How to Install Oak Stair Treads With Molding and Riser
In this article:
- Tool List
- Step 1 – Preparing the Stairs
- Step 2 – Measure Each Stair Tread and Riser
- Step 3 – Leveling Across the Stringers
- Step 4 – Dry Fit, Then Glue in Place
If you are about to take on a stair building or remodeling project, and you don’t know the first thing about stairs, you’ve found the right article. First, we’ll break down all the names of the parts of the stair to avoid any confusion.
Next, we’ll give you some options and what to consider before deciding on a look and materials for your stair. For this article, we focus on oak stairs for our material. Then, we’ll show you some step-by-step techniques and links to some beneficial videos.
We top it off with an easy method of finishing your new stairs using our revolutionary new product, Easiklip, that clips together for a safe and beautiful finish to your oak stairs.
Let’s start with the definitions so you’ll sound like a pro. If you are already a pro, you can skip the first section.
Parts of a Staircase
There are two types of staircases, straight and a winder. If the stair changes direction, it’s called a winder or pie stair. The part where the stair changes direction is the landing. It can be a square area, split in two or divided into steps shaped like a piece of pie or a kite to make the transition.
There are two primary parts to any step. The part we walk on is the tread and the part that elevates the next step higher is the riser.
When building a staircase, there are two critical measurements to consider. They are the run and the rise. The run is the width of the stair tread. Someone with big feet will want a tread with a wider run. The rise is how high each step is from the next. Typically, a stair tread extends out beyond the riser. This piece is the stair nosing, sometimes called the stair bull nosing. It increases the tread width by 1 inch. It’s rounded to prevent shoes and feet from catching and tripping.
The Stair Tread
- Straight Box Tread - Installed into a straight box where no edges are seen.
- Mitred Tread – The exposed side of the tread has an extra piece called a return mitered. This piece holds the stair spindles or balusters.
- Double Mitered Treads – Used for stairs with both sides exposed. The mitered returns support the spindles or balusters of the railings.
- Winder Stair Treads – These treads allow for stairs to turn up to 90⁰ left or right. Depending on the stair, they can look like an equilateral triangle, pie wedge or a kite.
Unless you need to match exotic wood in the room, the best wood for a stair tread is solid oak. Oak is economical, durable, and looks beautiful either stained or with a natural finish.
Depending on the location of the stairs, they can be a focal point of the room and part of your interior design. The question you need to answer is…
Should You Match the Riser to the Stair Tread?
There is no magic answer here. It’s all personal preference. The first thing an interior designer would ask is, are the stairs are visible, from what rooms and angles? Are the risers at eye level while sitting in the dining room or living room?
A painted riser may create too much contrast and create too much focus, detracting from other features such as a fireplace. Some designers feel that matching the riser to the tread gives a modern look.
Neither pros or cons, here are some things to consider when finishing the riser and stair tread.
- Matching both provides a uniform look
- Keeping the riser unpainted adds more woodgrain to space
- Painting the riser white or other light color will show scuff marks more easily
- Painting the risers to match the trim unifies the look
- Painted risers add a traditional, formal look.
Again, it comes down to personal preference, there is no right or wrong.
Whatever you decide, you’ll want to make sure that you complete all painting, staining and finishing before you install the pieces.
Required Measurements for Stairs
Building codes in the U.S. prescribe a 7-11 rule, meaning a 7-inch rise and 11-inch run (17.78cm to 27.94cm). The maximum rise for a step is 7 ¾ inches (19.7, cm) and the run or tread must be a minimum of 10 inches (25.4 cm).
A few other measurements about stairs you want to keep in mind are:
- Maximum tread depth variability - 3/8" (.95 cm)
- Maximum rise variability - 3/8" (.95 cm)
- Maximum slope of the riser - 30°
The reason for the uniformity is for our comfort and to prevent tripping.
One more item is the thickness of the stair tread. Most building codes specify that the minimum thickness of a tread is 1 inch (2.54 cm) if supported by a riser along the front. If the stairs are open construction, the stair tread must be a minimum of 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) to support the weight.
How to Install Oak Stair Treads and Risers
The first question most DIYers ask when installing stairs for the first time is, “Do you install the risers or the stair treads first?”
The correct answer is to install the riser first. The reason is that you want a nice snug fit along the riser with the tread above it. Typically, there are small variations in the width of the riser boards or the height of the notches cut in the stair jacks.
Fitting the risers first lets you slide the back edge of the tread tight against the riser. The stair bullnose overhangs the next riser down, hiding any small variations or gaps.
Pro Tip - Experienced carpenters start at the top of the stairs and work down. This way, they can fit the next riser against the bottom of the previous tread for a better fit and to see if there are any gaps. Of course, this depends on if you have a place to step or not.
Next, you need a few tools to complete the job.
- Stair Tread Template
- Brad Nail Gun
- Claw Hammer
- Utility Knife
- Painter’s Tape
- Circular Miter Saw
- Construction Adhesive
- 1” Pocket Hole Screws
- Magnetic Box Level
- Joint Brackets 30mm x 38mm( 1.18 in x1.5 in)
Step 1 – Preparing the Stairs
If you are installing new oak treads and risers, chances are you’re upgrading from an old carpeted stairway. You’ll need to rip up the old carpet and padding. Use pliers to remove exposed nails or staples to prevent injuries.
You can leave the plywood sub-tread in place or remove it and install directly onto the stair stringer. We’ll discuss both installation methods. Be sure that the new stairs conform to the measurements above. Check with your local building codes to be sure.
Step 2 – Measure Each Stair Tread and Riser
Use the stair tread template tool to measure your current treads and risers. Because they can differ, you want to measure and cut each tread and riser individually. If you want to measure and cut them all before removing the old stairs, be sure to number each position. Here are the steps to cutting your treads and risers.
- Use the template tool and measure the tread.
- Lay the template on top of the new tread.
- Wrap the painter’s tape under the ends of where the tool indicates you will cut. (The tape is not necessary but makes it easier to see the cut.)
- Score the tape using the utility knife to mark the cut.
- Make the cut on the circular miter saw.
When you’re ready, use the hammer and crowbar to pry up the old treads if you plan on replacing them or leave them in place if you are going to install prefinished treads over the top.
Step 3 – Leveling Across the Stringers
If you are attaching the new tread directly to the stair joists, you’ll want to add some joint brackets to help level and secure each tread for a squeak-free stair. Here is an excellent video demonstrating the technique of adding brackets using a magnetic level to place them in the right location.
Using your magnetic box level, attach a brace to the magnet and place the level across the stringers. Once it’s level, mark the holes in the bracket. Do this for all the brackets. You want at least one per stringer and two for the center stringer.
Pro Tip – For this technique, you will need access to the bottom of the stairwell.
Step 4 – Dry Fit, Then Glue in Place
Once you’ve cut your pieces, dry fit them to ensure a good fit. Next, ad a liberal amount of adhesive to the back of the riser and press it in place. Shoot a couple of brads through the face of the riser to hold it in place while the glue sets. The brad head should go below the surface of the wood and should not be visible. You can fill the hole with wood putty if necessary.
Pro Tip – Install the ripped edge of the riser up to hide any imperfections. Never force a tread or riser into place. If it's too snug, remove and trim it as necessary.
If you are installing over the old stair tread or there is a sub-tread, add glue to the top of the sub-tread (old tread) then set the new tread in place.
Pro Tip – Expect to use a tube of adhesive per riser and stair tread. Shoot 4 brads into the tread to hold it in place, 1 per corner.
That’s it. Now work your way down (or up) the rest of the stairway.
Easiklip Stair Nose Molding For Floor Landings
Transitioning from a higher floor to the stairs requires a unique piece called a stair nose, stair bullnose, or stair molding. Without it, you’ll have an unfinished looking board with a 90⁰ cut straight edge. A stair nose extends the floor out over the stairs by an inch, matching the leading edges of the stair treads.
But how do you achieve it?
Well, if you’ve used Easiklip flooring, it’s a snap, or we should say clip.
We mill Easiklip stair nose molding to match the Easiklip flooring tongue and groove profile and use our patented clips to hold them together. You can install it with glue and without the clips for standard stair installations. If you prefer, you can assemble the entire tread using clips, and then glue it all down as one piece, that's fine too.
However, for a floor landing installation, you must use the clips to attach the nose molding.
It’s a simple procedure. You begin the new flooring run by attaching clips under the stair nose first, gluing the nose molding to the edge of the landing for extra strength. Continue to install the flooring from there to the rest of the hallway or room.
Our nose moldings match the color of our floorings, and all have a smooth finish. This includes the Rustic noses which have no rustic textured finish.
These moldings are compatible with the Easiklip floating solid hardwood flooring and come in the same colors. You may see slight color variations between moldings. It’s normal and expected as each white oak tree has natural variations.
Each piece of Easiklip stair nose molding is 78” long and you can order them here.
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- Bill Grover