Stair treads are the part of the stairs where you place your foot as you climb up or descend them. Replacing stair treads may be necessary due to age or wear, or for esthetic reasons. Some people remove the carpet that covers their stairs and find that the treads and risers are of rough construction or severely damaged by carpet tack strips and staples. In all these cases, you may want or need to replace your stair treads. There are several different methods of stair construction and replacing the stair treads depends to a certain degree on how your stairs were built. Some stair treads are mortised into the stair skirting or stringers. Others are simply butted up to the stair stringer, which is attached to the drywall. We will talk about the type of stair tread that butts up to the stringer attached to drywall.
- Remove all the old carpet, padding, staples, and tack strips.
- Check the stair steps, both risers and treads, for plumb and level, and squeaking. Shim them where necessary to plumb and level them and eliminate noise and add long spiral screws or nails.
- You will need to cut away the overhang from each rough construction stair step so it is flush with the riser backing below it. Use a jigsaw or sabresaw to cut all the way to the wall on each end.
- You can buy hardwood strips or planks to resurface your treads and risers.
- You will also need bullnose material that matches your treads and risers.
Install the stringers
- Cut out templates from cardboard for the stair stringers. You can adjust the template until you get a perfect fit, then cut the stringers out of ¼” plywood.
- Install the stringers with a good quality construction adhesive.
Install the risers
- Measure the risers and cut them out of 1/4” plywood one at a time. Check the stair stringer for square at each side of the tread. You may have to scribe the end of each riser to fit the stringer perfectly.
- Cut each end of the riser on a slight bevel from front to back so you can achieve a tight fit flush with the stringer.
- Install the risers beginning at the top of the staircase. Hold the riser flush with the top of the stair step above it and nail it in place. You can also use construction adhesive behind the riser, as well.
- Fill the nail holes in the riser, sand them smooth, and refinish them.
Install the treads
- Measure the stair treads and cut them one at a time. Dry fit them first to make sure they fit precisely against both the stringers and the riser.
- Just as in fitting the riser, you may have to scribe the tread and cut it to fit the stringers at both ends.
- Drill holes for the nails and install them.
- Fill the nail holes with wood putty or filler, sand them smooth, and refinish them.
Install the bullnose material
- Measure for each individual bullnose and cut it out.
- Do not bevel the ends of the bullnose material like you did for the risers.
- Install the bullnose material on the front face of the stair tread with construction adhesive and nails.
- As always, fill the nail holes, sand them smooth, and refinish them.
Some people choose to finish the stair treads, risers, stringers, and bullnose material before installing it. This speeds up the installation where the stairs are in use every day. Just touch up the materials after installation where they may have been scratched or marred during the process.
It is critical that you ensure all the rough construction is straight, plumb, level, and tight before proceeding to install the risers, treads, and stringers. It is too late to repair squeaks or gaps once the treads and risers are installed.
If you think you may be replacing the treads, risers, and stringers again in the foreseeable future, do not use construction adhesive during the installation. Stick with nails and screws.
Keep broom, dustpan, and shop vacuum handy during installation to prevent damage from loose fasteners, sawdust, or debris.
Use the proper solvent to clean up after using any adhesive.
All the cuts made installing stair treads, risers, and stringers are precise so use the very best sharp thin kerf carbide blades you can buy for your saws.
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