How to Make a Stair Set out of Pallets


Things You’ll Need

  • Harwood pallets

  • Crowbar

  • Tape measure

  • Pencil

  • Calculator

  • Saw

  • Sanding block

  • Sandpaper

  • Wood stain or paint

  • Paintbrush

  • Framing square or T-square

  • 3 boards of 2-by-12 lumber

  • 3 joist hangers

  • Drill

  • 1-inch deck screws

  • Nail gun

  • 3-inch nails

Stacked pallets Reclaimed wood from a pallet is less expensive than retail dimensional lumber. Image Credit: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

When you are remodeling or building something from scratch, it isn't always necessary to use new retail dimensional lumber; if you have access to scrap pallets, you might have all the wood you'll need for a building project. Virtually everything shipped anywhere rides on wood pallets that are made to withstand heavy cargo and rough handling. When cargo eventually gets unloaded from a pallet, the pallet might be returned for further use as a pallet or it might wind up in a refuse pile bound for a landfill if not for fuel, recycling or a special project such as a stair set. By making stairs out of reclaimed wood from high-quality pallets, you help reduce landfill waste and use sustainable practices for your project.

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Step 1

Select the best boards from the pallets. The boards should be free of rot, gaps and woodworm. Use a crowbar to pry the boards in the pallets apart. The number of boards you need depends on the number of treads and risers on the stairs. Bear in mind that the treads should be at least 11 inches deep, so you may need to use two boards per tread.

Step 2

Calculate the rise and run of the steps so you know the number of boards to cut for the treads. The rise is the total height of the stairs and the run is the total depth of the stair set. To find out the number of treads you need, divide the rise in inches by 7.25 and round the answer to the next whole number. For example, if the rise is 72 inches, you will need 10 treads (72 inches ÷ 7.25 = 9.93).

To calculate the run, you need to find the number of risers you need. To figure this out, subtract 1 from the number of treads in the stair set. Using the example above, you will have nine risers (10 treads – 1 = 9 risers). Then multiply the number of risers needed by the depth of the tread. If you are using treads that are 11 inches deep and have nine risers, the run will total 99 inches (11 inches x 9 risers = 99 inches).

To find each rise in the stair set, or the height needed between each step, divide the total rise by the number of risers. Using the example above, each individual riser will measure 8 inches (72 inches ÷ 9 risers = 8 inches).

Step 3

Cut the reclaimed wood boards down to size. Base the width of the treads and risers on the location of the stair set. If the stairs are between two walls, make the boards at least 36 inches wide. For stairs between a wall and a handrail, use boards that are at least 31.5 inches wide. Boards that are at least 27 inches wide are ideal if the stairs are between two handrails.

Step 4

Sand the boards until they are smooth.

Step 5

Paint or stain the boards in the color of your choice.

Step 6

Draw guidelines on the flat side of three 2-by-12 boards, which you will use as the stringers. Use a framing square or T-square to help you draw straight lines on the lumber. Draw the guidelines according to the rise and run calculations you previously made.

Step 7

Cut the 2-by-12 stringers along the guidelines you drew.

Step 8

Place three joist hangers just below the edge of the top platform of the stair set. Install two so the distance between the outer edges equals the width of the treads. Then place the third joist hanger between the two on the ends.

Step 9

Secure the stringers to the joist hangers with 1-inch deck screws.

Step 10

Attach the risers to the vertical ends of the stringers with 3-inch nails.

Step 11

Secure the treads to the flat sides of the stringers with 3-inch nails.


Contact the port authority, your local recycling center or a company that makes products from reclaimed wood about locating hardwood pallets.

If a reclaimed board has a stain, you can apply small amount of bleach to it until it fades.

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