Stair Layout with a Visual Construction Calculator

January 16, 2017


Use to visually calculate the rise, run, and materials for stairbuilding—or anything else, for that matter


The methods featured in this article give an introduction for using (a free browser-based 3D modeling program) by showing how it is possible to do all the math necessary for layout of a stair stringer. 

You might find this new 'tool' invaluable for many other construction math problems besides stair layout. 

In presenting this tutorial I assume that the viewer has a general concept of how to build a set of stairs but is probably not familiar with a 3D modeling environment.  By learning a little about the digital/3D workspace it's a short step to figuring ANY construction math for which you might otherwise use a regular feet/inch construction calculator.



Have a mouse with a scroll wheel available... some folks are probably capable of 3D modeling with a touch pad but certainly not me.

  • Open you favorite web browser and go to
  • Click Launch and wait a few moments for the 3D modeling platform to open


Calculate Visually

Early in the video I go through a 'caffeinated' version of using My.SketchUp to do basic math for figuring a set of stairs beginning with a 'total rise' figure and ending with accurate figures for rise, run, angle etc in a no-frills manner. 

The rest of the tutorial is the decaf version that walks through, step by step, methods for doing stair math. 

Because I made the assumption that viewers are familiar with the carpentry aspect of stair building I don't spend any time delving into that aspect of the topic.


Follow Up Steps

I plan on doing a second part to this tutorial that goes beyond the basics, showing ways to manipulate the stair model created in this tutorial to get a lot more useful information out of it:

  • Re-configure an existing 'visual calculator' model to instantly do math for stairs with a different total rise
  • Adjust ALL necessary dimensions for a change to total run with a short modeling sequence.
  • Visualize how to add a stair landing
  • Plan stairwell openings for code-compliant headroom, etc
  • Add Materials/Textures to a model for better presentation/visualization

Post any questions/comments below and I will incorporate them into the learning flow for Part 2 (if they arrive before final production).


—Matt Jackson is a master carpenter, remodeler, SketchUp Wiz, YouTuber, and contributing editor to ProTradeCraft. He lives and works in Rapid City, South Dakota.