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Remodel with Prefinished Stair Treads

Floors, Hardwood, Stairs - Directory May 23, 2009 Matt Weber

New Stair Treads in No Time—Here’s How to Do It …

By Matt Weber





Retro-fitting stair treads is the simplest solution for a DIY’er intent on installing hardwood treads over an existing flight of stairs. High-quality prefinished stair treads are made of solid edge-glued wood—not a veneered or engineered material—and can be used to “cap” or reface an existing tread. The primary advantage of using the prefinished stair treads is the ease of installation.

For example, the stairs shown in this article were built of lumber and covered with carpet. Once the carpet was removed, the raw lumber tread was revealed and it was downright ugly. Rather than reinstall carpet, I opted to go with hardwood stair treads to match the newly installed sapele flooring of the second floor.

By refacing the stairs with the new prefinished treads, there was no need remove the old lumber tread. This is a particularly important advantage when dealing with “pre-fab” staircases that are built in a factory and delivered to the jobsite during construction. It is impossible to remove a tread in a pre-fab staircase without completely disassembling the stairs. However, with retro treads, I only had to prep the staircase to accept the “caps,” and then install the treads and risers. Here’s how it went.


Plan of Attack

Obviously, the first step is to asses the number of risers and treads you need, record the measurements of your existing treads and risers, select your wood species and order your materials to suit.

I ordered the treads from, which serves as an online one-stop shop for prefinished stair treads. offers solid-wood prefinished treads and risers, in a wide variety of wood species, as well as prefinished handrails, cove molding and more. If you have a need for stair treads, the company likely has it covered, including return stair treads with mitered corners, oversized treads, open or closed treads, as well as RetroFit replacement treads, which are specially manufactured to match 3/4-inch hardwood flooring (see sidebar). Standard tread depth is 11-1/2 inches, and a variety of widths are available to meet your specifications.

Additionally, is not simply a distributor but also the tread manufacturer, and the company will custom-stain the treads to your flooring. In fact, I cut a few samples of the newly installed floorboards and mailed them to the company to match. I then ordered 1-inch-thick sapele treads, which arrived prefinished at the job site with a rich stain that was like a mirror image of the flooring—perfect.

First cut the plywood reinforcement

My first step was to cut plywood reinforcement to strengthen the existing risers of my staircase.

Prepping the Staircase

After removing the old carpeting, vinyl or other floor covering, the first step is to eliminate any bull nose on the exposed lumber tread. One way is to cut it off. Using a handheld circular saw or jigsaw, cut the bull nose of the tread back flush with (or slightly behind) the existing riser. Use a flush-cut saw or a hammer and chisel to clean off the edges next to the skirt board.

Nail plywood over the existing risers

I nailed plywood over the existing risers, which made the riser flush with the edge of the tread. Another option is to cut the bull nose off the tread so it is flush with the existing riser.

However, like most remodeling jobs, I ran into some unforeseen challenges. The exposed risers were made from flimsy 3/8-inch plywood, which had warped over the years. To provide more solid support for the soon-to-be-installed risers, I decided to beef up the staircase by installing new, thicker plywood over the existing risers. In doing so, I built out the thickness of the riser so it was flush with the edge of the tread, rather than cut the tread to be flush with the riser.

Pre-coat any paint-grade trim before installing it

I make it a rule to always pre-coat any paint-grade trim before installing it. It’s cleaner and easier to simply touch-up the trim once installed, rather than paint it in place.