Books for Scratch Staircase Building
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WeekendMiniaturist

I have always admired miniaturists who build wonderful staircases in roomboxes and their dollhouses.  I remember Paul Moore had (from memory) created the Winterthur Staircase and it was shown on the inside cover of the back of a Miniature Collector Magazine.  

 

In my recent quest of stairbuilding and I had a nice conversation with Peter Kendall at Guild School and he recommended a book, A Treatise on Stairbuilding & Handrailing by W&A Mowat.   (Excellent Book.)

 

I also purchased, Constructing Staircases, Balustrades & Landings by William P. Spence and Taunton's Building Stairs from the Editors of Fine Homebuilding.

 

It is interesting that the cover of the book, Constructing Staircases, Balustrades & Landings has a Houseworks curved staircase on the cover.   When I looked at the book initially, I was wondering if we were going to discuss miniature staircases. 

 

I think I have all my questions answered, now to just apply the knowledge.

 

In Taunton's book, the chapter of Making a Curved Handrail fascinates me.  There is store bought bending rail to enable the curved handrail for real life applications, and at the end of the chapter, when I asked about the compound routering for the curved handrail, (see Bill Robertson's Forum on the staircase in Twin Manors) the curved part of the handrail that sets above the Newell post at the bottom of the stairs is called a volute.  It is going to be fun to try and make one of these someday. 

 

Tamra/Indiana

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Artist

Oh that's interesting because that's exactly what I wanted to do- make a curved banister at the bottom.

A site in Hong Kong  http://www.uol.hk where I purchased my carved wood chairs and table from has some stairs as well, they have a curved banister but when I looked at the detail photos I wasn't very happy with the overall quality of their stairs, they also made use of plywood in it and I could see where they had even sanded through the veneer a little. They wanted around $85 or so for it, they are not bad really but I felt I could just make one the size I wanted myself for less, and better once I've made  a couple of them.

 

The stairs was the item that originally got me more seriously interested in making my room box- seriously- I wanted an interesting 1" staircase with fancy spindles and all and decided to build the box for one.

I think the volute is not difficult to make at all, but the grain has to be oriented right for one thing, but I think the greatest difficulty is in getting it shaped and angled properly so that it matches the banister and blends in with it and doesn't look "added on" and then the angle of rise, angle of cut and fitting it over maybe 4 spindles is a real bear to get everything lined up and in place right.

I was going to do it with my stairs but decided to just make it have a curve 90 degrees over to the newel to keep this first one simpler.

 

That configuration was not difficult and it only took a few minutes to saw and then sand/shape the little banister piece to do it.

 

I suppose one of my motivating factors in all of this is I had a wealthy cousin who was also a sculptor- when I was little, she died when I was around 7, she lived on a large estate on Long Island and she had house servants- cook, maid, and secretary, possibly  a gardener/groundskeeper. The house was built in 1906 and it had a huge very cool  open wood staircase, down at the bottom by the kitchen was a very formal library with books to the ceiling and attached rolling ladder, but on two tables were these two large antique Victorian  room boxes with glass cases, I only remember the one she turned the lights on for me to see- it was a living room or dining room scene with a carpet, tables, chairs etc. I thought it was so  cool!

 

I never knew what happened to them or anything about them other than a couple of girls in the family got them, they would have been Thorne room quality and furnished with very expensive antique miniatures.

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Artist

Interestingly enough, I looked up all 3 books on Amazon, they are all available used cheap, one is 89 cents, another is $1.00, I was going to buy one or more of them but the poor and negative reviews on all 3 of the books is surprising, so maybe I'll find somehting better later.

Some samples:

  • At best, a poor collection of ill-connected articles.
  •  
  • do not buy this book!!
  •  
  • Not enough detail
  •  
  • Why bother
  •  
  • Dont judge a book by its cover
  • This book is not for you if you are looking for information on how to build a curved staircase. It virtually tells you nothing except that the stair manufacturer will bring it to you in pieces and install it. The curved staircase picture on the cover may lead you to believe you'll learn about how to construct a curved staircase. That is not the case
  •  
  • Not useful for railings
  •  
  • This is a very old book, written in 1900. It's table of contents list circular staircases as one of the items discussed in the book. However, it gives you virtually no info on constructing such a staircase.
  •  

When I made my stairs I found two basic methods- the stringers cut out and treads and risers attached, the other method was cutting blocks of wood triangular in shape to create the tread and riser in one, which were then faced with boards.

I chose the second method, once i decided on hte rise and tread depth I cut long pieces of basswood that height and width then ripped the angle on the table saw.

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WeekendMiniaturist

I like all three books.  When I take into consideration the amount of money I spend in miniature tourism, traveling and having fun, museum hopping and shopping for scale miniatures, $15 including shipping is a wonderful value for me, but I do prefer to read and study before I start cutting wood.  Some of us are just naturally inclined and can miniaturize anything, moi must study before I mess up that most perfect piece of wood that I plan to use for my project.  Cutting wood, is similar to my decisions into cutting a piece of silk.  I plan, and incidentally, I am more likely to practice with other materials like foamboard... and remember I don't have a lifetime of machining behind me, and I don't have access to a mill... so my machining knowledge is limited to my own experience and the few classes I have taken at GS or with Tom Walden in Chicago.  There is a lot of geometry in the first book that I recommended, and historical info... and I have always been a student of mathematics and historical staircases, so the first book is most appealing to me.  My husband is a cabinetmaker, but he doesn't build homes, he can help me with any piece of furniture that I would want to make, He may be able to build a miniature staircase from a photo, but I have to study and plan.

 

Were the reviews by miniaturists or people who were trying to build a staircase for their own home?  Were the reviews by contractors? As Bill Robertson mentioned, staircase building is an art.    As a collector of books on many different subjects, I'm not much of a person to read reviews on books, especially when I'm paying $5 for them with shipping, I just buy them and make my own decisions.  I do read reviews for current technology... but not books.  As my husband has worked as a cabinetmaker since high school, you would not believe how many people in the world apply for a job in a cabinetshop and cannot read a tape measure.... perhaps these are the same people who are reviewing my books online.  All three of these will remain in my reference library.

 

If you find other books that have been helpful, please post them to the forum.  We all learn differently.  I have always attempted to learn by reading, then a few practice runs, and finally the finished item.  Experience is the greatest teacher, but I'm a reader first, because my experience has taught me to slow it down, and make a plan, 4 decades of living should teach you something correct?

 

I am sure you will have fun with your build, but in absence of access of a real life model to re-create, books are my most precious resource.

 

Tamra/Indiana

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ElgaKoster

Thank you Tamra, I wondered about these books after I read the reviews, in the past I have received a few books on furniture that I was disappointed in at first...but with time they proved to have a few answers that I didn't find in any other books. Books has always been my best friends in learning new things and I value the library that I have built up over the last few years.

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Artist

Oh for sure Tamra, I LOVE books, I have a large bookcase plus another one full of them, I also go for the antique books and periodicals from the 19th century in subjects I like and can almost always find a title I want on Amazon or Ebay, usually several copies available in different conditions and prices.

To date I have only been disappointed in ONE book I bought, it was a recent purchase:  "Making miniatures" by Venus and Martin Dodge, but since I bought it used/cheap it's no big deal, I almost never buy new books unless I really want it and that's the only way it's available and I don't want to wait.

 

With me, any time I want to do something I don't know about, be it plumbing, electrical, roofing the house, whatever... I always look for a book on the subject because they always have some usefull content, standards, criteria, suggestions and guidelines in them.

The exception was when I purchased a .38 revolver, you really have to go to a physical class and a firing range to learn what you need to know, a book is if little help there.

I usually find books I want or I am interested in by reading something or a search brings up an interesting title, I do read the Amazon reviews on almost everything I buy there- especially any electronics- because the reviews really are the gauge of what the buying public has experienced with that particular item.

I have yet to find anything having a 100% positive review, almost everything you see might have 500 positive 5 star reviews and 20, 1 star negative reviews, so it's important to READ  both sides because many times you will see 5 of those 1 star reviews will complain about stupid things such as shipping damage!

They are angry and run the PRODUCT down because UPS broke the item in transit! ignore those.

But if you read reviews that consistantly follow a theme such as 20, 1 star reviews out of 100 total reviews  all saying the item stopped working just days after installing it, you have to figure there is some serious problem there.

 

You can go crazy trying to decide on something like a graphics card for your computer by reading the reviews and trying to find the best one because every one of them has problems and not one of them is anywhere near perfect or ideal.

 

With books, it's  a bit different because everyone has different expectations, needs and skill levels, thus, a book I  might not like because for example it has very poor illustrations- all nothing more than poorly done drawings rather than actual photographs, someone else may really like the drawings better.

Maybe a book on roofing your house I will find fantastic because it has  one page on a specific aspect I really had to have details on that other books lacked, someone else might find the book poor because it skimmed over how to install gutters and that's what they needed most.

 

I just was amazed at the number of poor  reviews on those 3 books and their comments though, but obviously the people wrote what they felt about the books, but we can't know what their expectations or skill levels were either.

Heck for 89 cents and $1.00 plus postage they are cheap enough to buy and decide for yourself.

 

I do read reviews for current technology... but not books.  As my husband has worked as a cabinetmaker since high school, you would not believe how many people in the world apply for a job in a cabinetshop and cannot read a tape measure

 

 

I'm a woodworker by day, and what you say about tape measures is true, in my case though they have used metric measurements  for longer than the 16 years I've been there because the German made table saws they have both have metric scales on them, so I had to learn metric measuring- at least mm and cm, but even today I cannot visualize the size of  "200 mm" in my head like I can 29" and have to look at the tape measure. I'm so used to inch and foot measurements as well as analogue clocks- you know- the kind with real hands on them, that trying to work with metric or digital clocks I just don't have a visual reference of translation in my head. Maybe it's because we learn both systems at a very young age and they become so firmly imprinted that anything different is too foreign.

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Warren Barnard

just a quick response to visualizing metric when you know imperial that I learned as a child when we changed from imperial to metric in the 60s. near enough 25mm to the inch so 200mm = 8 inch, 300mm = 12 inchs or 1 foot so 2400 = 8 ft.1200mm = 4ft etc. hope this helps. its not a perfect conversion but easy on the head. We still get ply, mdf etc as either 2400 x 1200 or 2440 x1220 depending on whether it was made on a metric or imperial machine.

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WeekendMiniaturist

Elga, I enjoyed the post to the blog from The Lost Art Press... it makes me want to build that elusive cantilevered staircase... perhaps this is the year or next to tackle the volute...  I think when it comes to this portion of handrail, that I will carve it by hand... I have not chased down the life size jigs for handrail building that they discuss in the books that I purchased... I will see what the woodworking universe turns up for me.  If they make them for life size application; then surely we can figure out how to make the same jig for 1/12th application.

 

But first things first... I still have to figure out what kind of stairs belong in my dream miniature structure...thinking of building the staircase first, and then building the house around the staircase... probably the most backward plan for a structure ever... but it makes sense to me; as the rest of the house can easily be accessed in my imagination; after the stair situation has been resolved.

 

Paul Moore was at Guild School this year...and I did not beg for stairbuilding class, although it did cross my mind... I behaved myself and went back to the classroom to continue working on my project...

 

so... Paul if you are on the forum and reading...  there is one scale miniaturist who would love a stairbuilding 48 hour class proposal on cantilevered stairs...

 

Tamra

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karincorbin

There is no need to buy any books on historic architectural details, they are all available as free downloads from sources such as www.archive.org or www.gutenberg.org and also quite a few are free on google books.

 

These are books that were written before the 1940's, many of them date back to as early as the late 1700's. The majority are from the late 1800's. Some are for buildings of the era the books were written, others are documented measurements of buildings of earlier periods of time. You will find pretty much every detail of various types of buildings from the foundations to the roof ridge. Stair case work, window and door details, chimney, fireplaces, cornices, hinges, handles, vents etc. There will be line drawings, dimensions and instructions on how things such as curved railing patterns are developed using geometry.

 

Just go to one of the websites and do a keyword search adding some modifiers. Carpentry is a good base keyword to use. You can also use the name of a regional location or era. Such as Colonial house or colonial woodwork. Some books are from America but there are also books that are from England, Spain, France, etc. All of the classics on architecture and various styles from ancient on up to Art Deco are available. If you are looking for details from a country other than your own search out an internet list of architectural terms that shows your language and the one you are looking for. I find that opens up all kinds of information on specific items that I would never have found using only English in my keyword searches.

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WeekendMiniaturist

Karin, it is a great reminder that info is available for free - just as we can borrow books from the library; we can find resources online...

 

This is especially important when we are searching for reference info in another country.

 

Tamra

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WeekendMiniaturist

One of the guys from the Unimat forum sent me a link for photos of creating the volute...

 

www.thisiscarpentry.com/2009/07/15/drawing-a-volute/

 

There are two discussions and a video about the volute... 

 

And in my post above, where I pondered I was thinking about building the staircase first, and then the structure... was also discussed in the carpentry forum... those words rang very true for me - I'm hopeful!

 

I'm thrilled to have been pointed to this discussion and hope it is helpful to others in the forum.  Enjoy!

 

Tamra

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WeekendMiniaturist

I know my topic is books for staircases...and I'm not trying to Hijack my own thread... but Kaye Browning posted on the Maysville Museum's blog a beautiful cantilever spiral staircase (June 2018)  http://blog.ksbminiaturescollection.com/hands-of-time/   I must get to the Museum last quarter 2018... I think these beautiful stairs are residing in Paul Moore's Cabinet House... it is time for me to get Kaye's book out and look again to see if there are more clues...

Will you be able to visit the Maysville, KY Museum?  It is a wonderful opportunity to visit a Charming Community in Kentucky... Bourbon,  Thoroughbred Horses and someday KY will be famous because of this fine miniature collection!  The Guild Study Program and the Introduction of new Miniatures is the next great miniature vacation destination for 2018!

http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/kentucky/most-charming-town-kentucky/

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