How to attach stair treads & risers

Written by tom lutzenberger
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How to attach stair treads & risers
Full wood stairs are built piece by piece, with a tread and riser installed one at a time. (Ron Levine/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Stairs with old carpet that are beaten or torn up by house pets, traffic and age can be restored easily with a changeover to new treads and risers. This conversion from covered stairs or beaten stair surfaces (i.e. tile or vinyl) to new wood steps involves re-covering each stair step from the ground up with new, finished wood panels.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Bull scraper
  • Garbage can
  • Stair treads
  • Stair risers
  • Paint
  • Wood stain
  • Sander
  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • Finishing nails
  • Finishing chisel
  • Table saw
  • Construction adhesive in caulk tubes (framing glue)
  • Power Drill
  • Wood screws

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  1. 1

    Tear out and remove all existing carpet and under-layer foam padding off the stairs to be worked on. Use a bull scraper to pop carpet tack strips and staples off the stairs, down to the plywood frame. Keep a large garbage can handy to throw refuse in as you remove strips and sections. Do not try to recycle old floor surface material removed. Use a power drill to insert wood screws in areas of the plywood frame where the board squeaks or may be loose.

  2. 2

    Order and purchase enough stair treads and risers to cover your stairway. Count the number of each and place them on the stairs in a dry run to confirm you have enough pieces for the project. Sand and paint each tread and riser with your desired stain or paint if they come unfinished. Make one last measurement of every tread and riser to make sure they are all the correct length and width before installing. Adjust any parts that are too long with a table saw and tape measure.

  3. 3

    Start by installing a riser at the bottom of the stairs' bare wood frame. Use framing glue/adhesive to hold the riser on the plywood subframe (the wood that makes up the actual stair structure). Then attach it with finishing nails, using a hammer and finishing chisel (also known as a nail set). Using the same method, attach the riser for the second step so that it sits behind the position of the soon-to-be-installed first tread.

  4. 4

    Apply adhesive to the back of the first tread and lay it on the plywood frame between the first and second risers you just installed, lining it up so there is no gap between the risers and tread or between the tread and the sides, both rails and walls. Press down firmly to seat the tread. Secure it with finishing nails. Glue a lip strip on the edge of the tread to cover up the joint of the riser underneath for a finished look. Allow a 1-inch overhang for the tread if you don't want to add a lip. Continue with the same process up the stairs -- two risers, then a tread -- until finished.

  5. 5

    Examine the entire project to make sure no risers or treads are loose or adhered weakly. Use finishing nails to fix a weak spot. Do not pull out a weak riser or tread to reinstall it -- this will damage the riser or tread adjacent to the problem piece.

Tips and warnings

  • Work with an experienced carpenter or handyman if you have never worked on fabricating stair surfaces. This will give you the ability to learn from a skilled guide while performing the construction.
  • Do not trust solely on framing glue to keep treads and risers in place. They will eventually pop off from the heavy use typical of a stair path.

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