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Installing Unfinished Hardwood Stairs

 Hardwood Stairs
Stair installation varies widely from job to job. You may be covering existing stairs, or you may be covering stairs that consist only of a subfloor. The stairs may have one open side, two open sides, or no open sides. You may or may not have to install balustrade (the banisters, balusters, and newels) as you build your stair case.
Stair builders consider balustrade the height of the art. Stair-building manuals go on for pages about the balustrade, while devoting as little as one paragraph to installing the treads and risers. (Treads are the part of the stairs you walk on; risers are the vertical pieces at the back of each step.) If you’re working on a stairway with fancy handrails, hire a pro. If you’re working on stairs with a wall on each side, do it yourself.
When installing treads and risers on an unfinished stairway, the guts of the stairs are already built—and your aim is to make them pretty. If the treads on your stairs are rounded over and already overhang the risers, build them out before installing new risers and treads.
If you have stairs with existing banisters, the steps are probably hardwood, no matter how bad they look. If so, it makes more sense to refinish than to replace them. Start by sanding them thoroughly with an orbital sander (a belt sander is too powerful), and use stripper to remove any finish the sander misses. See Refinishing A Floor for directions on applying finish.





GOOD IDEA: Bevel the Risers

When you cut risers to size, cut an 8- to 12-degree bevel along the edge that meets the tread. Nail the tread in place so the short side of the bevel is against rough stairs and the long side faces out. The bevel keeps the edge above dirt, saw dust, and bumps that otherwise would cause a gap in the seam. You’ll get a tighter-looking seam as a result

Installing Hardwood Stairs

Step 1: Cut the Risers

Step 1: Cut the Risers Cut the risers one at a time. Measure each riser to determine its length and width. Cut the riser to width, and then measure the length in a couple of spots. If the measurement differs, you’ll have to cut an oversize tread, and then trim it to match. Add 3/4 inch to the largest tread length you measured. Cut the riser to this length. Put the riser in place, as shown, and set a compass so its legs are 3/8 inch apart. Scribe along the wall with the compass, drawing a line on the riser. Cut along the line with a jigsaw. Once you’ve made the cut, scribe and cut on the other end of the riser too. Cut all the risers to size.

Step 2: Nail the Risers

Step 2: Nail the Risers

Nail the risers into the pieces of framing beneath them, called stringers. You’ll find a 2×stringer against the wall on each side of the stairs and one down the middle. Nail two 8d flooring nails into each stringer and drive them below the surface with a nail set.


Step 3: Trim the Treads

Step 3: Trim the Treads Begin with treads that have one rounded edge -- they’re available at your local Home Depot or online. Cut each tread to a width that will leave 1 inch overhanging the riser, then check the length, measuring in two places the way you did for the risers. For treads that need to be trimmed to fit, add 3/4 inch to the longest measurement and cut the tread to this length. Put the tread in place and set a compass so the legs are 3/8 inch apart. Trace along the wall with the compass, drawing a line on the tread. Cut along the line with a jigsaw. Once you’ve made the cut, scribe and cut the other end of the tread too.

Step 4: Install the Treads

Step 4: Install the Treads Glue the tread to the steps with construction adhesive. Apply the adhesive to the step, rather than the tread, to minimize the squeeze-out onto the rounded edge. Install the tread, clean off any adhesive that squeezed out, and then nail it in place with 8d flooring nails. Drive two nails into each stringer. Cut, scribe, and install the remaining treads.

Flooring Projects: Easy As 1-2-3 


The information on this page is taken directly from our printed book Flooring 1-2-3®, which shows you how to plan and execute dozens of different flooring projects. Like our other 1-2-3® series books, this handy volume contains all the knowledge you need to do the job quickly...and get it right the first time. Detailed photos and diagrams, helpful tips from the pros, and step-by-step instructions let you learn and work at your own pace—and help you avoid common mistakes in do-it-yourself projects. Pick up your own copy at any location of The Home Depot or order it online.

Flooring Projects: Easy As 1-2-3