Building new porch stairs. Old House Remodeling:

Building New Porch Steps - 
Installing Posts And Stringers

In This Article: Related Articles:
Skill Level: 3-4 (Moderate to Advanced) Time Taken: 6 Hours

By , Editor

We wanted to build a durable set of porch stairs with a handrail. Many exterior stair stringers simply rest on concrete pads set on the ground, as in this example. My experience is that such stairs tend to shift up and down over time, which may not be a problem for a short flight of steps with no handrail. But we wanted to make sure that our handrail never worked loose, so we decided to graft the newel posts to pressure treated 4x4 posts set deep in the ground, below the frost line.

Serious Graft:

I laid the cedar newel post against the pressure treated 4x4 post to mark the location of the notch.

When two notched posts are properly connected together they can be as strong as a solid, one-piece post.

These cedar newel posts were too long to match the original handrail height, so I cut them shorter by 6 inches and re-cut the notches, as seen in this article.

To keep the two lower newel posts aligned, I made a cross-piece from a pressure-treated 2x6. I drilled counterbored holes to allow me to bolt the cross-piece to each post.


The counterbore has to be big enough in diameter to allow a washer to fit in the recess. This counterbore needs to be drilled deeper.

A socket wrench should also fit, and this is commonly the factor that decides the size of spade bit to use.


After the counterbore, I drilled a clearance hole, slightly larger than the bolt shank diameter.

The counterbore must be drilled first or else the spade bit will not have any wood to guide its point.


The cedar newel post (on the right) overlapped the treated 4x4 post quite well. These cuts were made with only a circular saw and hand saw.


I painted the inside of the notches with oil-based primer to discourage water from getting into the wood.


I carefully aligned the sections of post and attached them with 3-inch deck screws.

But this is not the primary means of connecting the two sections.


Making The Big "H" Frame:

Using a long drill bit (the diameter was smaller than the desired hole, but that's okay) I drilled through the cross-piece and the notch-joint of the posts.


Using the exit hole as a guide, I drilled counterbores on the back of the two-part post. Then I drilled 5/16" clearance holes to fit the bolts.


With the cross-piece carefully positioned, I installed a pair of 5/16" diameter bolts, 6" long, to attach the cross-piece to the newel posts.


Using a socket and a box-end wrench I tightened the bolts and nuts. Each nut had a lock-washer and a flat washer beneath it. 

Washers are necessary to spread out the clamping forces. Otherwise the wood fibers will get crushed and the bolts will lose their holding ability in a few months.


While the newel-post-and-cross-piece assembly was laying on saw horses, I gave the cedar newels a coating of oil-based primer.


This is an inexpensive anchor used for holding deck posts and fence posts into concrete footings.


I clamped the anchor to the post and secured it with Simpson Strong-Drive screws.


Installing The Lower Newel Posts:

The site just before installation of the lower newel posts. I dug a pair of holes with post-hole diggers, to a depth of about 4 feet.


I attached a treated 2x6 to the deck posts, so the stair stringers would have a sturdy vertical surface to lean against


To help hold the stair stringers, I screwed a pair of 2x4 cleats to the above-mentioned 2x6.


The red arrows show the cleats.

I installed the outer stringers (I used 4 stringers total), attaching them with 3" deck screws.

I placed concrete blocks under the stringers to make them level. 


Building porch stairs with stringers.


Porch posts assembled before placing in holes in ground. Here the newel post assembly lies on the driveway, just before installation.

The holes had to be dug carefully to ensure that the large "H"-shaped assembly would fit without interference from the dirt.


I set the "H"-section in place. The cross-piece rested on a pair of thin concrete patio stones.


I checked the cross-piece for level.

I placed a block of wood (arrow) under the cross-piece to raise up one side. Then I clamped the post to the stringer.


I used some shims (arrow) to precisely plumb the posts, then I fastened the stringers to the newel posts with 3" deck screws.


Porch stairs being built, with posts set in holes. At this point the newel posts are positioned perfectly and secured to the stringers


I prepared a bag of concrete mix and dumped about half of it into each post hole, enough to engulf the post anchor.

When this concrete had begun to harden, I filled in the holes with gravel. I used gravel instead of dirt because it will help water to drain away from the wood, thus prolonging its life. 


The Last Few Stringers:

New porch stair structure with posts and stringers. After the post holes were filled in I installed the other two stringers. This set of stairs is four feet wide, and the stringers are 16" on center.

We wanted wide stairs so people could sit on them and others could still get past easily.


What appears to be cement around the base of the post is actually just mortar, left over from another project. I wanted to direct water away from the post. It wouldn't hurt to make a 2" thick cap of concrete here, sloped to shed water.

The inner stringers were screwed to the cleat, as well as to the board behind.


The cross-piece was screwed to the inner stringers with 3" deck screws.


Continue to the stair tread installation.


Tools Used:

  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Post-Hole Diggers
  • 2-Foot Level
  • Socket Wrenches
  • Circular Saw
  • Basic Carpentry Tools

Materials Used:

  • Pre-cut Stair Stringers
  • Treated 4x4 Posts
  • Treated 2x6
  • Misc. Treated Lumber
  • 3" Deck Screws
  • Concrete Bag Mix
  • Steel Post Anchors
  • 8"x16" Econo Concrete Pavers



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Copyright 2001, 2005

Written April 9, 2001
Revised January 6, 2005