Rounded Staircase by Stair Designer Ambassador Tess Nillson

By Matt Schumake Updated: 03/31/2014 9:25AM


Winding wood staircases can be the most challenging of projects, especially for installation in existing structures. Since 1980, Ness Tillson has specialized in the design and construction of winding staircases and handrails. He began by using careful calculations and designs drafted on paper, and later adopted AutoCAD software into his craft. 

An ambassador of the software company Stair Designer, Tillson utilizes the software to make the design process quick and precise, and he applies the time saved by focusing on fine building techniques such as layering hardwoods into curved forms.

With this installation, Tillson has created a riser-free design that flows directly between the upper and lower levels of a home while also maintaining a feeling of open space in the area it occupies. The rounded starting stairs also add to the flowing design as they meld into the landing on the lower level. 

Additional photos show his shop in Gires and other projects in the works. 

Tillson explains his affinity to Stair Designer software, including some of its limitations (translated by Google):

I'm Ness Tillson. I am a carpenter specializing in the manufacture of wooden stairs since 1980, especially construction of winding stairs and curning handrails.

For a person working wood, stair construction is one of the most difficult work, but also one of the most satisfying.

Calculating stairs is often complex, since drawing a staircase, stair plans or blueprints, the scheduling of flows and trace parts can take a long time. Omissions are easy to make mistakes.

When I started the business, to calculate stairs, stairs plans were ground scale 1:1 and flow sheets were made ​​manually on paper. From the late 80s, I started to use a drawing software (AutoCAD) to draw a staircase and a spreadsheet to determine the flow sheet. This facilitated our life a lot and we procured a considerable time wins. But it remained easy to make mistakes especially when moving betwee the plan for the staircase and a tedious spreadsheet for cut lists.

So I asked the question: How to calculate how to draw a staircase and stairs and automatically create the building plan?

For several years, I say that a specialized software staircase would be a great help and should allow me to eliminate a lot of mistakes while I save a lot of time and money.

There are now several years of IT companies offering stair software and I often had demonstrations at trade fairs or made by representatives home. But despite gleaming presentations, I remained doubtful. In spite of the attractive features on paper these programs were often difficult to implement, requiring a learning time long enough, while remaining limited to the manufacture of stairs very classic.

But the biggest obstacle for me was the necessary investment. Such software often asked an important minimum investment (over €5000) excluding the cost of training, "hot lines", computers, etc. To depreciate the investment, I needed to be a large company with a large plant producing conventional stairs, possibly a CNC machine. That's not how I work!not my case!

During a visit to a professional woodworking show, I found Stair Designer, a true software manufacturing of wood stairway. Not too expensive (about €1000) it seemed affordable and I did not risk bankruptcy if it does not work.

• StairDesigner seemed easy to use, and I would not spend sleepless nights trying to understand

• this stair software could transfer drawings directly into AutoCAD (or other CAD) to work on specific details, my projects always have specific details.

• Stair Designer could calculate a curved staircase, and débillardé [winders, in English - the radiating steps narrower at one end that are used to change the direction of a stairs through 90° or 180°.  See for the stairs that I make.

 StairDesigner automatically prints a record of making full sheets flows, volumes and prices of wood used. For tracing paper templates designs can be printed across one or exported in DXF format to be taken over by a CAD or CNC machine. DXF files are very clean and well organized for a CNC.

Stair Designer is very accessible. Even someone with little computer knowledge can quickly build a staircase, the stairs and exit plan and all other elements to build a staircase, with a few hours of learning. Stair Designer can build all kinds of staircases: Rights, balanced, in French or English. Plans can be winding stairs in silt or racks curves, center rack, coil etc.

Of course this stair software to its limits. Although it calculates the stairs with all the main elements, there are details that remain poorly or not represented. For example, it is impossible to draw a flowing first step riser with rounded and massive. To overcome these limitations, I export the drawing in a CAD and I added detail. Often it is possible to prepare the details as standard designs or blocks and the operation is fast and simple. Currently I have made dozens of staircases of all kinds with many specific and often complex details, and the couple Autocad / StairDesigner is very effective.

Name: ness tillson
Company: wood designer ltd
Location: gieres, rhone alpes
Photography: Ness Tillson


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