End Grain Craftsman Takes His Blocks to The Stairs

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Matt Marwick of Precision Floorcrafters Inc. seems to attract clients with ideas that test his abilities, but, with five Wood Floor of the Year awards since 2009, he's proven he rises to the challenge. For this unusual project, Marwick's floor literally rises to the challenge, as his trademark end-grain climbs the stairs.

Marwick answered this homeowner's request with a freestanding open-riser staircase that starts narrow at its base and gradually widens to the right as it nears the second-floor landing. In keeping with his M.O., the stair treads were covered with box-matched end grain cut from reclaimed hickory.

"The concept was the culmination of the client's desires for a one-of-a-kind non-traditional staircase as well their explicit trust in my artistic expression of what that would be," Marwick says.

The project took several months to complete. In order to support each tread, Marwick constructed plywood cores from Baltic birch. The plywood was glued and clamped, then sanded with a wide-belt sander to a uniform thickness of 11⁄2 inches.

Then Marwick began fastening the end grain to the core. He cut the 21⁄4-inch-thick hickory to 3⁄8 inches thick and glued the pieces in box-matched rows to the top and bottom of the core. He secured the end grain to the front and back of the core with a combination of Kreg Jig pocket holes every 4 to 6 inches and wood glue. The treads were finished with tung oil.

The only small hiccup during this project happened online. One of Marwick's workers uploaded a photo of the staircase to Facebook before it was completed and, amid a heaping of praise, some commenters—not realizing the engineered construction of the treads—voiced their opinion that end-grain stairs are a terribly unsafe idea.

Marwick says he didn't want to respond online. It wasn't worth it, he says, though he did have first-hand evidence that his stairs were plenty strong.

"After two men successfully carried a Hummel belt sander down the stairs, I would say the stairs are quite safe and adequate for reasonable use."

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