Blocking In the Underside of a Staircase

Blocking In the Underside of a Staircase

Blocking in the Underside of a Staircase In smaller homes it may not be appropriate to fit spandrel panelling underneath a staircase if this would cause a portion of the main living space to be blocked off. You may instead want to consider leaving the side of the stairway open and disguising the architecture and construction details on the underside with the addition of a flat panel. If your needs change or you feel more confident in your DIY abilities, there is always the option to add spandrel panelling at a later date.

Plasterboard is commonly used to form the panel, although it is heavy and difficult to handle, and many other materials will do just as well. For the project demonstrated on this page, the panels have been cut from thin plywood instead. Lightweight and easy-to-handle, working with plywood means it is perfectly feasible for a DIYer of average skill to undertake this project single-handed and easily complete it over a weekend. Timber battens form the framework for fixing the panels, and since these are small and thin it is important to use good quality timber with minimal defects.


Tools for the Job:

  • tape measure & pencil
  • handsaw
  • screwdriver
  • hammer
  • nail punch
  • wallpaper brush & roller


1. Cut small sections of 25 x 25mm (1 x 1 in) battens to act as setbacks, against which cross pieces will be fixed at 200mm (8in) centres to form the framework for the panels. You will need to cut two for each cross piece — make a template to save having to measure each individual piece when cutting. When you have cut enough pieces, measure and mark midway between each step the distance these pieces will need to be set back from the edge of the string to accommodate the cross pieces. Since the cross pieces are cut from the same batten, this will be 25mm (1 in). Glue and screw each set-back in the marked positions.

2. Measure and cut sufficient cross pieces to provide supports at 200mm (8in) centres. Fix these into position by skew nailing or screwing through each end at an angle into the set-back sections of batten.

3. Cut 6 mm (5/16in) ply to fit across the width of the stairs, from string edge to string edge, so that any joints meet on the cross pieces.

4. Mark the centrelines of the cross pieces a little way onto the sides of the strings. Spread wood glue onto the face of each cross piece and fix the panels into position on the strings with 20mm (3/4in) panel pins. Join up the pencil marks across the face of the panels with a straightedge. These will act as guidelines for fixing panel pins into the cross supports.

Tips of the Trade

On older stairs where access might be needed later, omit the glue and fix the panels with small screws.

5. Set the pin heads just below the surface of the plywood with a nail punch. Disguise the holes left by the nails by smoothing in enough wood filler so that it sits slightly proud. Leave to dry then sand smooth.

6. Nail on some trim to cover the exposed joints between ply and string. This also helps to cover the slots left by the router for the treads and risers when the stairs were built.

Tips of the trade

When fixing delicate trim use veneer pins instead of panel pins, as they are thinner and less obtrusive and require less filler to disguise the nail heads.

7. Finally, decorate the surface of the finished panelling to match or blend with the existing decoration in the room for a unified look. If applying wallpaper as shown, buy a good quality wallpaper to ensure an adequate bond with the plywood.

Tips of the trade

If you plan to wallpaper the plywood panelling, it is a good idea to apply a coat of emulsion paint to the side of the panel that will face the back tread of the stairs prior to fixing. This may seem like an unnecessary job as it will never be seen, however, it will prevent the wood from warping and this in turn ensures the panel remains flat and the wallpaper does not peel.


Understairs Lighting

If the underside of the stairs could do with some additional illumination, one idea is to fit recessed lights. You will need to run the necessary wiring before you fit the panels. Use a jigsaw to cut the hole into the ply panel as instructed by the manufacturer. Installing electrical lighting is a complicated procedure and you must not take chances with electricity — employ a qualified electrician for wiring up the lights and final connection.


15. December 2010 by admin
Categories: DIY Home, Stairs | Tags: | Comments Off on Blocking In the Underside of a Staircase

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