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Stairway to tools

Stan Foster, owner of Stan’s Stair Shop in Paxton, Ill., emerged from more than 150 finish carpenters to win the DeWalt Top 17 Finish Carpenter Contest. Participants submitted a plan to build a project in one of three categories as a way to showcase their precision, craftsmanship and woodworking skills using DeWalt tools.

“I was on the Internet and these pop-up ads kept coming up for the DeWalt Top 17 Contest,” recalls Foster. “It said mantles, building cabinets or stairways. It had a 150-word maximum description you had to send in, so I popped a few words in there and added about five pictures and sent it away and figured that would be the last I’d hear of it.”

A panel of eight DeWalt judges selected the top 17 finish carpenters, who then built their projects while keeping online journals for anyone to view. Foster received the most online votes for his project and was named the overall winner.

“When I applied for this contest, the criteria was that the project had to be built between Oct. 1 and Nov. 24, and I just happened to have a dual stairway coming up and it was just going to fit in that timetable perfectly,” says Foster. “It’s a 90-degree (two-story) stairway coming up from the basement, oak treads, poplar skirts and risers — those were all painted — and then the lower handrail connects around to the main stairway and it continues around just like the one below it.”

The contest’s time frame presented a challenge for Foster because he also had other projects to work on during the period. So he hired his son to work three days a week on the other work in order to get the stairway done in the allotted time.

“I was so pumped up for this thing for six weeks,” Foster says. “I was just worn out from the adrenaline. I didn’t really put any extra days in, but it was a real rush. It had nothing to do with [winning the tools]. It was the competition and watching the voting and the constant e-mails and phone calls.”

For his win, Foster received $4,000 in DeWalt tools and accessories, many that he acknowledges are duplicates of what he already owns. But he says he didn’t enter the contest to win the prize. It was the challenge the project presented and the fun of competing against other woodworkers.

“I would have been just as tickled [to finish] in 17th place,” he says. “I didn’t care who won. I had more rewards from the comments I received from all over the country and, actually, many countries. It’s weird; the world is a small place.”

Foster’s Top 17 final project can be viewed at

Contact: Stan Foster, Stan’s Stair Shop, 1612 E. State Rte. 9, Paxton, IL 60957. E-mail:

This article originally appeared in the February 2009 issue.

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