A Custom Built Cedar Exterior Staircase

A Custom Built Cedar Exterior Staircase

As a Master Carpenter Ive repaired and built many stairs and railings over my career. These days I do stair projects that require from the client a desire for custom workmanship and high quality design. It’s generally normal to think of custom staircases as interior only, but I’ve found that the same elevation in millwork and casework can, and should, be applied to exterior stairs as well. The difference with exterior work, is that there is another layer of building for extreme environments. This creates an added layer of joinery technique to compensate for rain and moisture here in the Pacific North West.  So, the same carpentry precision and architectural millwork, that is seen on an interior, can also be done in an exterior application. Many thanks to my wonderful client on this one!


With this custom stair we chose to go with all vertical grain, dried western red cedar S4S, for all the millwork, and an AZEK that interfaces with the soil. Also, the details in the architectural millwork for the over all look are important. For instance the full 1″ bullnose overhang and return, the riser proud reveal at the fascia interface, the post and balustrade sizes, as well as the placement of the posts, and slope.


To achieve this level of carpentry quality, I first start with a template of the stairs and railing from our design meetings, to refer back to. It’s also imperative that all the casework is milled, assembled, and pre primed  in my shop, otherwise there is no way this level of precision could be achieved. Plus vertical grain cedar does not come pre milled in common profiles, so I mill it in my shop from larger square stock. Cedar is used as it’s naturally resistant to decay.


The photos below show some of the installation process. Most notably the blue hue in the photos is due to the tent I install over projects like these for weather protection to keep everything dry as Im building. This a part of doing a quality project. Also, quality requires techniques like back priming, back calking with adhesive calking, or precision framing, so all the treads slope.


Some final photos after painting. They show what can be achieved with experience, forethought and a personalized service for design build. Working closely with the client was a real pleasure in designing and building this together. Many thanks for a wonderful journey!





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