How to Remodel Stairs DIY
Remember last year when I made over our second floor stair treads and stair risers? Well, I did it again! This is an easy DIY project to update existing stairs or convert old carpet to wood stairs. This was an easy fix to banish the nasty carpeted stairs to fit my personal style much better. Because we all know I am not a fan of carpet, like at ALL! The best part is, I am going to walk you through the entire process and share what I learned during my round two staircase renovation.
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Our current home is a tri-level with a full set of stairs by the front door that lead to our bedrooms and another smaller set of stairs that lead from our kitchen to our family room. When we replaced the flooring in our family room I ripped out carpet from the original stairs and painted the treads and risers. This was a temporary solution until I could come up with a better option. This is what they looked like before I painted them.
And this is what they looked like after I painted them.
Painting them was the easiest way to give them a more modern look. And while they looked ok from a distance, up close you can see they were in rough shape and had many imperfections.
I always envisioned new stair treads with a modern square edge not a bull nose. I had almost convinced Barry I could build our own, when I found these!!! I definitely I think these could be built, however with the rising costs of lumber and the time involved, these new treads seemed like the most effective way. I am also OBSSESED with the unique look of the square solid edge!
How to Remodel Stairs DIY Necessary Materials
Modern Square Stair Treads
Water-based Clear Coat
Miter Saw or Circular Saw
Remember, you may be able to accomplish this staircase remodel without all of these items but having the right tools makes a huge difference in time spent.
I chose not to add a carpet runner as I like the sleek look of the bare wood, but if you are concerned it is a safety hazard, you could definitely add one.
How to Remodel Stairs DIY
The first thing you need to do is order the new stair treads. I recommend doing this prior to doing any demo, just in case. These come in different lengths so you will want to measure your steps as they are likely a little different than mine. I used five of the 36 inch treads. If you have larger steps at the bottom of the stairs, they also sell left and right return treads. I talk more about these in my other post. These are hardwood treads in unfinished oak.
Decide on new risers. Risers are the back part of the steps and if you are starting with stairs like ours, it’s a good idea to address these. Originally, I was planning to do plain white risers but I totally fell in love with these patterned risers that are double sided! I loved the chevron side, but the bead board would be so cute too!
Remove carpet, tack strips, carpet pad and staples from the old stairs. This is what the stairs looked like when once the carpet was removed. Definitely not pretty.
Determine if you need to cut the existing stair treads down. Before you make any cuts, check your local building codes to make sure you are in compliance. International building code says the stair treads cannot be less than 10 inches deep. My original treads are literally built into the sides or the stringers and cannot be removed without ripping out the entire staircase. The existing treads are also bull nose which is common in older homes. In order to install the new treads, I needed to “square off” the existing treads otherwise the new treads would hang off the front edge too far.
I did a lot of mathing to figure out what needed to be cut off. NOTE your stairs are likely not exactly the same as mine and you should take all of your own measurements to make sure your new stair treads are the right size. My original stair treads were 10.5 inches deep. I did not change the depth of our treads. In order to accommodate the new risers which are 3/8 inches deep and maintain the 10.5 inch stair treads, I cut 1 inch off the front of each existing stair tread with the saw max and my multi tool. If your stairs are already square and flush, you can skip this step.
The first time I did this it was VERY messy! This time Barry and I worked together and I used the shop vac to suck up the dust as he cut. This was definitely a simple fix for all the dust.
You will need the multi tool to get a close cut against the stringer. The saw max doesn’t make it all the way to the wall and neither will a normal circular saw. Unfortunately the saw max only has a blade depth of 3/4 inch, so it was necessary to do a second pass with the multi tool as well. If you have a small circular saw like this one, you will probably only need the multi tool on the sides.
Cut your risers to size. The risers I used were 7.5 inches tall out of the package but my stair risers are only 5 5/8 inches tall. So I rip cut 1 7/8 inches off each riser with the table saw. NOTE: You want to make sure you are cutting this amount off the same side of each riser if you choose to use the chevron pattern or your pattern will look different from stair to stair.
You will likely also need to cut down the length of the risers. Mine are 33 inches long. NOTE: Again, you will want to make sure to cut equal amounts off each side so the pattern lines up. I measured 16.5 inches from the center line of the pattern, cutting 4.5 inches off each end. I made these cuts with the miter saw but you could also use a circular saw.
Cut your treads to size. I started by rip cutting the treads on my table saw. I cut 1 inch off the back of all the treads.
Then, I cut my treads to 33 inches in length. Before I cut them, I checked how square they were with a speed square. Most of mine were pretty close but I still adjusted the angle just a hair on the miter saw when I made the cuts on the ends. My miter saw is a 12 inch sliding saw. If yours doesn’t slide or is smaller, you probably will not be able to make these cuts in one pass. You could also use a table saw or a circular saw but this was the easiest method for me.
Also, don’t get frustrated if you have a hard time getting them to fit immediately. I had to make many small adjustments before they fit without being too tight. This was the most time consuming part. Just remember, you can always take more off, but you can’t add more 😉 You can see all the behind the scenes in my Instagram highlights.
After cutting each piece, I numbered each riser and tread on the back so I didn’t get any pieces mixed up. I also dry fit each one before installing anything.
Paint the risers. These do come primed, but I highly recommend painting them so they do not scuff as easily. I used a foam roller to ensure a smooth finish. Do NOT use too much paint or the grooves will fill with paint and the design will become muted. I had a toothpick on hand to clear out any grooves that accumulated paint. I used Valspar Ultra White in a satin finish and I applied two coats.
Sand the treads. Since these are a hardwood oak, they did not need a ton of sanding but I didn’t want any rough spots or splinters from tear out. I sanded the treads with my orbital sander and 220 grit sandpaper.
Stain, paint or clear coat the treads. You can choose what fits the look of your home. The treads I used came unfinished which I prefer. While I enjoyed my painted steps over the years, I was really into the natural finish of these treads. And I have been on a mission to mix wood tones throughout the house. As such, I chose to simply clear coat them. This is what I used but they also make a special flooring version.
After one coat, the wood just wasn’t as smooth as I was hoping. So I sanded them again with my orbital sander and 320 grit sandpaper. After they are smooth, wipe them down with a damp rag and do a second coat of poly for a total of two coats of polyurethane. If you do not use the triple thick poly, you may need more.
Install the risers. I installed the risers first with Gorilla construction adhesive. I think it is easiest to apply the glue to the back of the riser.
I also added a nail in each corner with the nail gun, careful to make sure they were on the edges that would be covered by the new treads. NOTE, I did not nail the top corners of the top stair riser or the bottom corners of the bottom step riser as these are not hidden.
Install the treads. For the stair treads, I also used Gorilla construction adhesive. I imagined I was painting a Jackson Pollock and went to town.
After each tread was in, I added some weight and left the weights in place until the next day for a full 24 hours. We did use the stairs during this time, just very carefully. Marvin was less than thrilled, haha!
I also caulked in the treads with this caulk. I did tape the treads off to give a nice clean line. Just make sure you pull the tape off right away.
Enjoy your new stairs! This was the best of the budget-friendly options I came up with and I absolutely love the new wooden stairs! The beautiful wood is a major change from the particle board I have been living with.
I cannot believe I waited so long to do this, especially after I did the upstairs staircase. But at least I didn’t have to build the treads from scratch. If you want to see more video and all my behind the scenes, check out my Instagram stories stair highlight.
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