A pair of slots cut into the upper half of the 1x4 allow a second 2x4, 9 1/2 inches long, to slide up and down on three screws.
A pair of slots cut into the upper half of the 1x4 allow a second 2x4, 9 1/2 inches long, to slide up and down on three screws.

My career as a stair builder got its start thanks in large part to Hurricane Andrew, which prompted stricter structural requirements in the Florida Building Code that in turn led to wider acceptance of two-story homes. These homes needed stairs, of course, and I followed the book as I learned how to build them. But it seemed to me that most handrail tasks - determining rail height, laying out balusters, and cutting easings with a pitch block - required three hands; since I usually work alone and have only two, I began improvising ways to make my life easier and ultimately do a better job. Here are a few of the specialized tools I've developed over more than a decade of building stairs.

Bruce Abernathy is a stair builder in Niceville, Fla.

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