Remodel with Prefinished Stair Treads
Note: If you’re reconstructing your staircase in any way, use screws instead of nails to avoid squeaks. Also, keep in mind that maximum riser height should be 7-3/4 inches and minimum tread run no less than 10 inches.
Next, do a little dance on each stair tread in search of squeaks. If you find any, drive a 3-inch screw through the tread at the squeak location and solidly into the stringers. Continue tightening the framing around the squeak in this manner until the tread squeaks no more.
Installing the Risers
Although made-to-order stair treads are available for purchase, I cut my own from some pre-primed MDF trim boards that I had leftover from a previous job. MDF trim boards are relatively inexpensive, easy to work with, and readily available at home-improvement stores such as Lowe’s. I pre-painted the boards with high-gloss white latex before cutting to size.
Cut the new risers to completely cover the existing risers. I suggest measuring and cutting each riser individually, rather than cutting them all to the same size. For example, the site-built staircase I was remodeling was constructed with slight discrepancies from riser to riser and tread to tread. Since the riser sizes didn’t match exactly, I had to measure and cut each independently to ensure a tight fit. (This same rule holds true when cutting the treads.)
Risers can be cut to length with a miter saw, handheld circular saw, or even a hand saw. I had to rip the risers to width, which is a little trickier. It’s possible to rip the risers with a handheld circ saw with an edge guide, but you’ll get the most accurate results using a table saw with a rip fence. If you accidentally make an ugly cut, install the riser with its ugly edge down, so the thickness of the new tread hides the cut.
Use construction adhesive and finish nails to install the new risers to cover the existing ones. If you’re working with thin hardwood risers, then it’s a good idea to predrill the nail holes to avoid splitting the wood.
Installing the Treads
Individually measure and cut each stair tread to length with a handheld circular saw or sliding miter saw. To make sure you achieve a near perfect fit, I suggest using an angle finder to make sure the treads should indeed be cut at a straight 90 degrees. If the stair construction is a little out of whack, the stringers might slightly flare or contract toward the top or bottom, in which case it may help to cut the tread at a slight angle to match.
There was no need to rip the treads to width, as the standard 11-1/2 inches was the perfect size to cover the tread and leave and attractive 1/2-inch bull nose over each riser. Use plenty of construction adhesive to secure each tread and fasten with finish nails.