Our cat is somewhere north of 12 years old. We’re not sure exactly how old she is. But she’s starting to show signs of decreased mobility. We keep her food and her bed cave on top of our dog kennel in our living room and what used to be one confident leap from the floor to her food has now become two calculated and cautious leaps. To help her out, and see if she would even accept help, I CNC’d a 1/2” pine CD plywood set of stairs a few weeks ago. She instantly started using them. This also means that after a few weeks my wife said the ugly pine plywood had to go. This project will be making a replacement set of stairs out of hardwoods.
These stairs will be against a wall and behind a chair. Our walls are a chocolate brown in the living room so I’m going with walnut for the stair stringer. For increased visibility, I wanted to use a lighter color wood for the stair treads. For those, I’ll use white oak.
As almost always, the first step in my milling process is rough crosscutting at my miter saw station.
Followed by rough ripping at the bandsaw for the stair treads.
Then jointing two faces at the jointer for just the walnut board.
The white oak board was pretty darn flat, to begin with, and the pieces are only 8” long, so I opted for skip planing only for it. Also, teamwork makes the dream work.
More rough crosscutting at the miter saw station.
Finally, some final dimensions can be established. First, the walnut stair stringer is ripped to the final width at the tablesaw. Or so I thought…
And the stair treads are ripped to a final width of 4”.
Due to some knots and defects, it made sense to keep the stair tread material together in pairs. They are cut to their final length at the table saw with a crosscut sled.
With the stair treads cut I shifted attention to the stair stringer. That’s right, singular use of the word stringer. I’m going for a somewhat modern look for these stairs. My plan is to offset the stringer toward the wall and have a cantilevered appearance for the overall design. Because the rise and run are both 4” a speed square makes quick work of the layout.
Design modification #1. My concept drawing had an 8” wide stair stringer. That’s overkill for just a cat to walk up. And I thought it would look too bulky with the smaller stair treads.
So I ripped a few inches off the bottom side at the table saw.
A workbench holdfast is an incredibly handy invention. It’s quick and easy to adjust which makes it perfect for the multiple positions I’ll need to hold the board to cut the stringer.
Here’s one of those tools where there is a large gap in cut quality between the super cheap and the somewhat expensive models. A good jigsaw and a good jigsaw blade will produce a much better cut than a cheap jigsaw with a good jigsaw blade. You can also get straight cuts riding the jigsaw base against a straight edge.
Back to the stair treads for some joinery. A simple dado is all that will be used to connect the treads to the stringer. To add some visual interest, I cut half of these dados with the fence 3” away from the fence and the other half with the fence 2.25” away.
Even though the top platform is much larger than the rest of the stair treads it also gets the same dado through its entire width. I’m not sure what dimensions the top platform ended up being. I had a short piece of the white oak board I started with that looked appropriate for a shelf so I used it. I never even measured it.
This was a fun step. To make the stair treads look a little more modern all four corners got a 1” radius. I did this at the router table with a big flush trim bit and a radius template jig. The bearing on the bit rides against the radius template on the jig and, so long as it’s cutting in the downhill direction, the entire cut can be made in one pass. Pretty nifty, and fast!
Next a .125” radius is added to the top and bottom edges of the stair treads and the bottom edge of the stair stringer.
Time for assembly! This went by pretty quick. With the stringer in the vise, I added a little glue.
And tapped the tread into place making sure it was flush with the front of the stringer.
Rinse and repeat for the rest of the treads. I made sure to alternate the dado offset as I went down the stairs.
The top platform only gets glue in the first 4” of the dado but as you can see the dado went all the way through the width of the board. There just wasn’t a reason to make a stopped dado here, or plug the rest of it, because it will never be seen.
After an hour or so of dry time, the stair is leaned up against my workbench in hopes that it didn’t fall apart! Hahaha!
Next, sanding can begin. I didn’t go crazy with sanding. There’s no need to take this up to the same level as something like a conference table. I’m sure the cat won’t be able to tell a difference anyway.
And finally, the one day build is ended with a few coats of sprayed shellac.
The next day I set it up in the shop to shoot the video outro. That’s it! A quick and easy one day build that serves a specific purpose. Simple, yet interesting.
Of course, the cat approves.
As you can see, the stairs tuck away nicely behind a chair in our living room.