Installing Hardwood Stair Treads

Hardwood Stair Treads

Installing hardwood stair treads can preserve an existing staircase that has worn treads, or update a flight of stairs that has been covered with another material. Although this is a particularly challenging project, the results can be stunning and worth the effort.

Skills and Tools Required

Installing hardwood stair treads requires intermediate to advanced woodworking skills. The precision and patience required to achieve satisfactory results is beyond most home improvement beginners. Even homeowners who have completed several woodworking projects may find completing this project is particularly difficult due to the amount of cutting and fitting involved.

In order to install hardwood treads you will need some basic woodworking tools. This includes a miter saw for smooth, precision cuts, as well as a hammer, pliers, pry bar, and a nail set. A nail gun can replace the hammer and nail set, as long as finishing nails are used.

Choosing the Treads

The choice of hardwood for this project will largely depend on the budget and desired aesthetic involved. However the budget can be reduced significantly if a manufacturer is chosen that makes treads in a length close to the desired length or double the needed length.

Choosing six foot lengths is a mistake if the stairs are four feet wide, and using two pieces of wood for a single tread will not only appear odd, but increase the risk of the stair creaking later. Plan on using a single piece of wood for each tread, but choose a length that results in as little waste as possible.

Even though you will want to minimize waste, order an extra board in case of a cosmetic flaw in your shipment or an accidental cut. Ordering a replacement board through a Home Depot, Lowe's Home Improvement Store, or similar center may cause a delay of several weeks, leaving the project unfinished.

Starting the Installation Process

This tutorial assumes that the staircase does not have a railing supported in part by the stair treads. If this is not the case, strongly consider calling a professional. Removing and later replacing a rail and balusters is a difficult task.

If, however, there are no obstructions, you should begin by removing any carpeting or tile covering the existing stairs. Next, remove the existing stair treads using a pry bar. Finish this step by using a pair of pliers or a hammer to remove any fasteners remaining on the stairs, including nails, staples, and tacks.

Individually Installing Hardwood Stair Treads

When installing hardwood stair treads, it is important to measure and fit each tread individually. Each stair may vary slightly, making it inadvisable to mass produce cuts.

  1. Begin by measuring the distance between the two walls that enclose your staircase. If your staircase is open on one or both sides, measure to the outside edges of the stringers and add the necessary length you want the tread to extend past the stringer.
  2. If walls enclose the stairs, set a miter saw to a 30 degree angle, so the face of the tread is slightly larger than the back of the tread when cut.
  3. Mark the board you are using for the stair tread using a pencil. Be as exact as possible.
  4. Cut the board, keeping in mind that a board that is slightly too long is better than one that is too short.
  5. Fit the board into place over the stringers. Make any necessary adjustments to ensure a snug fit. If you have a tread that does not butt against a wall, check that the tread extends the correct amount beyond the stringer.
  6. Nail the board in place, with two nails for every stringer.


Once all of the stair treads are in place the finishing work can begin. Start by filling all of the indentations left by the nails with a matching wood putty. Allow the putty to dry and sand the area until it is smooth.

With the nail holes filled, paint, stain, or otherwise finish the hardwood treads. While aesthetic preference will dictate which finish is chosen, be sure to choose a high quality product that will be able to withstand frequent foot traffic. Follow the manufacturer's instructions when applying the chosen product, keeping in mind that several coats are preferable to one or two thicker applications.


For homeowners that have the technical skill and patience to complete this project, they should find the results well worth the effort. Other homeowners who are not yet confident in their woodworking abilities should consider calling a professional to install the treads. A company that specializes in installing hardwood floors and stairs should be able to create a staircase that is worthy of being a focal point in your home.

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Installing Hardwood Stair Treads