HOWTO make a spiral oak staircase out of cheap IKEA countertops

Bryce Phelps made himself a beautiful oak spiral staircase and saved a ton of money by cutting up cheap IKEA oak countertops for the treads:

I went with a 4" steel pipe from the local steel yard buying 18'. Also purchased some angle and flat steel to frame out the stairs. My treads needed to be 22" long making the whole staircase 4' including the center pipe. The treads are 30 degrees, so you can fit 6 on one side or 180 degrees together. I had a total of 7 treads or runs and about a 9" rise. Take the overall height and divide by the runs = the rise needed. Once all this was welded back supports aren't needed and the stairs are very rigid.

For the treads I headed to Ikea and picked up the 8' NUMERÄR Countertop in Oak, traced and pattern and laid out the cuts in pencil with the grain all going the same direction. I cut the straight lines with the skilsaw and round cuts with the bandsaw. Took the router to the edges and followed up with some sanding and stain. Attached the treads with lags and wiped everything down.

It really turned out better than I thought and for a fraction of the price + you get to tell people you made it.

Spiral Staircase with Numerar


    1. If you are a competent welder not much at all in this instance. 

      (the savings was in the doing, not the materials, though a contractor would charge you at or more than retail for similar materials) 

      and if anyone mentions opportunity cost I must ask you to GET BACK TO WORK, slave.

    2.  The only thing I can see going wrong is a building inspector canning it because it isn’t up to code. Folks planning one might want to check first. Around here at least it would need a handrail with the (shit, mental block!) uprights at 4″ spacing.

        1.  Maximum tread rise is 7.75 inches. His are approximately  9 inches. Definitely a fail if it comes to an inspection.

          1. We tallish people like this a lot.  A short rise in a spiral staircase either means lots of narrow treads or ducking to avoid clobbering one’s crown on the steps overhead.

          2. Well, there’s a 72″ minimum for spirals as well, which is awful hard to meet sometimes, so tallish people should be ducking on these sorts of things anyway… :)

          3. I can’t remember the last time I was able to climb a spiral staircase without succumbing to the urge to use my hands and clamber up like a monkey (or a normal human ascending a ladder), but I feel sure it was before puberty finished up.

          4. Very true, but this is part of the national code as well as what OSHA requires.  I’ve seen it before, but it’s hard to believe there’s a local code that’s stricter than OSHA for something as specific as spiral stairs.

      1. The fact that it’s a spiral staircase in a nonfunctional school bus that leads to another school bus welded on top of the first is a-ok though.

    3. Especially a cheap staircase with loose electric wires at ankle height.  First you slip, then you fall, then you get zapped.  Or is it slip, zap, fall?  Either way, it’s sure to be fun at a party.

  1. You can get real Oak even cheaper if you strip it out of one of the abandoned sub-developments  that were either never moved into or just foreclosed on.  My brother-in-law got the finest marble and hardwoods for his kitchen at about 30% of what it used to go for before the housing bubble burst.  A couple of 16-wheelers of the stuff from the States come up here to one of the wholesale kitchen parts places every week.  Most of it seems to be going into Toronto’s condo bubble.

    1. A relator friend of mine wondered whether all those granite countertops would end up crushed into garden gravel.

      1. More likely broken up into large, jagged chunks in the removal process, never recognized as polished granite, and chucked into the landfill with the naily boards and sheetrock.

        For successful recoveries before a demolition, you have to go in early and go in hard.  Sawzall, pry bars, hammers, people-power.  Pick the stuff you want, and lay waste to everything surrounding it.

        If granite countertops are what you want, and the cabinetry is crap, then you sawzall under the granite through the cabinets with reckless abandon.  If it’s windows, you sawzall the structure as close to the window casing as you can get, only minding electrical wire or obvious danger.  Otherwise, it meets the blade.

        Demo crews do not consist of people with a keen eye for craftsmanship.  They are paid by the hour, and the company specifically instructs them to ignore stuff that other people could find valuable, because to remove it would take time.  Usually for big buildings, a recovery crew would be hired separately by the owner or whoever is initiating the demo.  They go through, get the stuff they want, and the rest is torn up later by the demo crew.

        Recently, a large rickety factory near me was torn down.  It had to go, because it risked burning down the entire neighborhood and blocking the river if it fell over.  But inside were these HUGE solid chestnut beams, holding the place up.  Probably 18by18″ and 20 feet long.  You can’t get those anymore, except by recovery.  Well, those beams are a part of history now, rotting in a landfill.  No recovery team was hired for the project, since it was done in a hurry.  Only demo.  Gone gone gone.

    1. it’s supported by a crosspiece of welded steel. the wood is almost, but not quite, ornamental.

      1. The wood is supported by a frame, not a flat tread, so it still has to bear much of your weight.

        I would be worried about stepping on the edge and having a chunk split off. Stepping on the edge is not a normal mode of operation for a countertop made of glued-together strips of wood.

        Imagine if the step was made of syrofoam or cardboard. Would you still step on it then? That’s my thinking.

        Maybe I worry too much. It does look beautiful though.

        1. i see what you’re saying, but if it stood up to a bandsaw and router it’s probably good for a while.

        2. Are you really sitting home worrying about a staircase somewhere, thousands of miles away?  Or are you just taking this opportunity to belittle somebody else’s accomplishment?

          1.  Exactly.  Oak is oak.  If it’s about 1/4 inch thick or thicker, it’s fine as a stair tread.  If I were looking for bottom dollar, though, I’d go to a lumber liquidator and look for cheap flooring.  Or I’d just use hardwood pallets, saw those up and sand them in place.  But whatever, it’s a cool project and so what if IKEA sucks.  The oak looks nice, and after years of abuse, the treads are going to look cool with worn spots where the feet constantly punish.

    2. I see people from the US say things like this a lot. I guess you must have much better quality furniture sold in your furniture stores, since at least the ones in my country seem to love to use chipboard and other cheap materials… but charge you an arm and a leg, and you still get to put it together yourself (which I actually love doing… Lego for adults!). The quality in IKEA is waaaay better, unless you go to top of the line furniture stores.

      I have absolutely no complaints about the quality of our IKEA furniture (and we have a lot… every time we go furniture hunting we end up in IKEA), and the directions to put them together are really well done.

      1. Do you work for Ikea ? Because my experience with Ikea furniture is that the marketing is very seductive – but the actual products fall way short, and will literally only survive one move before they start to wobble, shift, sag – and enrage.

        The catalogs get me every time – I could buy nice stuff that matches and be organized and feel like a competent adult with a presentable home. But then – the back pops off the bookcases, and the shelves start to sag under the weight of books and the rest of the troubles begin until within 10 years of purchase they get put out with the trash. On the other hand, my vintage and antique furniture has lasted 60 – 100 yrs and still functions the way it was intended.

        1. Like I said… I don’t know what kind of furniture stores you have in the US, perhaps IKEA is crap compared to all the other ones you have. But at least in my country, I don’t expect to walk into _any_ furniture store, not even top of the line ones, and get 60-100 years of use out of them.

          Anyway, no, I haven’t had any problems with our IKEA furniture like you describe.

        2. One move? What are you doing (or not doing) that it doesn’t last? We’ve had Ikea furniture make 3 moves at this point and no issues. I’ve got three bookshelves in the basement all loaded up–two filled with coffee-table books–and no sagging. Sorry to day so, but this really sounds like operator error to me.

          1. Hmmm, I’ve never been told before that I am using a bookcase wrong before. Thanks Ramone !

        3.  Whatever you’re doing to distress the furniture when you move, it might be a good idea to tighten all connections before re-filling the shelves/drawers in the new place.

        4. IKEA has two kinds of furniture: extremely cheap because it’s particleboard with plastic pegs, and very cheap to sort-of cheap because it’s minimal pine or whatever. If you buy the latter kind, it’ll last quite a while.

          I’ve had nightstands which broke and an entertainment center which effectively couldn’t be moved from its original install point. I tried to move it and the torsion of just picking it up broke the particleboard back.

          On the other hand, I’ve had a pine desk which has lasted six years and five moves and is still going strong. The desk consists of: a plank for the top with four mounting brackets for the four legs on the underside, and four legs with captive bolts. It’s beautifully simple.

  2. The real interesting thing there, in my opinion, is that the staircase is used to get to the upper level of a double decker bus converted into a motorhome.  That’s neat!  I like the $4 circular saw too.  

  3. Get back to me in 10 years.
    Solid oak panels from IKEA cheaper than other sources. I’m skeptical 

    1. We have the same Numerär countertops at work. I’m not sure if they’re oak or beech stained to look like oak (Ikea sells both), but over the years they have warped and started to delaminate from moisture/water damage. I’d be very nervous about using them as stairs if there’s any chance they’ll get wet.

      1. That’s not the wood’s fault, it’s the fault of whoever decided to ignore the instructions on cleaning and treating with oil every year.

  4. I think it’s a pretty good DIY project.  I know how I am and the idea of my 200+lb self on the edge of one of those steps being nothing but welded on would just not sit well with me.  (I realize that the weld isn’t going to fail, it’s just one of those things.)  I’m sure I’d end up notching out the pipe and running the brace piece all the way through welding it on both sides….

    1. Oh. come on. If you were standing there you’d give it a tentative try and then hop up on the bottom stare and bounce a little. Climb on up and within a week you would not even be thinking about bounding up them like they were solid earth. It is only that you can’t take that little first try that is getting to you. Have a little faith in the designer/user.

      1. Oh I know they’d be built solid with just the surface weld like that.  It’s just a mental thing for me.  I wouldn’t have any problem using them, it’d just be that thought in the back of my mind whenever I looked at them.

    2. Don’t ever look at the underside of most stairs then, they’re just wood and the house was built by the lowest bidder…

      1. True that, but most stairs have two or three stringers so the actual tread is sitting between the two (and or resting on the middle one). 

      1. It’s an old double decker bus, so there may have been a spiral staircase there before anyway. I wonder what happened to the old stairs?

  5. It’s a very nice spiral staircase, that is…an opportunity to ride the treads to the bottom on your ass, when you miscalculate the irregular landing area of one of the treads. And a 9 inch rise would never pass inspection. But hey, homemade, right? 

    1. Maximum allowed rise on a spiral stair is 9.5″, so unless local codes are stricter than national ones, it can pass the inspection.

      1. Doesn’t that depend on whether they bring the Life Safety Code into play? My understanding is that a spiral staircase is only allowable if it is being used to access an attic or secondary area of some kind, and that the inspector still has the option to use the calculation of 2XR+T=24.6in to determine allowable riser height. 

        I try to talk people out of these dangerous types of stairs so my bias is clear. 

        1. Spiral stairs fall under a different section of code than regular stairs.  In order to achieve the 72″ minimum head clearance, the rise can be taller than a standard straight run.

          Spirals are permitted within a single living unit, what it’s accessing is not specified.

  6. Nice work Bryce Phelps!  Enjoy your means of vertical travel between floors!

    Christ, what a pack of Debbie Downers. It’s stairs people. In a private home. Isn’t this typically the sort of place that advocates for open source solutions?

    1. my neighbor’s step-sister makes $83 every hour on the computer. She has been out of a job for six months but last month her pay was $13743 just working on the computer for a few hours. Read more on  Jive8.c­om

    2. It’s his fort, he can build it the way he wants. Plus he has all that exposed electrical wiring and unmounted wall outlets right there. I think it’s really some kind of defense barrier, or high-voltage trap. Perhaps it’s supposed to collapse after the electrocution, like on Wild Wild West?

      1.  ” Plus he has all that exposed electrical wiring and unmounted wall outlets right there”

        Have you even ever been to a construction site?  Did he say the house bus was 100% done other than the stairs?  Do you think the floor looks done?

        Man, I would hate to show any of you my projects when they’re halfway through.  I would show off a new ceiling and you would complain about plumbing sticking out of the wall.  Sheesh.

  7. Love the Debbie Downers comment, and I agree. If it’s my home, leave me the heck alone about what I put in it.

    What I REALLY love is the home made extension cord with Romex and a free-hanging outlet box. Now THAT’s classy!

    1. Yes, sketchy home-gown electrics dangling near those steel-framed stairs. It is only wimpy US-type 110V though; not hairy chested 220/240V, like they use in Australia and the UK.

      Approvals for tight spiral stairs are correctly limited or difficult to obtain. They’re inherently a little tricky/dangerous to use, but sometimes a good solution (as shown in this article). Each to their own, but in my place, I’d want hand rails.

    2. Sorry for the somewhat “downer” commentary, but building codes try to establish basics of safety not just for the current occupants, but also for the future occupants who may not have had a hand in the decision making. After years of repairing and rebuilding “home-made” construction projects, I have a less sanguine view of homeowner undertakings. Some are fantastic and well done, many are marginal at best.

      Speaking of home made, I once saw a homeowner-installed addition of a new receptacle in a bedroom, that involved a piece of lamp cord run through a hole in the wall to the outside, then along the siding to return through a second hole in another bedroom 20 feet away. Very classy!

      1. There used to be a website we’d pass around links for that was about nightmare home repairs and construction jobs, but I can’t remember what it was.
        (It’s not thereIfixedIt, but that’s fun too)

        I guess my problem is just too many rules about what I can do with my own home, which I have no intention of selling.
        It’s not just the rules stuff, it’s that I can ignore the firetrap wiring or falling-apart back staircase in my 1930 house, but if I want to fix them (or have them fixed), I have to pay the city for inspectors to validate codes that I’m not allowed to see.
        Our city says I can’t install a ceiling fan without getting a permit and paying a city inspector to sign off that I’m not hanging it from the plaster.

        1. I definitely understand the frustration with codes and inspectors. Some inspectors are reasonable and some are power wielding martinets. Some of their rulings involve interpretations of code that may or may not be understandable and supportable. They are required to show you the applicable code, although they rarely enjoy being questioned.  

          1. “they rarely enjoy being questioned.”

            Everyone else who wanted to make  Understatement Of The Day go home, the slot has been filled.

      2. “After years of repairing and rebuilding “home-made” construction projects”

        Sounds like you need to be charging more the minute you hear someone say, “And then I fixed it myself!”  They learn a lesson and you don’t feel as annoyed at them.

  8. Dammit Cory, I have work to do! Why would you direct me to a site like that? Incidentally, for those worried about the safety of the stairs, you shouldn’t really look at the section for children’s furniture.

    1. I don’t see an issue with that as long as that chain is attached to a joist in the ceiling.  It even has railing all the way around it.

      That was better than the loft I made in college that didn’t have railing….cause being drunk and sleeping 5 feet off the ground is always a good idea.

      1. Hey, at least you built it. My friend just balanced his girlfriends bed on two wardrobes to build her loft! I think about 6 months later he decided to actually get some joining in place, but it never got a railing. Its still being used now though!

  9. I like the look of these, but I don’t understand why using IKEA countertops is considered “cheap” or a “cost savings”? You can buy regular oak boards for 2-3 times cheaper at any lumberyard. Heck, you can get surfaced oak for cheaper at a bib box store like Lowes or Home Depot.

    1. I’m no expert on US lumberyards, but I’ve never seen a “regular” oak board that was as wide or as thick as one of those steps.

      1. True, but the countertops are made up of thin strips joined together; they are not a single wide piece of oak either.

        1. But they are already joined into a single wide (and thick) sheet, so that all that needs doing is some fairly straightforward cutting and sanding. If you start from regular boards you’ll require the tools and skills of a professional joiner as well as an exorbitant amount of free time.

          1. Yes, you can save time and labor by spending more money. Which goes back to my original question of why using IKEA countertops is described as a “cost savings” when it is, as you point out, a “time and labor savings”.

          2. When labor is free and money is not, there can be a savings.  What he values his time at isn’t my problem.

          3. Sorry, I took it for granted that you would have a rudimentary grasp of the cost of things like two part epoxy, alcohol, replacement saw blades and various other consumables, but you clearly don’t have a clue. My mistake.

    2.  Actually the Ikea counters are very inexpensive.  If you price oak boards they are much more per square foot than those counters.  At 1.5″ thick the Ikea counters are $169.00 for 16 square feet, or $10.56/sf.  You would have trouble finding 1.5″ thick oak in stock off the shelf, you would probably have to go to a mill.  But doubling up on 1x lumber (which is .75″ thick, so doubled up would be 1.5″ thick like the Ikea countertops) would run about $12.50/sf from Home Depot.  You would have less interesting looking wood but stronger wood since it wouldn’t be glued-together pieces.  Assuming no piece was larger than 12″ deep that is – if it is then you would have to spend dozens of hours joining the pieces with the lumber.

  10. I didn’t care much for the staircase as I did for the whole video production. Quite nice editing, music, and directing. 

  11. Don’t get boingboing commenter’s perennial concern-trolling horror of any kind of staircase.

    1. Staircases are part of the set of inventions that would NEVER be allowed had they been invented in the past few decades. (Also in that set: consumers directly interacting with gasoline at filling stations.) A building code written today somehow independant of our cultural history would only allow elevators.

      That said, the negativity of the comments here is disgusting. People need to shut up and go make something awesome.

      1. Every house would get an elevator?

        How do you get down in a fire, power outage, or other emergency? I can see that sentence being used about escalators, but for regular stairs?

          1. While totally awesome, that would cause fewer injuries from the 10th floor?

            Why can’t life be more like The Goonies?

          2. While totally awesome, that would cause fewer injuries from the 10th floor?

            Not at all. I just think it would be totally awesome.

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