If you’ve been following my misadventures, you know that I spent one day trying to ID the dollhouse pieces. I had questions. What is a stair stringer, and what does it look like? Which ones are the window frame? What is the door trim? And why do I have so many leftover pieces?
All of my questions (and lack of answers) is likely because I have no idea what I’m doing.
That’s what makes this so much fun.
Anyway, one of the things that came out of ID day was that I am quite possibly missing a stair stringer. But I’m not sure. Here’s the problem. According to the parts list, I’m supposed to have two stair stringers. But, I could only find one stair stringer. At least, I think I only found one stair stringer.
See, I should have started with (among other things) what is a stair stringer? Because, if I knew the answer to that question, I’d know if I was actually missing one. Then, I could figure out other things like: do I really need two stair stringers? Can I get away with just one? I want to know not only what is a stair stringer, but what does it do? Is it purely decorative or what?
What Is a Stair Stringer in Real Life?
According to the Internet, a stair stringer is a board that goes on one or both sides of your staircase and supports the weight of the stairs. It also supports the weight of people on said staircase.
The best way to describe a stair stringer is to say it’s the angled piece that looks like your stair profile (but not always). Since I know that description doesn’t answer your burning question “what is a stair stringer,” here’s a picture:
See how the board on the side has notches that match the profile of a staircase? And, the actual stairs are resting on those notches? That’s a stair stringer. It seems simple enough and, truthfully, it looks like it’s awfully important to staircase construction.
The more I tried to figure out what a stair stringer is, the more I learned. For example, there’s more than one type of stair stringer. And, not all staircases have two stair stringers.
Double stringer staircases
I’m supposed to have two stair stringers for this dollhouse. That would make my dollhouse staircase a two-stringer staircase (in case that isn’t obvious).
In real life, a two-stringer staircase has two stair stringers, one on each side. Depending on where the staircase is located, one of the stringers is attached to the wall. While you can build a staircase with just one, two-stringer staircases tend to be more stable than one-stringer staircases.
With a two-stringer staircase, the steps are supported on both sides of the staircase. When you step on the middle of the stairs, your weight is equally supported by both stair stringers, letting you feel like you can step anywhere on the step and you won’t fall through.
Single stringer staircases
As the name implies, a single stringer staircase has one stringer. In this case, the stringer goes down the middle of the staircase. While, technically, this is an acceptable set-up, these tend to feel less stable and secure than two-stringer setups. When you step on the stair, it feels like the ends are little less supported than when you step in the middle.
The one thing I couldn’t figure out is how do you attach a one-stringer staircase to anything? While the main purpose of a stair stringer is to support weight, it’s also used to help attach a staircase to a wall. I’m not sure how you do that with a single stringer staircase.
Of course, not all staircases attach to walls, but that’s another post for another day.
Open stair stringers
The above picture is a picture of an open stair stringer. Sometimes, they’re also called cut stringers, and I bet you can guess why. Open stair stringers allow you to see the shape of the steps. It creates that zig-zag look. From what I can tell, a style choice. However, that’s not the whole story.
In real life, creating open stair stringers are a lot more work. You’ve got to cut the stringer to fit each board, and those cuts have to be perfect. My guess is that it’s the same in miniature work. Imperfect stair stringers lead to imperfect staircases. Other than that, I can’t seem to find a difference in terms of safety or performance. Using open stair stringers seems to be a matter of taste.
Closed stair stringers
Above, you saw a picture of an open stair stringer. To be fair, here’s a picture of a closed stair stringer.
As far as I can tell, the main difference between a closed stair stringer and an open one is look. You can pick an open or closed one based on what you like. And your budget. Closed stringers are cheaper than open ones because the open stringers have to be cut to fit and obviously, that’s more expensive.
For the record, in everything I’ve looked at for the Keeper’s House, it looks like I’m using closed stair stringers. I could, if I’m feeling ambitious, turn that into an open one. But, first, I want to figure out if I really need two for this project!
Do I Need Two Stair Stringers for My Miniature Dollhouse Staircase?
Now that I know what a stair stringer is and what it does, the question becomes, do I need two stair stringers for my Keeper’s House dollhouse?
I don’t know.
On the one hand, it seems that a stair stringer is a big safety component for real-life staircases. They support the weight of the staircase and the weight of the people on the staircase. Without a stair stringer, I’m guessing the staircase would fall down. Not what we’re going for in real-life, or miniature life for that matter.
On the other hand, this is a miniature dollhouse. It’s not like real people will be on the staircase. And, even if I do add residents and their weight is proportional in scale (which I highly doubt), it’s not like these people are going to always be on the stairs. Unlike real-life, the miniature people won’t be going up and down the stairs several times a day (unless the Toy Story movies are right in which case, yikes). It’s not like I really need the safety and support.
So, then, it’s a style thing, right?
Style over Safety?
I tried to get an up-close picture of the inside of a completed Keeper’s House to show you the installed staircase. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good ones. And, since I haven’t finished my Keeper’s House, I got nothin’.
I could skip the stair stringers if I decide I want an “open concept” staircase — as in, one without railings or sides. And, in this case, I’d have an open stringer “look,” which is also cool, even if I don’t really have a stringer. Those are cool. And, even though the stairs are going against a wall, it’s a thing — stairs against walls with no railings.
That said, as I look at all of the pictures I can find, it looks like the outside stair stringer is there just to “finish off” the look of the staircase. Let’s face it, this is a Keeper’s House (as in, New England lighthouse). I’m not saying this kind of house can’t have an open concept staircase. I’m just saying, it traditionally wouldn’t.
But, it’s my miniature dollhouse. So, I can do what I want.
Also, it doesn’t look like there’s a second stair stringer in the picture. The staircase is up against the wall, and I can’t see behind the staircase. So, technically, it could be there. However, for as many times as I’ve dry fit the staircase into the dollhouse, I don’t think a second stringer is necessary. Unless, and this could be the case, the second stringer is used to help space the staircase in the opening and to help anchor it to the wall.
In terms of safety, I can’t find a reason why I would have to have a stair stringer. The only reason I can think of is that the staircase was in two pieces that I had to glue together (remember that?). Theoretically, it would give the two stair pieces a little extra support (which is what a stair stringer is — support), which can’t be all bad.
Can I Skip the Stair Stringer?
I’m kind of thinking that yes, in my case, I can skip the it. If I were building stairs from scratch, I’d have to say “no.” Without a stair stringer, I’d have no place to put the stairs. Literally. Making it open or closed would be a personal choice.
But, for this project, I’m starting to wonder if I really need one. If you look at the picture of the staircase, it honestly looks like it already has a stair stringer on it. Frankly, I feel like it looks like an open stair stringer. And, I kind of like it.
Given that I glued the pieces together with tacky glue and it dried clear, I could just paint the stairs and call it a day. I still need a side rail, but, I might be able to get away with skipping the stair stringer all together.
Hmm. More fun things to think about.
Have you ever skipped the stair stringer on a miniature dollhouse? How did it go? What happened? Am I asking for trouble? Does a stair stringer actually do anything in a miniature dollhouse?