Drafty stair case

Q: We have a house that was built in the 20’s. The stair case going upstairs to the master bedroom (a.k.a. attic) is leaking very cold air. We’re fighting to heat the upstairs. Can you advise what would be the best sealant for the stairs? Any other thoughts? We would like to put in a carpet runner to help keep out the cold after we do the sealant. Thank you for your time.

A: If it was possible to gain access to the back of the stair case, this would allow you to have the stair treads and stringers tightened up and seal any areas along the wall where air in coming in.

Do I need to get the stairs refinished just because they’ve been sitting under carpet?

Q: I recently moved into an 11-year old house with red oak floors throughout. A previous owner carpeted just the stairs, perhaps to prevent slipping, although I have no idea if this was one year ago or ten years ago. The carpet looks to be at least five years old based on stains and wear. The flooring underneath looks fine, from what I’ve seen so far.

Do I need to get the stairs refinished just because they’ve been sitting under carpet?

A: No, not if they look OK. Depending on the finish previously used on them you may want to do some good cleaning of them and put on a fresh coat of the same type of finish.

Did not wipe excess stain off my stairs within recommended time period

Q: I had this great idea to recondition my stairs, rather than completely refinish them. I roughed them up enough to remove the old varnish, and applied a dark stain to match the existing woodwork. I did not wipe the excess stain off within the recommended time period. Now, days later, the stain is still very tacky.

I am loosing my hopes of it drying sufficiently for polyurethane to be applied. Any ideas on what I should do?

A: Try rubbing them down with some mineral spirits and a cloth. Try some fine steel wool if you need a big more bite.

Large gap in plank beside step

Q: We have a very large gap on our wood floor, about 3/4″. It’s the last piece on a step inside between 2 rooms, right next to our entryway. We’ve noticed that the gap is getting bigger which could be the result of the winter we’re having. We’re concerned with the board breaking. Would using rope between the boards be the best solution for this?

A: I’ve never seen one board shrink 3/4 of an inch. I don’t think it is even possible. I’d need to see a picture of this. If this is an actual step, as in stairs, is it possible the structure itself has moved?

Follow-up Q: Thanks for the response! It seems like the space changes daily if that makes any sense because it’s doesn’t seem as wide now. Hope the pictures help to explain it better. The previous home-owners did a lot of the work themselves but I don’t think they always knew what they were doing.

A: Wow, wide plank. Is that hickory? I ask, because hickory expands and contracts a lot. Does that nosing move at all when you step on it or even if you try to move it by hand? I would bet it does and it isn’t secured well. I think I would remove it in one piece if possible, but if not replace it. When you secure it use wood glue.

Staining oak stairs dark

Q: We moved into our new house about a year ago, and we are now ready to stain the oak stairs. We thought they were “conditioned” only, but now found out that they are “sealed”. I don’t think a top coat such as a polyurethane has been applied. What would be the best procedure to prep the stairs for staining? We want a dark brownish/black colour. Also, Should I condition the wood after sanding? Or is it doing the same as a damp cloth to open the pores?

A: Whatever coating was applied will need to be totally removed to bare wood. Conditioners are to help primarily the DIY person especially with certain woods like pine that tend to go blotchy when stained. They will cause the stain to be less dark. On oak, if you are using a dark colour the easiest way to achieve the true colour is to water pop first. When the wood is dry, apply stain with a cloth and wipe off excess in 5 minutes or so.

How do I cut treads overhang to make them flush with risers?

Q: I have ripped up the carpet on my stairs, and I am going to paint them and install a runner. The risers are in poor shape and I am hoping I can use a thin piece of oak to fix that. How do I cut the overhang of the treads to make them flush with the riser below? There is no room for a straight cut. What tool do I need?

A: You could cut the bulk of the tread lip with a circular saw. The last few inches could be cut with a hand saw. There are also special blades for jig saws that allow a flush cut. I have a tool that would do it, but you aren’t going to spend $1200 to use a tool once. It’s a Fein Supercut.

Painful lip on stair treads

Q: I had a professional floorer install a natural oak (2 1/4″ engineered hardwood) in my living area and two sets of stairs.

My question is: The stairs are installed with a lip at the very end of the tread (the thickness of the engineered wood, which was glued together at a 45 degree to make the stair noses). The installer told me that we could not cut the ends (overlap) of the stair tread off (it’s a 8″ x 12′ cut to the width of the stair treads with about 1.5 – 1.75″ overhang on each tread) due to rise and run codes for stairways. Now, I have this lip that every time I walk up and down my steps hurts my wife, kids and my feet. Very frustrating.

I am looking for some type of 1/8″ thick x 45 degree by 3′ – 4′ length trim piece (or a “quick fix”?) so that I don’t have this sharp angle right where everyone steps, and so I can sweep the floors/steps without going nuts. Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

A: In my view, the lip should have been cut off flush to the risers and a proper stair nosing installed. I would think the manufacturer of your engineered floor also makes stair nose and other transition strips to match their products. I guess the horse is out of the barn now though. You are going to have to try and hunt down a tiny piece of quarter round or such trim at local building supply/lumber yards. You might even have to find something close and adjust it to make it fit.

Would re-doing the stairs and handrail be prohibitively expensive?

Q: I have oak parquet in living/dining and kitchen, and oak stair treads and handrail. Everything is stained dark ebony. I want to refinish, and would like to have a lighter, taupe/grey, high-gloss look. Questions:

(1) Is this possible?

(2) Would re-doing the stairs and handrail be prohibitively expensive- enough to make me consider keeping the ebony?

A: One thing that needs to be kept in mind with stains is that it is about impossible to remove all trace of stain from heavy grain. So, if you go from ebony to a pastel like taupe, you will still have some trace in the heavy grain and it will show. It is impossible to predict how significant that would be. It also works the other way when going from, say a white stain to ebony.

Your case would be even more expensive because a non yellowing water borne finish would have to be used with a pastel colour. They are always more costly. About a third more.

Leave a gap around the banister?

Q: I’m removing the banister in the hall way to install laminate flooring. I understand that we have to leave a gap around the banister. What do we use to cover the gap? Quarter round?

A: If your banister / picket assembly also has a shoe plate that the pickets sit on, I would remove all that, install a proper stair nosing around the stairway opening, and then install the laminate up to it, except leave the required space. Then, when you put the shoe rail or plate back down, it will cover or sit on top of the gap.

Smooth transition between stair bullnose and new hardwood

Q: I ripped up carpet in a balcony/hallway and am installing 3/4″ hardwood.

Issue #1: The top of existing stair bullnose is about 3/16″ lower than where the top of the new hardwood will be. How do I make this a smooth transition?

Issue #2: There is an open rail on one side of the hall that runs perpendicular to the hardwood. The top edge of the hardwood base plate under the railing spindles has been sanded for a rounded edge. If I butt the ends of the hardwood to this base plate there is a noticeable gap due to the rounded top edge.

What should I do?

A: I installed plank for a couple of nice doctors who had a similar issue with a lower stair nosing height.

The only choices were to dismantle the entire baluster assembly, replace the nosing with one that is 3/4 thick, install a thinner flooring or find a very tiny piece of trim molding to attach to the edge of the floor where it meets the nosing. They decided on the last option.

It looked fine and hasn’t presented any tripping issues. In your case it only involves the short length of nosing at the top of the stairs. Perhaps you could cut the nosing on each end to remove it, then either replace it with a new one or shim underneath and re-install. Make sure you use glue.

Not sure what you can do with the rounded edge though. Is it possible to make it a square edge with a belt sander?

Stair spindles and installing flooring on the stairs

Q: How do I deal with stair spindles while trying to install laminate or wood flooring on the stairs to my second floor? Assuming I remove the spindles, how do I fit the wood or laminate so that the spindles can be replaced?

A: You really need a professional stair installer. The spindle assembly needs to be all disassembled before cutting back the lip on all the stair treads. I wouldn’t be installing laminate on stairs, if I was you. Solid slab is the way to go. Then, all the spindles have to be cut to fit, new dowels drilled, holes bored in the new treads, etc. Not a job for DIY.

Stair nosing in more than one piece?

Q: I plan on installing laminate wood flooring on a stair landing and a couple of stairs. My question has to do with the stair nosing. My steps are about 47-1/2″ wide. Most pre-made nosings I’ve seen come in 47″ or 94″ long pieces. As you can see, I will either have to splice the nosings or have a ton of waste. Is it OK to splice laminate stair nosing? I understand it has to glued down and also nailed. Any advice? Thanks for your help.

A: You never want a stair nosing to be in more than one piece. Waste or not, install one nosing on each tread. Additionally, the existing over hang on the treads needs to be cut back flush with the riser below it if such an over hang exists.

Have to interlock floor and stair nose?

Q: I am installing tongue and groove engineered hardwood floors into my living room and dining room. From the dining room to the living room, I have three 6 feet long steps. The floor is being laid perpendicular to the steps. What do you think is the best way to handle the tongue and groove while connecting to the stair nose and still cutting my pieces to fit the length of the dining room? My questions comes from the fact that in order to cut the last piece from the edge of the stairs to fit the remaining space, I will cut off the tongue and no longer have an attachment to the stair nose. Any advice is appreciated. Thanks!

A: I think I would just use polyurethane adhesive along the stair nosing and not worry about the tongue and groove interlocking.

Spindle bottom not flush with floor

Q: We have removed carpet from our wood stairs and we want to leave the wood exposed. The banister spindles have unfinished pegs at the bottom that sit in holes in the stairs. The pegs are exposed to differing degrees (the bottom of the spindle does not sit flush against the floor, likely because the carpet hid the poor installation). Is there any easy way to correct this short of removing the entire bannister, like some sort of decorative elements that could wrap around the spindle base to hide the peg? People have suggested installing moulding, but this will be very time consuming with dozens and dozens of mitred joints around all the spindles. Any thoughts? Thanks.

A: I’ve seen this before. I think it’s likely the spindles were installed after the carpet. I think you will need to get someone in to replace the spindles.

Gaps in stringers

Q: For our stairs, carpet was replaced by new oak treads. I will paint the risers and stringers. There are large gaps in the stringers. How can I fill these areas in? Can I start by somehow wedging small pieces of wood and then using a filler?

A: I haven’t seen the gaps but sometimes you have to improvise and use your imagination. You could glue and nail wood strips and use wood filler if that would be easiest. You could mix a stiff concoction of wood glue and fine wood dust, then fill over with patching material that can be painted (and sanded / buffed easily).

Wood Stain Only? No Finish?

Q: I just finished installing new oak treads on my staircase. I love the color and sheen that they currently have, but I only stained them. I did not poly. Is that an essential step? What will happen to my beautiful stairs if I don’t finish them? Is it okay if they have wood stain only?

A: Well, there is nothing to protect the stain, unless the stain you used has polyurethane resin in it. If you want to protect the stain but have it appear as if there is little or nothing on it, then apply 1 coat of finish. There are finishes that are essentially ‘super matte’ made by companies such as Poloplaz or Bona Kemi which are so flat you can hardly detect the finish when dry. That is one option.

Foot barely fits on stair tread width

Q: Our house was built in the 60’s and the stairs to the basement are very narrow. We made the problem worse by adding a Berber carpet to them. Should I remove the carpet and add a piece of hardwood to the front edge of each step? My foot is a ladies size 8 and without shoes my foot barely fits on the stair tread width. You need put your foot sideways to go up or down.

A: Your treads do not meet code for width. You need to go buy solid slabs and install them on top. Cut the existing nosing or overhang back, flush with the riser and secure the new, wider slab. You can veneer the risers.