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Thread: Need some advice for staircase remodeling

  1. #1

    Need some advice for staircase remodeling

    Hello Stairs Gurus

    Like many others, I am pulling out my carpet and replacing w/ wood and need a bit of help. I have no experience with stairs before but have done research on this topic for the past several weeks and got to learn about stairs building code, etc. Few questions on my mind:

    1) What type of wood would best match the look of my laminate flooring (picture below)?
    2) I plan to paint my risers plain white. Is it recommended to use plywood? Or a cheaper wood such as poplar is preferred? Please let me know the gotcha of plywood. I plan to use the 1/4" plywood to accommodate the curved front of the first 4 steps.
    3) what you all think of using cove moulding under the stair nose? I would stain them as the tread.
    4) what you all think of using 1/4 round moulding above the tread at the bottom of the riser? I would paint them white
    5) I have large landing area, would you recommend using T&G matching flooring?
    6) I am buying treads/risers/coves online thus shipping time and cost is quite significant. How much extra part do you usually get? I want to avoid placing a second small order midway during the project. It would delay the project and shipping big items is not economical.
    7) Is it a good idea to stain+polyurethane the treads and paint the risers before cutting them? I want to avoid the smell in the house. It's getting cold, thus opening the windows is not desirable.

    Also attaching a sketch of the stair case. It is closed by drywall on both sides. The new treads and risers will go above and in front of the existing plywood treads (1") and risers (3/4").

    Thanks much
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by joe webb; 11-03-2018 at 3:58 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Lake Gaston, Henrico, NC
    Sorry, not an answer to any of your questions, but when adding more treads on top of new ones, plans should include doing whatever is needed to get the rise of ever step to be equal. If something is simply added to the first one, and then on up, rise for the first step will be more than the others. Not only does the rise need to be worked out, but you need to be able to put a straight edge on the whole run of stairs, and it hit every tread on the nose.

    I think for those curved treads, one straight edge should hit in the middle, and also at a straight run parallel to the walls as close to the ends as you can check.

  3. #3
    Thanks for pointing that out Tom. The stair rise will be uniform. It was 7.5" back when the carpet was in place. The carpet and the cushion pad underneath together add up to about 1".

    The tip w/ the straight edge is great. I learned something new today. Given the risers are in place, it seems the only way for the straight edge to line up would be to tweak the size of the overhang. We will find out if that is feasible. The builder didn't frame the stairs w/ much precision given all imperfection can be hidden by the carpet. Visually I can tell the left side of the tread is wider than its right side, and the rounding isn't centered.

  4. #4
    I've done this for clients where the stringers were Red oak. I tore up everything but the stringers and then retrofit red oak treads and ply core veneer risers. Looked perfect when done.

  5. #5
    If you "tweak" the size of the overhang be sure you add rather than subtract - stairs with too little overhang can cause a descending human to trip.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Apr 2016
    1. You will have to pick something that is available and has similar grain. Colour can be done later
    2. Plywood will be fine for the risers. Choose one with a fine grained appearance so that is paints easily
    3. Cove moulding under the tread nose looks OK if you need it to cover a gap. Better to fit things neatly and avoid the cove however.
    4. 1/4 round at the base of the riser cuts down the toe space. Best to fit neatly and not use this. You would have to make wider treads to compensate which is more expensive. Spend the time to fit things neatly
    5. Using matching tongue and groove flooring for the landing is fine
    6. If you are buying cut to size, double and triple check every measurement and calculation and then order the right amount of material. If buying in lengths, allow an extra length of each profile so you have spare to cut around defects which are more likely in buying by the length. This decision is partly based on how confident you are in your own skills and accuracy and partly on your budget. If you order close to the right amount, you will be forced to take care or else pay for the consequences.
    7. If you can get under the stairs and fix from the back, prefinishing is good. If you are gluing everything in place, prefinishing is good. You will have to do touch up and take a lot of care when fitting but it can be done. 1/4" risers will have to be fixed through the face or glued.

    Any reason why you are refacing the risers when they are painted anyway? How about auto body filler on the existing face and then paint? It will be cheaper and less work.


  7. #7
    Hi Wayne,

    Thanks for taking the time to give so many tips.

    1) I only know how oak, cherry, maple, pine, and walnut look like. Based on this small, sample I would say it's oak. Hoping the wood gurus can confirm.
    3) Oh okay. I can definitely take my time to fit things tightly. I always thought cove moulding was purely cosmetic to enhance the look. Just like crown moulding on ceilings.
    4) same here, I thought it was for better appearance.
    7) I need to cut off wall and ceiling to get access to the stringers. There is a small closet under stairs. I would guess touch up should not produce much of odor.

    I am refacing because the current risers are ugly looking plywood. They have big knots and lots of irregularities. But the deal breaker is the carpenter didn't cut them accurately. They are not flush to the walls. Some have 1/2" gap filled with some kind of gray color caulking. I thought covering w/ new plywood would be faster and better looking.

  8. #8
    Joe, this looks like a BIG project. I would advise you to think very hard about whether you have the skill to undertake it (and I say that as someone who has built several staircases, and wouldn't undertake this project, myself).

    1) I would start testing species and finish combinations to find an acceptable 'match' before you do anything further
    2) White risers will show scuff marks very easily, so use a good-quality semi-gloss paint to maximize cleanability. Good-quality plywood is preferred.
    3) It's only used to hide mistakes in fitment. Your best result will come from meticulously fitting each riser and tread individually.
    4) Ditto
    5) What other option do you see being available...?
    6) If the risers are just plywood, why are you buying them online? It sounds like the only thing you need to buy is pre-made treads (are you sure this is a good idea vs, making them yourself?). As such, I would meticulously plan how you will use the material you order, and only order enough overage to account for any mistakes you make. ie - if you need 12 treads of 35" wide, and the pre-made treads are sold as 36" wide treads, I would order 13 (12 plus one in case you make a mistake). You won't be happy if you're ordering based on linear feet or square feet (ending up with a bunch of 4" long scraps that add up to the width of a tread is no good, here)
    7) Either way, make sure to consider how you will affix the treads and risers. Nails? If so, how will you fill the holes? Will it look better if those are finished-in-place? Can you go several days not using the stairs if you finish-in-place?

    Finally, as Tom said, you need to make sure the tread height is the same (especially at top and bottom), and this is not as trivial as you think. Make sure to very carefully measure and draw out what the final rise of each tread will be, and make sure it's within the limits prescribed by code.

  9. #9
    Now that I look at your picture, again: how are you planning to make the curved treads?

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Concord, NC
    Like Dan said, this is a difficult project and not for the faint of heart. If the stairs are built as poorly as you describe you would be better off tearing them out and restarting. But that also is not a project for someone with no experience.

    You say the carpet took up 1" , that may be the case but a lot depends on you floor treatment which will be on the floor at the bottom and top of staircase. Code says no more than 3/8" difference from any two steps.

    Isn't there a stair company near you, it may be cheaper to buy treads from them instead of shipping, treads are heavy.

    Cove molding under the treads are a standard detail that should be included, quarter round on the tread/riser joint is not.

    Once again, as Dan said, step back and make sure you understand how big a project you are about to undertake, lots of room for f*ckups on something like this.

  11. #11
    On top of all the other good information here I would suggest that if your going to opt for painted risers to not use anything soft. Plywood, and poplar, are dead soft. Risers take a ton of abuse and soft materials will dent, the finish (paint) will break, and you will be miserable with them in short order.

    Richard is about the end all be all in the stair building world.. all great information here, but I would strogly take heed to his and Dans cautions.
    Sometimes I just want to look at pretty pictures,... Thats when I go to the Turners Forum

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Bolton View Post
    Richard is about the end all be all in the stair building world..
    Asking a stair question and getting a reply from Mr. Wolf is akin to getting tips from Tiger Woods on your golf swing... If he says it's a difficult project, well...

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Whidbey Island , Wa.
    #1: On matching the distressed fake wood with really wood.
    I’d try Red Oak in a #2 or #3 grade, BUT you’d have to buy boards and make your own boards for the landing.
    To match the color you’ll just have to make samples to try to make the Oak match in color , and buy crappy grade wood to get the dark streaks , and sort of knotty look that the fake wood has. How you’ll make the area that appear to be “poorly surfaced wood with bandsaw mill marks” left in place I’m not sure?
    Maybe it’s only the color you are really after , not the distressed “finish”???

    Let’s jump to the landing subject :
    You say there’s a landing , but your pencil sketch appears to show winder treads , rather than a one level landing , so I’m confused as to where the landing is???

    IF there are winder treads in that “landing area” , I’d make those out of the same #2 or #3 Red Oak

    #2: Birch 1/4” plywood could work, but as others have mentioned what you do to one riser and or tread , you have to do to all of them to keep the stair consistent.
    I’d possibly remove the old risers and use 3/4” lumber either Poplar , or Hemlock for risers.
    On the curved area , to remain consistent , three layers laminated out 1/4” ply might be the best way to do it.

    #3: Cove under the tread is surely do-able , and yes they’d normally match the treads.
    I’m not sure cove will bend to the curve on the lower steps.

    #4: A 1/4 round could be used , and small one.
    The issues will be the curved steps. Although IF the cove will bend the 1/4 round will as well.

    #5: Maybe this landing area is what I’m seeing as the winder treads ??? Other wise I don’t see a landing.

    If there is a landing , it’s possible a hardwood flooring company may sell Red Oak T&G flooring in a #2 or #3 grade , you’d need to check into that.

    #6: Are you planning on buying the lower graded stair parts ??

    #7: If the stairs in as rough a shape as you say it is in rough framing , and your skill level is as low as you say it it, I’d say finish it after you are done.
    Not knowing your skill level , how many hours a week you plan on working on the project , if you are a weekend DIYS guy winter will be over and you’ll be applying your finish in the spring or summer anyway.

    This is a big project for a guy who self confessed to having not experience with stairs to take on.

    A curved lower stair such as this is generally open on both sides at the base , some times all the way to the top in the middle , you haven’t mentioned the handrail / guard rail system, so I’m wondering about that as well.

    Some photo’s of the actual stairs might be helpful in guiding you thru the process .



  14. #14
    Sounds like your stairs were built in place. They can be done well like by careful workmen. Buy a few packs of shims to correct the sloppy sawing.

  15. #15
    Thanks Dan. Yes, it does not look easy and that is why I have been spending the last 5-6 weeks reading various forums trying to understand what problems people have been experiencing and see if I am up to the task.

    5) the landing is the 4 pie-shaped steps. I could make a big tread for each. That would be expensive and could be hard to fit.
    6) I would get 4x8 plywood sheets from HomeDepot and rip into risers. I would only buy risers online (along with the treads) if poplar is a better option for risers. I am ordering treads as separate pieces with a couple of extras.
    7) I don't have a bedroom downstairs thus I would prefer to make this quick once I start glueing the treads. That is why I plan on painting and staining before installation. Reading the other forum threads, it seems using PL adhesive with 16GA brad nails is the way to go. Hiding the brad nail should be a quick affair.

    Regarding the curved treads, for each, I would make a template first using 1/2" plywood, cut the tread close to the template with a jigsaw, use a router flush bit to transfer the template to the tread, and then bullnose it with a 1/4 round bit. I would order 15" wide S4S treads. This is the part I feel is the most tricky because they are not standard shapes and sizes. The top part of the staircase is probably the easier given we have standard 42" wide closed treads on both sides. The 4 pie-shaped treads are also quite standard w/ flooring and a landing bullnose tread.

    The stair rise with new tread installed should be roughly 7.5" and within the 3/8" wiggle room. I got lucky here for once :-)

    Can you elaborate which part of this project looks the most difficult for you?

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