Monday, February 11, 2013

Staircase Re-do: From Carpet to Hardwoods

Our staircase makeover
Alright, it's crunch time as we make our way into the third trimester of my pregnancy.  This means we only have a few more months to get the house baby ready.  Not only does this push the baby-related projects to the top of the list, but knowing how busy we will be post-baby, it pushes all projects to the front of the list.

Last time I was pregnant, my husband and I took on a houseboat / floating home remodel which we had to finish before my son was born so we could put the house on the market.  We did complete the project in time, but unfortunately, it took another three years to actually sell the home.

This time, with a lot less pressure, we are able to calmly complete our projects in reasonable timeline.

The first project on my list?  Redo the stairs! 

The carpeted stairs - BEFORE
Every week, I groan as walk past the staircase with the vacuum and wonder, "Do you think I get away without vacuuming the stairs for another week?"  The answer is almost always inevitably "no" because they get caked with dust and dog hair almost as soon as finish vacuuming. 
Hmm...wonder where all the mud and dog hair is coming from...I couldn't even get my dog to move off the landing to take a picture!
Vacuuming the stairs is a complete pain, because the vacuum is heavy, doesn't fit on the stairs, and the cord doesn't reach from the nearest outlet on the top or bottom of the staircase. Not to mention, over the years, the carpet has stretched and appears to be caked with stains that can't be removed with a carpet cleaner for the same reason that vacuuming them makes for difficult work.
Not only are the stairs ugly and difficult to clean, but there is a larger-than-typical number of them (27 total) due to the downstairs having extra-high ceilings.  Good for resale value, but bad for moving furniture and cleaning stairs. 

The only solution was to rip them down.  After spending days on Pinterest seeing how others had tackled similar projects, we decided to rip off the carpet and see what was underneath.  We were hoping for level, solid pieces of stairway risers and flats that we could just paint and poly over.

What we found was scrap press-board of varying sizes and cuts, none of which reached totally from baseboard to baseboard (see the gaps from left to right?).  So right off the bat we knew everything would need to be covered or replaced with new wood.  That was budget breaker No. 1.
Exposing the carpentry underneath showed we had nothing to work with, and we would have cover or replace everything on the stairs.
Off to Home Depot we went in search of a solution.  The one caveat was that we had to match our existing hardwoods, as they make up the final two steps and landing of our staircase.
Our current setup includes two stairs and a landing to the left and right of the front entry, both covered in wood to match our current wood floors.  In order to for the stairway makeover to work, the new staircase would have to match the current wood floors.
Our first idea was to buy matching hardwood floors for the steps, and then use a cheaper wood on the risers and paint that in a durable cream enamel paint to match the floorboards.  We found an almost-identical wood on sale at the Home Depot, and figured we could do the stairs for $12/stair.  But then what would we do on the edge (the nose) of the stair?  Turns out, you can order the noses, but they cost--hold your breath--$30 each!!!  And the topper?  They weren't long enough for our 42" stairs, so each one would use 1-1/2 noses, turning each step from $12 a stair to $57 a stair.  That was budget breaker No. 2.  It also made me realize why the contractor opted to carpet, versus hardwood, the stairs.

Our second idea was to use a laminate wood floor (like Pergo), or even a faux wood glue-on vinyl laminate, but the wood laminate was also $30/nose, and the vinyl had no corner nose option at all.

We were at a complete loss, when my husband just said, "I will make wood steps to match, just buy me a router."  Truth be told, I was extremely skeptical.  My initial thoughts were, 1) he's not capable of bull-nosing 27 stairs; 2) This will be expensive because we will have to fix so many mistakes; 3) There's no way to make cheap wood look like our expensive wood floors; 4) He'll never be able to match the stain to our existing wood floors; 5) I think he just wants me to buy an expensive router.  But nevertheless, what other choice did we have? 

So we loaded the cart up with a $99 router, and 12' x 16" pieces of bulk, stock, cheap pine, which we had cut into 48" sections (I think they were about $12 per piece) for the steps.  Then we also bought two sheets of 3/4" plywood for the risers, which we cut into 6" x 48" pieces.

My husband spent the remainder of the day bull-nosing the 48" sections with his brand new router.
These are the newly-routered 48" steps made from cheap pine planks of wood.  We made three out of each 12' piece.  Each one was routered using a bull-nose router bit.

Once all the pieces were cut, it was time to apply the stain.  Still feeling skeptical and busy with other projects, I entrusted my husband to pick the stain.  I just said, "Take a piece of the hardwood and match it." 

Now my husband is a lot of things.  Talented, skilled in carpentry, and patient.  But he IS NOT good with color. And after hours of sanding and staining, he applied a blackish, dark brown stain to all the stairs.  It was awful.  He missed the mark on color, tone, and body of the stain.  So he want to the store again, and picked out two more colors, both of which were also incorrect.  By the fourth Home Depot trip, I decided to go with him.  It took me about one minute (I'm not bragging, but it's just a girl-thing) to find the right stain, and we headed for home where Josh flipped over the boards and started over. 

It actually turned out to be a blessing, because with the leftover dark stain, my husband was able to add some body and texture to the otherwise plain pine wood, making it look more like our wood floors.  He hand-painted wood grain in using multiple colors of the stain, then added a topcoat of the matching golden cherry color I picked out.

On the fourth try, we were able to find a color that matched our current wood floors.  you can see other failed attempts in the upper left-hand corner of this picture.
By mixing multiple stains, and hand-painting in some visual interest, the steps actually look amazing and maybe more beautiful than our hardwoods.  Can you believe this is pine wood that we paid about $4/stair for?

After staining the steps, my husband applied two coats of polyurethane to each one to preserve and protect them.  This also gave them a beautiful, shiny finish.  Be sure to let the poly dry for two days before assembling!
After staining, two coats of poly was added to help preserve and protect the floors.  Then they were left to dry for two days.
Then he painted the risers (made from cheap, cheap plywood) a satin enamel finish to match the baseboards, and applied two coats of polyurethane made for painted surfaces to each of these. 

The risers, made out of plywood cut into pieces, were painted with a satin enamel, and finished off with poly for painted surfaces. This will help create a finish that matches with the finish of the steps, and also protect the wood from toe scuffs.
Finally, it was time to put it all together.  This was the easy part.  The only problem came when we noticed the current steps already had a 1/2" bull-nose overhang.  So we cut that off each step, and made each riser long enough to accommodate the gap created from building atop the existing step and riser.

Then using a nail gun, my husband first put on the risers, then the steps. The whole process took less than a couple hours.

This is the easy part...just nail the boards and risers to the existing steps.
After all the pieces were nailed in place, all we had to do was caulk the areas where the steps butted up against the baseboard with an off-white colored caulking. 

Note: Be sure to avoid dog paws and high heel shoes on the stairs for a solid three days!

This is the finished project.  It looks amazing and matches the existing hardwoods almost exactly!  Take note, my husband was right, and I was wrong...

The new stairs match the existing hardwoods almost perfectly...they may be even a bit prettier!

The staircase - AFTER

I LOVE the wood stairs with the cream risers...I think it looks so interesting, and it was easier to do!

The view from the top.


  1. Nicely done! We need to do this at our house as well, after the little one grows up a bit..

  2. i am the color blind soldier who created this project with help from my lord and savior: Amber Blount. She is the king of color; i gladly admit this. And to go further, i really shouldn't take credit for any of the work. She comes up with all the ideas and I just get to work. Every now and then, i am blessed with a mini-fridge full of Bend's finest micor/macro brewz and friends become easier to persuade. But as a hint to my fellow fools (husband do-it-yourselfers), get a tool out of it. Tools are expensive, but if it makes the entire project cheeper, because now you have the tools. Get a tool. It also helps to have an amazing wife who understands that logic. Good job Amber, you did it again. Punkin.