Staircase with gouges and gaps

Q: Firstly, thank you so much for such an informative website. I’ve learned more in the last 20 minutes here than the rest of the 3 hours of research combined! I have a question about staircase gaps and gouges.

I own a home in the Chicagoland area, built in 1926. All of the flooring is wood, some hard and some soft. We had someone estimate the cost to refinish, and in that process he determined that our carpet-covered stairs are also hardwood. However, I cannot tell what species.

I have now removed the carpet, and am horrified to find a set of treads and risers that seem to have been badly mistreated. There are a lot of gouges on the edges, some gaps between the risers/treads and the wall, and some gaps in the carpentry itself between the risers and treads in some places.

I’m curious what you would recommend here other than a complete rebuild. We do not wish to veneer/cover the existing wood; we’d prefer to remain original if it all possible. I was thinking that I would putty the sections that are damaged and see how they turn out, but the gaps are my biggest concern. There are sections that have used shoe trim to cover the gaps, but I wonder if you have a better idea.

A: If you can gain access to the back of the stairs (even if it means pulling down that section of plaster/drywall) you would be in a better position to tighten up the stairs. Perhaps some of the wedges that are used under the treads have come loose. Some of the risers also have likely moved over years of being kicked. You could hammer them back into place too. I know it’s all a pain but a couple of sheets of drywall isn’t that expensive to replace the ceiling behind the stairway. As for gouges, well, you can only sand so much wood off to remove those without creating new issues. You could sand the treads to clean wood and use a random orbit sander to gently smooth out as much of the damage possible. There are some wood fillers that will help you hide what damage is left.

Deep gouges in the stair treads and risers

Q imported from our old site, Face Lift Floors: I am attempting to refinish my stairs and discovered deep gouges in the stair treads and risers. I used a putty filler and then stained some of the stairs only to discover these marks are quite visible, Is there any product or technique that will help these marks blend in with the rest of wood so they are not visible?”

A: It is best to try and sand the gouges out, if possible. If not, there are color match fillers that can be applied after the first coat of finish to match the color of your treads. It is not a perfect solution, but if you get a close color match between the filler and tread color, it should be acceptable. Mind you, I don’t know how big of a gouge you are talking about here. These color match fillers, for example, a line created by Min-Wax/Dura Seal can be purchased from hardwood flooring retailers.

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