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Frequently asked spiral stair questions

.......How many plans do you offer?

All the spiral stairs pictured on my site were made using the one set of plans I offer.

As you read and follow the plans you'll determine your parts sizes unique to your own set of circumstances.

.......Why can't I make the handrail the same diameter as my stair?

It won't work. When the flat circle of wood is pulled into the helix during installation the rail the diameter decreases, sometimes quite substantially. It's like pulling on the ends of a spring, the more you pull the straighter the spring becomes.

Every spiral has a different rise and diameter, meaning they all have handrails that are climbing at different angles. If your spiral has little rotation, the handrail will be much straighter than a slower rotating staircase.

.......What are my treads widths doing?

The best way to see what you're really going to end up with is to make a tread pattern out of paper and trace it on the floor around a central point. This will show you exactly the rotation you'll get by using that tread shape. Don't neglect the baluster notches cut from your pattern, that'll let you space the notches the 1 inch the balusters will consume. The balusters add to the overall stair rotation an inch each.

If you need to adjust the width a little to get the landing and bottom tread exactly where you want them, it's a lot easier to do with a paper pattern than re-cutting treads. You can also tell which tread/rise is going to be coming around under the back edge of the landing and determine your headroom.

.......Are these hard to build?

Not really. More often that not when I sell a set of plans the first I hear that a stair was built from them is when the builder sends me some pictures.

It's kind of hard to answer as everyone has different skill levels. I can say that some builders have written to me mentioning their project was more fun than work once they got started. I'd suggest you read through the portion of the plans I've posted and see if they seem workable for you.

The treads are not much more complicated than making a dozen or so pie shapes with notches in their corners and a hole in one end. The balusters are simple, 2 by 2s with an angle on one end and a couple of notches on the other.

The steel parts are usually best cut to length by the folks that sell you the pipe unless you have a way to play with larger pipe diameters. The handrail for the stair is just a dozen 3/4 by 1/4 inch slats that are glued together, laminated, (glued together) around a flat circular form. The railing isn't pulled into a helix until it's being installed.

.......Can I build an exterior spiral stair?

I would suggest using a wood type that works well in your area. If that happens to be treated, use the driest you can find, the wet stuff doesn't glue well. I'd also paint all the steel parts with a good paint, probably epoxy, inside and out. You can also consider using aluminum instead of steel for the spacers.

It's hard to guess at what wood would work best where you are. What luck have your neighbors been having with their decks? I would suggest using a wood type that works well in your area.

If you can afford to build using an exotic, Brazilian Redwood, Teak or IPE, you could expect premium long term performance. These are expensive, but claim to resist weather for 25 years without requiring treatments. All three are especially oily woods.

I've done a quick glue test on them using epoxy, first washing the joint area with lacquer thinner, a complete failure. I next tried gorilla glue, a polyurethane. I had better luck but it still only split off 50% of the glued surface. If it were teak it should have been rinsed off with acetone rather than the thinner.

You can find a little info on the spline joint I used for Ipe by following this link.

Be cautious, the chemicals and salts in treated wood like to eat steel, un-galvanized fasteners disappear after a few years.

.......Will you answer questions that I may have during construction?

Yes, Every now and then a builder may need clarification on some point, or needs a little advice about installing in an abnormal situation. I'm more than happy to offer any assistance I can as I also want your project to be something we can both be proud to say we made.

.......What restrains this stair?

The stair isn't supported as much as it's restrained in place. At the base of the stair there's a small circle of wood the center pole slips over to restrain any side to side movement. The top of the stair is held in position by the landing capturing the center pole and being fastened to the adjacent floor.

Here's a Picture of my stair here at home with a load that's probably more than you'll normally have in your application.

.......How small can I make this stair?

I never recommend making a spiral much less than 48" in diameter. There just isn't much room between the center pole and the handrail when the staircase gets much smaller than 48". There are some steel spiral stairs that can be ordered from elsewhere on the internet that are as small as 36" in diameter.

.......Do you make kits?

Although I have built several spirals for shipping elsewhere, I don't say I make kits. Almost every spiral you can find on the internet comes dis-assembled for shipping. To me, that means it's a kit. I have made parts for other peoples projects though, like the steel spacers and top posts. It's hard to say if my making the steel for you would be a cost savings for you or not. For example, shipping 100 pounds or so from Michigan to Colorado costs around $60.

.......What size hole will I need in the floor?

Normally, the finished hole should be about three inches bigger than your stair diameter. The reason for this is to allow you to keep your fingers on the handrail as you pass through the hole. More often than not though, the handrail actually passes through the floor nearer one of the corners of the opening. If the front edge of your landing is perpendicular to one of the hole edges, the handrail will be close to the next side of the hole though and the finger clearance is strongly advised.

If you're using a round hole in the floor, the hole has to be bigger than your stair diameter, no options here.

.......How tall/short can I make a stair?

There's really no limit in either case, the stair will just revolve more or less than 360 degrees. There's at least one stair pictured on my site that shows one I built that's around 14 feet high. That one revolves about a full revolution and another third. I've also helped a customer alter the stair plans to make a quarter turn library stair less than four feet high.

.......How long do they take to make?

I spend around 65/80 hours for a complete installed staircase. staining and intermediate balusters consume more time. These hours don't include the hole in the floor or the handrailing around it.

.......Do you make these for other people?

Yes, I make a couple or so spirals every year, some have even been sent away for installation by others. It's difficult to put a price on a project, but normally they run from around $2,800 to $3,200 depending on the options, for example, intermediate balusters, staining, wood species and carpet routing.

.......Do you do stair design work?

At times I've used my various software to produce working dimensioned drawings for unique stair situations. If you have a project that you think I may be of some help with, please write to me at

.......PayPal sucks, what else can I do?

I also accept personal checks, money orders, or even cash. Please don't send me your credit card numbers, I wouldn't know what to do with them. If you don't trust your mail person either, sent the envelope registered mail.

.......I'm a foreigner, can I get a discount?

I try to help out as much as I can knowing the stair plans price is quite a bit of money in some countries. Since I began selling plans in 1998 I've started collecting foreign folding currencies. Upon request I've taken to accepting examples of bills in exchange for the plans and support. The denominations (value) of the bills isn't as important as the variety, I won't be exchanging the bills. It doesn't even really matter if the bills are from your own country, it's the variety that's most important.

I'm sorry, but I have examples of currencies from Canada and England, I don't think those countries are impoverished anyway. I've also collected several bills from Siberia, Japan, Korea, Serbia, Jamaica, Guatemala, Venezuela, Russia, Bolivia, Libya, Mexico, Hercegovine, South Africa, Scotland, Sweden, and even a couple of Euros, but would certainly like more countries represented.

.......I have a question not answered here. Write me

hi Jim,

I purchased a set of your plans a year or so ago and am today using them in plans for my re-model. I must say, your plans seem very good. I dont know how many sets you have sold, but I think there is a way you could sell many more. you should raise the price. I nearly did'nt buy them because I thought that at $20.00 they would be a waste of my time to review and try to get my money back! I think people would pay a lot more. I expected to when I began looking. I was amazed at how much I got for 20 bucks.My printer just kept going and going!

Additionally, your grasp of the construction processes could be a money making gift. If I were not interested in figuring out the patterns or if I were an architect I would expect to pay several hundred dollars for such a service.

Anyway, thanks


Hi Ted,

......... I must say, your plans seem very good.

Thank you very much! When I first tried writing out how I make them I tried to do it without using pictures or drawings knowing that it would make a lot more sense when I did include a few sketches. could sell many more. you should raise the price.

If I charged more, at least some of the purchasers out there would drive me crazy thinking they were owed a lot even after the purchase. As it is, I get someone every now and then that wants to get by without even reading the plans before firing off questions in my direction. I really like to be of help, that's the key word there, help.

......... I was amazed at how much I got for 20 bucks. My printer just kept going and going!

Luckily I only needed to do the plans work one time, with some refining along the way of course, so what I've presented for use isn't still consuming my time. I'm also a little concerned with those that don't have much money and want to still try to make something nice for themselves. I've even had a half dozen or so people want the plans for making stairs for their cats. I also just give away the plans URL to a few people on occasion, like a mission in Siberia, a church group in Mississippi, and a guy in Bosnia. After being over seas in the military I've seen some real poverty and know what some folks are up against. I don't have much sympathy for the "poor" in America though, they're still a hell of a lot better of than most of the world.

.........I could send the specs to you and you could send back exact details, perhaps even patterns.

I've done a lot of that, checking over what people have figured out they would try to do but lack the confidence to jump right in there and make sawdust.

.........I would expect to pay several hundred dollars for such a service.

Just for the experience, I've done a lot of one off design work on peoples winding stair projects. There's a guy in Baltimore now that I'm working with that's in need of a five flight winding staircase. He's offered to pay for my services, but I've got him running the same software I do now and he's have a ball playing stair designer.

I really appreciate your taking the time to let me know you liked what you've received so far.


Jim Self

Your only internet source for spiral staircase plans.

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