Seattle Home Inspector's Blog


And around and around we go!

A while back Ray Wilson, fellow home inspector from Long Island, did a post---a couple of posts actually---about a set of stairs he built for a client.  His post inspired me to do a post of my own about stairs.

Circular StairsAs a builder, one of the things I did was build circular stairs (Frequently but inaccurately called spiral stairs).  True spiral stairs have no central bearing point.  The design was my own and I built at least 7 sets over the years.  Most of them were built prior to my moving to the left hand side of the country so I have very few pictures of the stairs---at least nothing digital that would make blogging about them easier.

I built one set here in Seattle, 22 years ago for people that have since become good friends.  When I was at their house the other day I asked them if I could come back and take some pictures---which of course they were gracious enough to let me do.

The stairs look pretty much the way I built them 22 years ago----a small amount of wear on the treads---and some color change typical of all natural-finished wood.

Except for the spaces between the treads, this set of stairs pretty much meets today’s codes.  Stairs I built after these had decorative pieces to reduce the spaces between the treads to 4.”Circular Stairs

I have built these stairs out of 6/4 and 8/4 oak, 10/4 ash, and even 12/4 white pine.  The thickness was always relative to the diameter of the stairs and/or the species of wood being used.  They have ranged from 5 feet in diameter to 7 feet in diameter----one was even “S” shaped which meant it had to have two center columns. 

Each tread is freely cantilevered from the central column, picking up only very incidental support from the balusters tied to the handrail.  The central column is solid wood.  Four threaded rods run from a steel plate that is bolted to the floor.  The solid blocks and treads slide down over the threaded rods which are then caped with another steel plate.  The nuts are tightened making the entire column and treads one rigid unit. After 22 years the stairs are still just as rigid as the day I cranked the bolts tight---indicative of virtually no shrinkage of the treads.

The most critical design element was the preciseness necessary in the spacer blocks.  If they were not of perfect thickness over the entire diameter the blocks, the spaces between the ends of the treads four feet away from the central column might be considerable.

Circular Stairs

Circular Stairs

Circular Stairs

Circular Stairs

Circular Stairs

Circular Stairs

I really enjoyed building these stairs and they are perhaps one of the few things that would drag me out of retirement---as a builder.


Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector



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Comment balloon 39 commentsCharles Buell • March 03 2011 09:19AM


Charles, Very impressive work!  Easy to see why you'd be proud of these.  Something no cookie cutter builder would ever dream of tackling.

Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 about 8 years ago

Good morning Charles.....all I can say is "WOW"....what a beautiful set of stairs....there are many builders today who wouldn't have a clue about how to properly build it....they have a truck, a hammer and a catalogue to order them....

Posted by Barbara Todaro, Marketing Agent for The Todaro Team (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) about 8 years ago

Charles, you do beautiful work.  Those stairs are amazing and the craftmanship is fantastic.  I have just one question, what happens when the house gets sold?  What do you have to do to make the stairs pass code>

Posted by Katherine Fornale, SFR, GRI (REMAX REALTY 9) about 8 years ago

Beautifully done Charles. I think you should consider coming out of retirement just so you can create these works of art for folks lucky enough to appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty of these staircases.

Posted by Craig Rutman, Raleigh, Cary, Apex area Realtor (Helping people in transition) about 8 years ago

Liz and Bill, thanks

Barbara, custom stuff like this was sort of my niche as a builder

Katherine, they met code when they were built so no changes would typically be "required."  If you wanted to upgrade them for safety a small piece would need to be added under each tread to reduce the space at the risers to 4" or less.

Craig, not sure my body would like that very much :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Hi Charles, these stairs are a wonderful way to make use of that smaller space. I can see excellent the craftmanship that went into these. Looks like a piece of art!

Posted by Cindy Westfall, ABR,GRI Your Tualatin & Portland Metro Real Estate (Premiere Property Group,LLC Portland Metro & Suburbs Oregon) about 8 years ago

That staircase is a work of art and shows the care of the craftsman who built it.  I can understand why they were so willing to have you over to take a look at your work.  All I can say is WOW!!!!

Posted by Kathryn Maguire, Serving Chesapeake, Norfolk, VA Beach ( (757) 560-0881) about 8 years ago

A reader can always tell when the writer is writing about something he truly loves. These stairs are beautiful and something you can be and are rightfully proud of. Makes me miss being in the building trade, even tho I never achieved the level of craftsmanship necessary to do work like that.

Posted by Glenn Roberts (Retired) about 8 years ago

Hi Charles!  I can't add anything new to the comments but agree that these stairs are gorgeous!  You are very talented!

Posted by Ann Allen Hoover, CDPE SRES ASP e-PRO Realtor - Homes for Sale - AL (RE/MAX Advantage South) about 8 years ago

Very nice Charles.   You are very talented, I have not seen anything like these before.

Posted by Jim Patton, Realtor - Stanislaus & Merced county Realtor. (Century 21 M&M - 209-404-0816) about 8 years ago

Even though I love to spiral staircase architecture and workable space, I hate to try to move furniture up and down from a floor that is only serviced by such a staircase...

Posted by Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS, Tacoma Washington Agent/Broker & Market Authority! (RE/MAX Northwest.) about 8 years ago

Just beautiful work Charles.

Posted by Ernie Steele, Call me, let's get started!!! 717-273-3774 (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homesale Realty) about 8 years ago

Hi Charles, the stairs are beautiful.  Well engineered and crafted.  I believe elegant would be appropriate.

Posted by Dale Ganfield about 8 years ago

Charles as cool as spiral stair cases look they are a pain in the tookus to get anything up there.. Especailly big matresses... Treadmills, dressers, etc.....Just thinking about carrying that stuff up those spiral stairs is giving me vertigo.

Posted by Stacey Smith, Your Orange County Beach Cities Realtor (Keller Williams Realty) about 8 years ago

Amazing work Charles - you have a talent.  Many years ago in Boy Scouts we went through Fort Point an old fort under the Golden Gate Bridge that defended SF from Confederate Raiders.  In the fort is a spiral stair case made of granite slabs that is held in place by balance.  (Don't ask me the details - I don't know) that stood up the the 1906 Earthquake.

Posted by Gene Riemenschneider, Turning Houses into Homes (Home Point Real Estate) about 8 years ago

Beautiful stairs. Stairs are such a difficult thing not only to make, but to make well. These far excede function, they are a work of art.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 8 years ago

Mr Charles,

I think they are very beautiful, I do wish that you had thoughted it thru so that they would meet codes.


Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 8 years ago

Dear Charles,

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever;               
Its lovliness increases; ..."                           What an amazing band detail at the corner!
John Keats (1795-1821)

Looking up at a circular stair     The Landing of the stairs.

Certainly worth being very proud!

Have a happy day -


Posted by Lynn B. Friedman, Concierge Service for Our Atlanta Sellers & Buyers (Atlanta Homes ODAT Realty Call/Text 404-939-2727 Buckhead - Midtown - Westside -- and more ...) about 8 years ago

Cindy, thanks---circular stairs can be a great way to save space and open space up

Kathryn, thanks

Glenn, I miss the days when I could build these things too---but we must always be willing to reinvent ourselves

Ann, thanks for your kind words

Jim, well there are not very many of them around :)

Paul, you are right and it is not a very good idea to use them as the only means of access to other levels----unless they are VERY big diameter.  One 7 foot diameter one that I did the owners found they could move just about anything up them.

Ernie, thanks

Dale, I like that word "elegant":)

Stacey, like I said to Paul---not a good idea to have circular stairs be the only way to another level

Gene, that sounds pretty cool

Jim, thanks---I thought you might like to see them

Nutsy, you sound like you caught a code

Lynn, thanks----the handrails of these stairs were laminated in place and then removed for finishing and then re-installed permanently.  1/4" thick oak bends fairly easily---2-1/2" oak doesn't bend well at all :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

That is beautiful work Charlie.  Good thing no bushy-tailed, wood-destroying organism has ever gotten to them.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 8 years ago

Beautiful Charles. As a guy who supervised millwork installations I can appreciate not only the skill and craftsmanship that went into them but the precision, the math, the engineering and the finesse of execution and finishing required. Bravo.

Posted by Robert Butler, Montreal Home Inspector | Aspect Inspection (Aspect Inspection) about 8 years ago

Those stairs look much better then the ones I have run across, and I don't see them very often. Great work and something to be proud of.

Posted by Brian Persons, Certified Master Inspector (Brian Persons Front Range Home Inspections) about 8 years ago

Jay, they would be some mighty find eatin'

Robert, thanks---in terms of fun they were right up there with building indoor climbing gyms

Brian, the steel ones we run into know and then are usually pretty rickety.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago


Please delete Jay's comment, very rude and untrue.

Posted by Steven L. Smith, Bellingham WA Home Inspector (King of the House Home Inspection, Inc.) about 8 years ago

Wow.  That is truly inspired.  Thank you for showing us your past work.

Posted by Jim Allhiser, Salem, Oregon Home Inspector (Perfection Inspection, Inc.) about 8 years ago

very pretty. good work lasts.

Posted by Shannon Coe, 916-597-3818, Lincoln, Rocklin, Loomis, Roseville (Keller Williams) about 8 years ago

Charles - Your talents as a wordsmith are excelled only by your creativity and skills in millwork.  Quite impressive!

Posted by John Mulkey, Housing Guru ( about 8 years ago

Steve, If I could give Jay a gold star for his comment I would

Jim, thanks

Shannon, I think that is true

John, thanks for your kind words---it is getting to the point where this almost seems like another lifetime ago :)

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

That is what I call true craftsmanship.  But I've got to ask the question that is always on my mind when I see a circlular staircase:  how in the heck do you get furniture up those stairs (esp. mattresses, box springs, dressers, etc)?

Posted by Charita Cadenhead, Serving Jefferson and Shelby Counties (Alabama) (Keller Williams Realty) about 8 years ago


That is just sweet work. You made all the true wood workers proud on that set of stairs. Do you still have the jig for that design? Not many can design and execute (and get properly paid) on that level of detail. Very nice thank you for sharing those pictures.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) about 8 years ago

Charita, it all depends on the size---most things wind around just fine---as long as the stairs are big enough---those that are only 5 feet in diameter are quite impossible.

Don, yes I still have all the templates---but the tread template varys with the number of treads.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

That's a nice looking set of stairs.  Well done!

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 8 years ago

Reuben, thanks

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Amazing work, beautiful staircase.

Posted by Anne Hensel, Realtor - Broker - St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island (South Beaches Real Estate Professionals) about 8 years ago

Thanks Anne

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago


WOW! This is the most beautiful stairway I've ever seen! I still am baffled how the steps stay rigid when bearing weight! One of the little mysteries of life! I won't forget this anytime soon.


Posted by Roseanne Campagna, Kent/DesMoines/Blk Diamond/Renton/Maple Valley, WA (John L. Scott RE Maple Valley, WA ) about 8 years ago

Roseanne, thanks.  They will flex a "little" but because of the thickness of the oak they do not flex very much.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 8 years ago

Charles- I found this post through Courtney Cooper's reblog.  This is beautiful work! I had no idea there was a difference between spiral and circular stairways.  I learned something!

Posted by Debbie Atwood, Real Estate Broker (Century 21 Real Estate Center Everett, WA) almost 8 years ago

Debbie, it was nice of Courtney to re-blog this.  Most people refer to this type of stairs as spiral stairs---but yes, in fact, that name actually refers to stairs with no center support.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 8 years ago