Installing and using Arke Karina alternating tread stairs: a review
June 27, 2011, 12:00 pm by bottleman. Filed under: design, diy, tiny houses.

As a fan of alternating tread stairs, and the owner of a rare city-permitted custom made set of them in the granny cottage I built, I’ve always been curious about one staircase option I did not use: the Arke Karina stair kit.

My own alternating tread device, like most I see around on the internet, was custom made out of wood by a carpenter, and is straight.  However the Arke kit uses a modular metal unit as its spine, giving it a lighter appearance, and giving it the ability to curve.  The Arke kit isn’t cheap ($1600 minimum, plus >$200 extra if you want a second handrail), though custom carpentry isn’t either.   Neither a custom made wood alternating tread stair, nor the Arke kit, meets most residential codes in the US so it’s a wash in that respect.  What’s the better choice for someone building or modding a small house?

I finally got a chance to see an Arke Karina kit in action, when I helped a friend of mine install one in a narrow closetlike space in his farmhouse in the country.

Installation was not the short and simple process that Arke’s videos would like you to believe.  It took a minimum of 3 days to do a curved setup with two handrails.  The difficulties came partly from the poorly translated manual, and partly from the heavy steel components.   Once the spine is assembled, you really need two people to guide it into place and bolt it in; the total product weight is listed as 257 pounds, which includes the treads.  At that weight, we felt we needed to make sure the upper and lower ends of the spine were solidly connected to structural parts of the farmhouse, which added more labor.   Perfecting the curve, rise, and level required some strength, as heavy elements had to be held in position while bolts were turned.

After that, the modular handrail turned out to require literally hundreds of small machine screws, washers, and other parts.  Now that the stair is done, my friend is going back and applying (removable) threadlocker to all those connections, as protection against vibration, adding a fourth day of work.  Another frustration: the instructions suggested drilling the holes in the treads for the balusters before attaching the treads to the stairs — but that only works if you are using a straight layout.  If not, drill the holes later, when you figure out where the balusters really need to go. Otherwise the treads will be swiss cheese.

But, having said all that:  the results were worth the trouble.  The stair looks sharp and feels sturdy, and the numerous metal parts seem heavy enough to last a long time (with the possible exception of those tiny screws in the handrail, which I would recommend inspecting periodically).   The alternating tread action is better than some other custom alternating tread stairs I’ve tried, and with two handrails you can go down facing forward with a definite feeling of security.

The most fantastic feature of the kit, though, is its flexible ability to curve.  Arke’s manual gives four suggested layouts, but you are not limited to them.   Curved layouts can help direct the eye, and foot traffic, giving the space a better sense of flow.  And curves may be the only way to deal with certain problematic spaces.

Despite the difficulties in permitting them, these kits are so useful I expect to see more of them around.


8 comments
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Beautiful! I would love to build something like this in my home.

Comment by Jake Day on 05.07.2011 um 6:57 am

Awesome article. Currently thinking of getting an Arke Karina for my loft conversion project. Thanks for all the tips/tricks, should save me some hassle.

Comment by Herve on 25.09.2012 um 4:58 am

Thanks for the informative post. I’m thinking buying these to my house, and reading and seeing the stairs in live made me wanting them more.
Would it be possible to see pictures of the top attachment? I would like to see how the railings end.

Cheers,
-Topias

Comment by Topias on 02.04.2013 um 1:18 pm

Topias, for the top of stair-railing attachment see Arke’s installation guide at http://www.arkestairs.com/downloads/karina_install_guide.pdf . Part F01 is a metal cup that includes a set screw… you can attach it to a wall or floor and then attach the railing to it.

The railing is very clever in that it can curve for many layouts, but its strength depends entirely on multiple little set-screws. So they must be set firmly and it’s probably a good idea to keep kids from doing gymnastics on the rail. :)

Good luck!

Comment by bottleman on 02.04.2013 um 3:38 pm

I just installed the karina stairs, have not bolted the base onto my floor yet. My floor consist of 3/4 plywood subfloor and 5/8 in t and g bamboo flooring with a total of a little less than 1 1/2 thickness, I was not sure if those supplied bolts that came with it would work, not sure how they work on that thickness.

Comment by Shayn on 31.12.2013 um 11:06 am

Hi Shayn, it’s hard for me to see your bolts, you’ll just have to do what seems right. One thing does occur to me: the base of the stairs is basically the bottom of a post. Most of the weight of the stairs and anyone walking on them will be going down through that base. That’s many hundreds of pounds. So when/if you go under your floor, it might be good to reassure yourself that the floor joists are in good condition. Maybe you could even center the base directly over a joist. It’d be fun to see pics of your installation. good luck!

Comment by bottleman on 31.12.2013 um 1:53 pm

Hi. I curved my Karina stairs so the last few curve right. Now the railings, do you know how much gets cut off the first baluster on each long step?

Comment by Shayn on 01.01.2014 um 2:21 pm

Hoo boy, this is hard for me to remember these details, Shayn, as it was a while ago when I helped my friend install this. But I remember that doing the handrail on the curved part was the trickiest part of the whole thing, and that the hole-drilling template was not useful for curved sections of stairs. I’m not sure that it is even necessary to cut the baluster segments, as the hardware allows some adjustability without cutting. My impulse would be to not cut anything unless you’re sure it’s what you want. Perhaps you could also start on the straight segments of the stairs (where Arke’s instructions will be most relevant) and then by the time you get to the curved section you’ll know how to adapt. Good luck! Send a link to pictures if you can.

Comment by bottleman on 01.01.2014 um 5:40 pm



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