Stair Repair – How to Do-It-Yourself
Stringers, treads, risers and balustrade combined make up the parts of a staircase. And each part can develop its own particular repair problem.
Staircases are usually of two basic types – the closed stringer and the open stringer. A stringer is the sloping board running diagonally between floors into which fit the steps. The top edges of an open stringer are cut with sawtooth notches to accommodate the horizontal treads and vertical risers of the steps. In a closed stringer, the top edges are straight and grooves are cut into the stringers to accommodate treads and risers
Most homes have a combination of closed and open stringers in a staircase. The stringer against the wall is usually a closed one, with the open stringer facing out into a hallway or room.
Repair work is easier on a staircase with an open stringer, since work can be done from above. On a closed-stringer staircase, repairs must be handled from underneath the steps, which may involve removal of plaster or drywall. If there’s an additional support running below the steps on a closed-stringer staircase, small repairs become major structural tasks and it might be best to call in the professionals.
An open-sided staircase has a balustrade of newel posts, balusters and handrail.
Most staircase repairs, then, will center around treads, risers and the balustrade. When making repairs, remember that the balustrade is hardwood and pilot holes should be bored for all nails and screws to prevent the wood from splitting. Old glue must be scraped away from joints to allow for proper adhesion of freshly glued joints.
Repairing squeaky treads and risers
Due to the hygroscopic nature (the shrinkage and expansion) of wood and the settling of a house, staircases can develop a number of minor problems that need attention.
The most common stairway ailment is a squeaky tread. This is caused by the tread rubbing against the riser or the stringer.
Your first job is to locate the source of the squeak, and this could be in a number of spots on a step — loose nails, warped treads or risers, loose glue blocks which are underneath the steps to strengthen the tread-and-riser joint, or loose wedges that fit snugly underneath treads and risers in the grooves of a closed stringer.
As mentioned previously, repairs made from above are the easiest, and there are a couple of repairs that can be handled from above the stairs to silence a squeaky tread.
If the squeak comes from the front of a tread at the top of a riser, spiral-shanked floor nails can be driven into the tread-and-riser joint at opposing angles.
If tread movement is substantial when the tread is walked on, you can use glue wedges to repair the spring. Thin wooden wedges coated with a carpenter’s glue can be driven into the bottom of the riser, on the underside of the tread where it joins the riser. Use a sharp utility knife to trim the wedges, then cover the repair with a decorative molding strip.
If the squeak is at the end of the tread close to a closed stringer, it could be a result of loosened glue wedges underneath the steps. If you can gain access to the steps underneath the staircase, remove the old wedge with a chisel and remove the dried glue. Cut a new wedge to fit snugly into the gap. Coat the groove and the wedge with glue and drive the wedge into position tightly under the tread. New wedges can also be driven into the tread-and-riser joint for support.
Glue blocks fastened to the tread-and-riser joint can be worked loose by footfalls on the steps. Remove old blocks, cut new ones, coat with glue and screw into position from two sides.
Repairing squeaky treads and risers step-by-step guide:
1 Drive a series of nails at opposing angles into the tread and through to the riser to silence squeaks that are coming from the front of the tread.
2 Coat a wooden wedge with glue and drive it into the bottom or top of the riser to stop squeaks coming from the rear of the tread or from the riser.
3 Cut the wedges with a utility knife flush with the base of the riser or tread. Cover the join with a strip of molding to conceal the repair.
4 To repair squeaks from underneath the staircase, glue and screw wooden blocks at the join of the tread and the riser.
5 Metal angle brackets can also be fastened to the back side of the treads and risers both for stability and to silence squeaking.
6 Glue-coated wooden wedges can also be installed from underneath the stairway. Drive them into place with a wood block to ensure a tight fit.
Although a loose baluster can be tightened with glue, screws or wood wedges, a broken baluster presents a danger and needs to be replaced.
Fixing loose balusters with wedges can be handled in the same manner as wedges on treads and risers.
To fasten a loose baluster with a screw, drill a hole at an angle through the baluster and into the handrail, stringer or tread. Drive screw, countersink, and fill the hole with wood filler.
To remove a broken baluster, determine what type of baluster you have. Square-topped balusters fit into a groove in the bottom of the handrail, and the groove between the balusters is filled with a wood block. Round balusters usually end in dowels that fit into holes at both ends of the baluster. Frequently the bullnose molding on the side of a tread will have to be removed in order to replace a baluster.
To remove the baluster, saw it into two pieces, twist them with a wrench to break the glue joint, then pull out the baluster. If the baluster refuses to budge, saw it flush with the tread or handrail, then drill out the ends with a spade bit to create new holes.
To install the new baluster, coat joint ends with glue: install bottom first then lift up the handrail to position the too. Nails can be driven into the top and bottom for extra support.
A loose newel can be tightened by drilling and screwing from the floor below or through the newel into the stringer.
Treads, risers and stringers
House-settling can cause the stair stringers to pull away from the steps. This gap can be corrected by driving wedges between the wall and the stringer to force the stringer back against the steps Only small gaps (less than 12mm / 1/2in) can be corrected this way. Larger gaps forced closed by wedges could crack the stringers A larger gap usually means stair replacement.
If treads are cracked or badly worn, they need to be replaced First, remove the bullnose side molding and balusters. Pry up the tread carefully. If the tread is nailed to the top riser, work the tread until there’s enough of a gap to insert a saw to cut the nails, then carefully puli the tread off the bottom riser and out from the closed-stringer grooves.
If a new riser is necessary, cut to fit and mitre the corner that joins to the open stringer. Glue in the wedges on the closed-stringer side first then position the riser, making sure the mitred edges on the open-stringer side fit perfectly. Drive nails into the backside of the riser and through to the vertical stringer groove on the closed stringer. Glue and nail the mitre joint.
Cut a new tread to fit. Mark the mitred corner location for the bullnose molding on the open-stringer side and mark baluster locations. Cut the side and mitre corner to accommodate the molding and cut the baluster holes. Маке any cuts necessary to fit the stringer shapes. Cut dado to fit the rinse tongue.
Fit and glue a wedge into position on the closed-stringer side. Spread adhesive on the stringers, slide the tread into position, closed-stringer side first, and tap tread to make a tight fit. Nail tread and bullnose molding into place countersinking nails and filling with wood putty. If the underside of the stairs is accessible, drive nails through the top riser and into the edge of the new tread. If both sides of the surface are closed stringers and the underside of the staircase is accessible, treads and risers can be removed by chiselling out оld wedges, sawing the riser tongue from above the stairs and pulling the riser loose. The tread is tapped from the front to push it out of its groove.
New treads and risers are cut to fit. New wedges are fitted and glued, then the riser-and-tread joint is reinforced by screwing or nailing.
REPLACING TREADS AND RISERS
1 To replace treads and risers, you’Il first need to remove the balusters. Pry off the side molding on the tread and slide the balusters out from their slots.
2 Remove any trim from the front of the tread and pry up the tread slightly. Use a saw to cut through any naiis, then pry the tread loose.
3 Treads can often be reused by turning them over, sanding the underside smooth, then cutting any new grooves into the bottom.
4 When replacing the riser, glue a wedge in place first then position the riser. Hammer nails at an angle through the riser and into the stringer.
5 Glue and nail the riser mitre joint on the open stringer side of the stairway. Use a nailset to force the nails below the surface then fill with wood filler.
6 Nail the tread into position on top of the riser. One end fits into a groove on the closed stringer side, the other is nailed to the top of the open stringer
Balusters repairs step-by-step guide
1 Balusters support the handrail and a loose baluster can eventually force the handrail out of alignment. To tighten a baluster, cut a wedge out of hardwood.
2 Make sure the grain runs length wide on the wedge. Coat the wedge with glue and drive it into the gap at the top of the baluster.
3 Trim the wedge flush with the baluster and let the glue dry before using the handrail. A countersunk screw can be used to refasten baluster.
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Older concrete stairs and porches are often in poor condition due to failed waterproofing. The original tar paper membranes have a limited lifespan. Older concrete can crack and become porous, weeping or leaking water and causing the membrane to fail, which then leads to damage to the underlying plywood and framing. The foundations are often in poor condition as well. The scope of work will range from adding additional supports on up to complete replacement.