now you will only have to cut the boards down to proper length. This is not necessary, but it will look cleaner and will save you from having to make extra cuts down the long side of the boards!
For assembling your step frames it is recommended that you use 16d galvanized nails from a nail gun. The nail gun sets the nails deeper and avoids splitting the wood while also saving you time and fingers.
The galvanized nails will resist rust and corrosion. For extra support, you can also add 3-1/2″ screws at the joints. Alternatively, you could use 3-½” screws to assemble the frames.
For attaching the decking boards to the frames you will use decking screws that are coated to resist corrosion. 2″ screws are the minimum. However, for the best strength and hold it is recommended that 3” screws are used instead.
How to Build Deck Steps Without Stringers
For this example, we will be building 4 steps that are 4’ wide and 10” deep. The step frames are constructed from 2X6s. Our decking boards will be 5” wide.
Step 1: Determine the overall length and width of the first step frame. The largest step frame will be on the bottom. Cut the first two 2X6’s to the length of the long edges of the step frame.
For this example 48” will be the length of our long sides. Our frame will be 40” deep, but we need to subtract 3” (the thickness of two 2X6s) from this length for our bracer boards. This means we will be cutting our bracers at 37” long. Using a spacing of 16”, this frame will require 4 total bracers.
Step 2: Once all boards are cut, mark your long frame boards at 16” on center for the bracing. Lay out the frame and fasten bracing boards between the long boards on each end.
Step 3: Attach remaining bracers into the frame by nailing or screwing through the 2×6 frame and into each bracing board. Once all bracers are installed, the first stair is framed.
Step 4: Subtract the length of a single stair from the overall length of the last frame. This will be the length of your second stair.
In this example, our bottom frame was 40” long and we are using a 10” stair length. This means our second frame will be 30” long overall. Subtract 3” to get a total length of 27” for the bracers. The width is 48” still, as it will be with all the frames.
Cut your front and back 2X6s to 48” and mark them at 16” on center for the bracers. Cut four bracers out of 2X6 at 27” long.
Step 5: First attach the two ends inside the 48” front and back pieces to create the outer frame. Next, fasten the remaining two inside bracers into position.
This frame is now complete. Stack it on top of the previous frame so that the backs (the deck side of the staircase) are flush.
Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 for all remaining step frames.
Step 7: There are two ways to fasten the box steps together. You could nail/screw through the back of each box frame and directly into the deck.
After attaching each frame in place, you would then add the next on top and repeat the process. Alternatively, you could stack the frames on top of each other so that all of the backs line up.
Cut down three 2X6 boards to the height of the stack of step frames. These boards run vertically down the back of the staircase to the floor.
Screws and/or nails will be run through these boards and into each of the step frames. One board will be installed flush to each side of the back of the stairs, and one will run in the middle between them. The staircase can then be attached to the deck as one unit, using screws or bolts.
Step 8: It is now time to install the decking boards. Because our stairs have a 10” depth, we will be installing two boards on each step that will run the entire 48” width.
Cut eight pieces of decking board down to a 48” length. Install two on each step by screwing through the top of the board and directly into the 2X6s underneath. You have now completed building your deck steps with no stringers!
You now know how to build deck steps without stringers. Remember to plan everything out before you start your project. Avoid running into any unforeseen problems or costly headaches during the building phase. Measure twice, cut once.
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Eugene has been a DIY enthusiast for most of his life and loves being creative while inspiring creativity in others. He is passionately interested in home improvement, renovation and woodworking. A little more about me.