Installing Hardwood On Stairs - Page One

In this five page segment we'll show how to measure andStairs layout install strip or plank on common staircases that have been covered by carpet. We do not consider this a do it yourself project unless you have patience and attention to detail. Stairs are a highly visible area of the home requiring precise cutting.

Types Of Stair Substrates

The substrate deals with what may be under the carpet. Some homes may have mortised treads and risers that were built as one large unit, brought to the site and installed. Others may have a system that was built with standard building materials on site by framing carpenters. In both cases hardwood can be installed over, but preparations may be slightly different. Pull some of the carpet from the sides. If you see nails or gaps in the tread against the stair stringer this system has been built on site.

Solid Treads Versus Strip & Plank

Most prefer solid treads that are installed in one piece. If you're looking to match a prefinished floor with the same color, wood flooring manufacturers do not provide prefinished solid treads and risers. Instead matching stair nosing is available. This is installed on the edge of the actual step with planks installed against them. For the time being, this section only deals with installing matching prefinished hardwood on steps.


We basically have two choices; hardwood installed on the steps and risers, or steps with painted white risers. Both involve similar methods but a white riser installation will cut down on actual time involved. Preferred materials used with painted risers has always been poplar as it takes paint better than other materials, providing a smoother final appearance without the grain.

Wood Risers
All Wood Risers
Painted Risers
Painted Risers


Preparation And General Knowledge

Most substrates for steps that were designed for carpet have a nosing that needs to be removed. This removal allows for new nosing to be installed on the steps. On the whole, the preferred method is prefinished material but site finished can be installed on steps as well. Treads and risers should be installed tight to the stringer, often called skirting. This provides more of a cleaner appearance than what some may find with an inexperienced person claiming they know how to do the work. Placing trim on the sides is an example of poor workmanship.

What Kind Of Hardwoods Can We Install On Stairs?

Aside of the many types of species, all types of hardwood can be installed on stairways. This can include solid 3/4" products, or engineered flooring. The latter is often chosen to match an existing area that may connect or is installed on concrete in the foyer of the home. Many often ask if a click or lock together floor a good choice. The answer is yes, but they will have to be glued down.

How Long Does This Project Take?

With standard steps three foot in width, an experienced installer should be able to install each step in approximately 40-50 minutes. This includes a considerable amount of time going back and forth to the cutting area, not to mention going and down stairs all day long. Our time also does not include any preparation work that includes removal of carpet, padding, and tack strip.

Go To: Measure Hardwood On Stairs Go to

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From Our Readers:

Wide Walnut Stair Treads

Question: I'm looking for very wide Walnut stair treads, something on the order of twelve feet. My local carpet store here in the Bay area says they don't exist.

Reply: You're not looking in the right direction. A quick look in the yellow pages for stair builders or custom lumber will probably land you the right retail store.


Question: Your site says stringers go on the sides of steps, but our contractor insists they help support the treads. Help clear the confusion.

Reply: Your contractor is correct. Different terminology goes hand in hand from one region to another. I have always heard stringers referred as stair skirting, but the area under the treads also serves as a support system. Similar to a floor joist system in that the final floor covering lies directly above the stringers on the steps.

Refinishing. Get Shading Out

Question: I have an older cherry wood staircase that has had a carpet runner on them for the last 20 years. I've enclosed a picture. Do you see the difference in color? I' wondering if the floor sanders can stain this to make the same color?

Reply: There is no easy answer to your question. Years of direct light and indirect light will always show a pattern where the runner was. A few solutions would be keeping the runner, stain the staircase very dark, use a solid stain, paint, or replace the treads. Keep in mind, staining very dark will not eliminate the problem completely.

Repair Cracked Treads

Question: I have two steps that are cracked in the middle. I guess you call them step treads. How difficult would it be to replace them? My home is in the Boston area and is 35 years old.

Reply: I'm not familiar with step construction in New England. An expert in staircase repairs can probably better answer your question. However I can say this. If it's a mortised staircase, repair time will be much longer because the entire stair system is tied together as one unit.