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A Minefield Surrounded by Booby Traps

A Minefield Surrounded by Booby Traps

Everything I have learned from my years in the stair business can be summed up by the title of this blog. At times in conversation I may hyperbolize a bit for effect. I promise you, I am not hyperbolizing or exaggerating one bit. Stair and rail work is, IMHO, THE most unforgiving, pitfall laden segment of the residential construction industry.

These traps and mines do not go BOOM! Oh no, they have dollar signs attached to them! Some are more “lethal” than others. It could be anything from being short a few balusters. No problem. To a worthless pile of expensive, custom fabricated parts unusable due to faulty measurements. BIG problem! OR a staircase installed poorly or is sub-code worthy and needs to be torn out and replaced. HUGE problem!

This may help explain why there are so few stair and rail contractors and why so many otherwise skilled and capable finish carpenters refuse to work with stairs. Construction is a tough business for lots of reasons. Companies need to get it right more often than they get it wrong or else they risk going the way of the Dodo bird!

In the stair trade, we really only get one chance to achieve a successful outcome. What causes stair-builders to get hung up…and they do? Complacency, over-confidence, distractions, inexperience would top the list. Do you really need to ask how I know this!

Remember our HS algebra? Let’s try a word problem. Add together all the complexities and details involved in any given stair project to the power of Building Codes. Multiply this by the need for extremely skilled workers to achieve at least a satisfactory product. Divide the sum by the high cost of the components which, in most cases, are unique for that particular job and cannot be used elsewhere. Now, square this by the fact that EVERY customer rightly has a very high expectation of quality when it comes to stairs. We end up with a complicated, expensive, time sensitive product that has to be done right and to a high level of satisfaction the first time!

Literally, there are a myriad of components available and every job is unique for a myriad of reasons. Of all the possibilities, only certain combinations make sense for the application at hand. How to know what combination of components is right for the job? That’s the big question that takes lots of experience to know the answer to. As with other professions involving craftsmanship, a successful outcome in stair-work is accomplished by successfully addressing the many, sometimes seemingly insignificant details along the way...

A beautiful stair is simply a collection of many details handled beautifully!

The customer’s tastes are what they are and the application is what it is. A good stair and rail designer/craftsman bridges this gap effectively, efficiently and expertly. This knowledge takes years to acquire as there is no school, no single book, no training program available to teach it.

So, if anyone is interested in tip-toeing past booby traps to find themselves squarely in the middle of a minefield, you’re welcome to join me!

Our next discussion will explore the real costs of “productive hand-craftsmanship”.

Thank you!

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