How to Make a Staircase for Model Homes

house model image by Dasha Varigina from

Things You'll Need

  • Foam core board
  • Metal straight edge
  • X-acto knife
  • Pins
  • White glue
  • Pencil

Making a staircase for a model is similar and very different from building a staircase at full scale. Generally, the model attempts to achieve the appearance of the staircase shape or mass but seldom the exacting detail until a detailed model is requested. Often such detailed samples are done at scale using the materials being considered for the project. Smaller scale models can get away with suggesting the appearance and more important, show how the spaces of the home or structure relate.

Lay a metal straight edge along 1-inch marks on 3/16-inch foam core board. Use a sharp X-acto knife and cut along the edge of the metal. Your first cut should cut through the top paper and part of the core. Your second cut should finish the core and cut through the bottom paper.

Cut across your strip in 1/4-inch graduations starting at 1/4-inch, 1/2-inch, 3/4-inch, 1-inch etc. Each piece represents a stair tread. A typical house has 13 to 14 steps. Apply white glue to the longest cut piece, as this will be on the bottom. Position the next longest on top aligning the piece at the side and back. Try not to get glue on the visible step. Continue gluing the foam core treads in place. When your straight pin can be inserted and not come out the bottom then insert a straight pin 1/2 inch back from the stair edges and 1/4 inch in from the back sides. These help hold the pieces in position and bonds them together.

Pin through the next to last step with two pins after you glue. No pins should be visible after you glue your top step. Allow the glue four hours to dry.

Place the staircase on white card stock and trace out the side. Do this for both sides if both sides are visible in the model. Cut out the sides with scissors or the knife. Make your cuts very clean. If your staircase will have side trim moldings, draw a line to indicate the moldings.

Lay your staircase on another piece of card stock and mark the slope of the stairs. Use a straight edge to draw the slope. On this size staircase, 1/4-inch equals 9 to 10 inches. Calculate the height of your newel posts, railings and pickets. It is easiest to draw and cut straight pickets. Tape down your card stock and use a straight edge between your slope lines. Space your pickets evenly.

Cut out the spaces between the pickets with a knife, but be careful to cut along the slope line so that your pickets stay attached to each other. Once your pickets are cut, trim 1/16-inch above and below your slope lines. Fold along the slope lines. Cut two newel posts out of 1/8-inch balsa wood and a top and bottom rail out of 1/16-inch balsa wood.

Cut your top and bottom balsa rails at an angle to match the slope of the staircase. Add a drop of glue on the ends and attach to the newel post. Press a pin through the front of each newel into the ends of the rails to help hold them in position. Glue along the fold of your picket card stock and glue the pickets to the underside of the top rail and the top side of the bottom rail. Glue one newel at the top of the stairs and one at the bottom of the stairs. Use a pin through the bottom stair.

Glue the side card stock of the staircase to the side of the stairs. Place the stair on its side and rest something like a paperback book over the side card paper until it dries.


  • The most important thing with building with foam core is to make clean, straight cuts. Glue dries clear but it is better not to glue where it is visible.


About the Author

F.R.R. Mallory has been published since 1996, writing books, short stories, articles and essays. She has worked as an architect, restored cars, designed clothing, renovated homes and makes crafts. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with bachelor's degrees in psychology and English. Her fiction short story "Black Ice" recently won a National Space Society contest.

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