Ever since we moved into our house, I’ve always wanted to change our carpeted staircase into hardwood. When Baird Brother’s Fine Hardwoods, Grayco Paint Sprayers and Ryobi Power Tools agreed to partner with us on this massive project, I knew the time had come. Fortunately, my husband and son were willing and ready to tackle this project for me!
Prior to starting this project, we were able to consult with a representative from Baird Brothers, provide them with staircase dimensions, look at samples (they shipped us lots of samples), come up with a plan and place our order. We were so excited to work with them and knew from the onset that our finished product would be amazing…and Baird Brother’s reassured us all along the way with their amazing communication, customer service and guarantee of our satisfaction!
Now, if you are anything like me, you already have scrolled to the bottom of this post to see exactly what all the “after” pics and the finished product looks like. But please take the time to read through the post. I asked my husband to write the rest, since he was most familiar with the tools, terms, timeline and process. There were some missteps and challenges throughout that he encountered, and the project took him about 6 weeks to complete. Granted, the amount of time had a lot to do with 3 kids in 3 schools and participating in fall sports (two of which my husband helped coach or manage) and some unfortunate craftsmanship (or lack thereof) he uncovered from the original builders of the house. The post that follows may provide you with some tips and tricks to help you along the way, as well as how to avoid some of the missteps he encountered, should you decide to tackle a project like this in the future! The other stark reality of this project was that with most of our bedrooms and laundry room all upstairs, we needed a working staircase while my husband chipped away at the project, sometimes as little as one hour (and one step) at a time.
So take one final look at the carpet before it goes…because here comes my demo crew! Turning this post over to my hubs…
Hey all this is Travis…Natalie’s other half. I’m so glad to share the story of this project with y’all and hope you can glean a few ideas here along the way!
Demo day began (in early October), as my son and I ripped out the nastiest, dirtiest carpet and padding…it is truly amazing how much dirt, grime and dust settles into your carpet. Hence my shop vac was close by at all times. Natalie and I couldn’t wait for for that old carpet to hit the trash bins. If you have never ripped out old carpet, it is a pretty dusty and dirty process.
As my son and I pulled the old carpet, we just cut it into sections using a utility knife. Underneath, the cheap press board stair treads (the piece you step on) and particle board risers (the vertical facing piece) were exposed, along with staples, nail heads, carpet tack strips, dry wall mud and more. We couldn’t walk on all these hazards and dirt for the weeks to come, so we removed every staple, nail, splinter and scrap of anything that could hurt our feet with pliers, a hammer, and a paint scraper. We swept the staircase several times and went over it with the paint scraper to ensure the bare treads were safe to walk on. The process of demo went fairly quickly…just a couple hours.
Next, I had to remove, one step at a time, cut off about 12″ and then re-install the old stair tread. This was so I could install one stair skirt (pics later) at a time on each side of the stairs, while keeping the stair case functional. You can see this process in the next series of pictures (but first, me thinking “What did I get myself into?…oh well, no turning back now.”).
As demo continued, each individual stair tread had to be pounded and pried up from underneath with a hammer and crow bar. The original nails had to be pounded out of each old stair tread, so I could later re-install them. This is where I ran into the first major slow down in this project! If you look at the next picture, you will see what happened to several of our stair stringers (the stair-step shaped boards that support the stair tread). The middle one is cracked…and as I worked my way down from top to bottom, removing one tread at a time, we ended up with similar damage on 15 different places on our stringers! This was a result of some very poor craftsmanship by the original builders, as I found multiple areas where the wood had been cracked during the original install and the builders tried to repair the stringers with wood glue. This added at least 4-6 hours of extra work, where I had to repair our stringers, using a construction grade wood adhesive, scraps of wood, screws and our Ryobi Airstrike Impact Nailer.
After cutting about 12″ off of all the old stair treads with our mitre saw, I re-installed them across the middle and right stair stringers. Next, I laid the stair skirt board (white board I’m measuring in the picture) on top of the stair stringer against one side of the stair case. I temporarily fastened the stair skirt in place with a couple nails as it could not move while I measured. Each rise and run had to be measured in order for the stair skirt to fit snugly against the stringer. I used a level to mark a vertical and horizontal line coming up and out on each notch of the stringer, until the lines intersected, marking the triangle I would have to cut out of the new stair skirt. I have to say, the stair skirt boards were so easy to work with! Baird Brother’s recommended we use poplar wood for our stair skirts, and they even sent them to us pre-primed! All I needed to do was cut them to size, paint & poly them and install.
Once the stair skirt was marked for each cut, I used my 7 1/4″ Skil Circular Saw to notch out each section of the stair skirt.
Now that the stair skirts were cut to size, I laid them out and painted them with our Grayco Magnum X7 paint sprayer. I have to say, this paint sprayer from Grayco is incredible! It was the fastest, cleanest, paint spraying job I have ever done. The clean up of the sprayer was so easy. Since Baird Brother’s stair skirts were pre-primed, I only needed two quick coats of paint. Natalie had selected a Behr flat interior paint, that was color matched to “White Dove” from Benjamin Moore paint and then we made it into chalk paint from her DIY recipe. After the paint had dried, I applied 3 coats of Minwax water-based polyurethane, in 3 separate phases of spraying and drying. I figured since our staircase was such a high traffic area, it would be a good idea to really put the poly on thick…I should have checked with Nat first! This was a big mistake, as I soon found out the hard way. After installing the newly painted and poly-coated stair skirts, I noticed the next morning that they were looking a bit yellow. Natalie asked, “How much poly did you use.” I said, “at least 3 coats.”
For those of you who don’t know (as I didn’t at the time)…even water based poly has a tendency to “yellow” it’s color, when it is applied too thick…particularly over light colors like on our white stair skirts. So, although my I thought I was doing the right thing for the durability of the stair skirts that would be installed in such a high traffic area, in reality, I only would have needed 1-2 light coats of poly for them to be wipeable and keep the nice crisp white color that we wanted!
About an hour later, I began the process of removing the stair skirts and began sanding. Thankfully our cordless Ryobi CAT Finishing Sander made pretty quick work of the sanding…and remember how quick I told you it was to paint and poly the stair skirts before? The Grayco Magnum X7 made such quick work of painting the first time, I decided to paint and poly all the stair risers and trim pieces right along with the stair skirts this time. That would also ensure that the coloring was all exactly the same. Despite the extra time this misstep had taken, it was a piece of cake the second time around (and now I’m a true professional paint sprayer cleaner-upper)! The 2nd time around, finished stair skirts looked great! And for those paying close attention, you may be noticing that the temporary steps and the large barrier sheet of plywood at the top of the stairs are now on the other side of the stair case…that is because, as I worked back and forth on installing the stair skirts, I had to move the temporary steps from one side to the other to keep the staircase useable, while installing each stair skirt. I’m pretty sure I moved the temporary steps back and forth at least 7 times throughout this project…and amazingly, none of us fell through the roof of our closet under the stairs.
Now that the stair skirts were re-installed, it was time for the really rewarding work to begin…the installation of the amazing character grade Danish Satin Hickory Flooring and stair treads from Baird Brother’s. I cannot tell you how incredible this wood was and what amazing character we had in each and every piece.
First, I had to install the bullnose pieces and the tongue-and-groove flooring slabs on the landing at the bottom of the stairs. For the bullnose pieces, I needed to make mitre cuts at 45° angles using our Double-Beveled Compound mitre saw. Once the bullnose pieces were installed, I began installing the tongue and groove character grade hickory flooring. It was like putting together an awesome puzzle. Natalie and I picked out each piece with its own unique character, placing it exactly where we wanted it. We used a pretty random sizing pattern, as some pieces were shorter or longer than others.
As I installed them, I taped the flooring into place using a small wood block I had notched and covered with Frog (painters) tape, in order to avoid damaging any of the lumber. I started against the bullnose edge piece with each row, working my way toward the back wall. I also used a 1/4″ thick piece of scrap wood at the end of each row as a spacer to leave a recommended gap between the flooring at the wall, in case of and expansion of the wood. Instead of using a standard hammer, I used a rubber mallet to tap the flooring into place and always used a square to ensure my next row was lined up perfectly perpendicular to the bullnose. Drywall is not always installed well, so I made sure to line up my flooring up with a common reference, in my case the bullnose piece across the front edge of the landing. Your baseboard or trim can cover the gap left along the edge when you install your hardwood flooring.
Once each piece of flooring was set in place, I used our Ryobi Airstrike Impact Nailer to secure each piece into the subfloor with a couple nails through the tongue edge of each flooring section at a 45° angle.
Chester even made the occasional visit to approve of the pieces I was installing.
Once I got to the last row, I had to cut the pieces by length on the groove side of the flooring, in order to install the final row at the base of the bottom step. Our Ryobi 10″ Portable Table Saw made quick work of these pieces, cutting through the hickory like a warm knife in butter. This table saw is great and extremely easy to move in and out of the garage for a simple DIYer like me. On the final row of flooring, I measured and made this cut to again, ensure a 1/8″ gap between my flooring and the base of each stair stringer, in order for any potential expansion of the wood, I knew the bottom stair riser (kick plate) would cover that 1/8″ gap.
Finally, it was time to begin installing the stair treads and risers. Prior to beginning this work, I had to install two stainless steel corner joint bracket fastners to every stringer step. We had decided that for the cleanest finish look possible on the stair treads, that I would attach them from underneath the treads, instead of using nails from above. Both options are workable solutions, it’s just that attaching from underneath leaves no holes to fill in on the top. Additionally, stair treads installed with nails from the top tend to creak more over time, than treads installed with screws from underneath. This turned out to be quite the task in and of itself…with 15 steps X 6 brackets X 4 screws per bracket I had some pretty sore fingers and hands! 360 screws later (and having only dropped half of them down the stairs to the bottom at some point or another), the brackets, treads and risers were installed! This was also another area where I encountered some problems. I had to be extremely carful when setting the brackets, as the wood screws had a tendency to want to split and crack the stringers our builders had previously installed. I solved this issue by drilling in pilot holes into the stringers with a 1/8″ drill bit. Most places where the wood wanted to split was where the builders had already damaged the wood. Due to the extra time with pilot holes and repairing damaged areas on the stringers, this process took probably a total of 12 hours over several days.
In the next couple pictures below, you can see a close-up of the brackets installed. I attached them to the stringers using #8, 1 1/4″ wood screws. You can also see some of the areas where I had to cut and attach extra lumber scraps to repair damaged stringers.
Each stair tread and riser needed to be cut to size exactly to fit the space. The risers had to be cut to width on the mitre saw AND to height using the Ryobi 10″ Portable Table Saw. The stair treads needed to be cut for a perfectly snug fit on each side against the stair skirts. I had seen a stair tread and riser jig for sale on Amazon and on Etsy, but being the DIYer, decided to make a one of my own using some scrap lumber, bolts, washers and wing nuts. The tread/riser jig allowed me to expand its swiveling ends to the stair skirt on each side and create a template for each piece I needed to cut. I laid the template out on each tread, put a piece of Frog (painter’s) tape on each end, scored the lines I needed to cut with a box cutter. The purpose of the Frog tape was to keep the boards from splintering when I cut them. Next, I cut the treads on our mitre saw on the marks I had scored and installed them, one at a time.
Before screwing in each of the stair treads, I applied about 1/3 tube of Gorilla Glue Construction Adhesive to the top of the stair stringers with a caulking gun. This was probably a little overkill, but I wanted to make sure we didn’t have creaky stairs in our future. After applying the adhesive, I laid each tread onto the stringer one at a time and had my son stand on the tread while I fastened twelve truss head screws (vertically) to each tread (6 brackets X 2 screws per bracket). This took a considerably larger amount of time than I had anticipated. Due to the fact that our staircase was closed off from underneath (there is a closet under our stair case), I had very little room to set the screws from underneath each of the new stair treads. Not being able to fit my Ryobi Drill into this small space at the right angle forced me to use a special Flexible Drill Bit…I know…it sounds like a gimmick, but it actually worked! This drill bit allowed me to get enough pressure on each screw, despite not being able to be directly under each screw. If I was doing it over again, I’d probably go out and get a smaller, Cordless Ryobi Screwdriver.
Each time I installed a riser, I had a similar cutting process, except the risers all had to be cut twice…once using our mitre saw for the width to fit snugly against the stair skirts and once using our table saw for the right height to fit under the lip of the recently installed stair tread.
The risers were attached using our Ryobi Airstrike Impact Nailer.
Baird Brother’s also has all the trim pieces needed to give you that finished professional look! Now that the stair treads and risers were installed, I added some cove molding under the front edge of each stair tread. This molding was also cut to size on our mitre saw and attached with our impact nailer. It gave the stairs such a nice professionally finished look, helping to hide any seams where the risers and treads met. Baird Brother’s also sent the trim molding that I used around the baseboards and stair skirts to give them a really nice, finished, professional look.
When it was all said and done, this project was by far my favorite project to date. It was definitely challenging with a number of bumps in the road and a few inconveniences for our family. But as you can see, the finished product was well worth the reward in the end! I really can’t say enough about Baird Brother’s Fine Hardwoods. They were so amazing to work with. If I had questions, I just emailed or gave them a call. They had suggestions and helpful tips from day 1 of working with them. The quality of their products matches the quality of their service, which is second to none!
We love our character grade hickory lumber treads, trim molding and flooring. The lumber is durable, wipeable and easy to maintain. Baird Brothers even sent us a little marker and crayon that will help us cover up any future marks or scratches that we might encounter. Natalie and I loved working with them and will definitely work with them in the future on other projects.
Sponsors of this Blog Post
Ryobi Airrstrike Impact Nailer – Amazon
Ryobi 10″ Table Saw – Amazon
Ryobi CAT Finishing Sander – Amazon
Ryobi Cordless Screwdriver – Amazon
Grayco Magnum X7 Paint Sprayer – Amazon
Ridgid Shop Vac – Amazon
Flexible Drill Bit – Amazon
Utility Knife– Amazon
Level – Amazon
Crow/Pry Bar – Amazon
Paint scraper/Putty Knife – Amazon
Pliers – Amazon
Hammer – Amazon
7 1/4″ Skill Circular Saw – Amazon
Frog Tape – Amazon
Caulking Gun – Amazon
Wood Screws – Amazon
Truss Head Screws – Amazon
Keep in mind, much of this timeline had to be spread over the course of 6 weeks. A project like this could be accomplished much more quickly in an empty house, but since ours had to be usable and the upstairs accessible throughout the project, the work was spread over several weeks.
Demo of carpet and old stairs: 4-5 hours
Cut, Paint and Poly Stair Skirts: 8 hours
Paint and Poly Stair Risers: 2 hours
Prep Work and repairs to Builder’s Stair Stringers: 12-15 hours
Cut and Install Stair Treads and Risers: 8-10 hours
Paint, Poly, Cut and Install molding and finishing trim – 8-10 hours
*This post may contain affiliate links for assistance in finding home decor and/or supplies. I only link companies that I trust.