How do you Apply Hardwood to the Stairs?


So, you have put in your beautiful wide plank hardwood floors, now, how do you deal with the stairs? This set of stairs was refinished by someone that didn’t have a clue how to do stairs. When I was called in the newel posts moved a couple of inches in every direction and the stairs were cladded in underlayment plywood and painted with white latex paint.


So much work for absolutely nothing! Using 1/8″ material meant that the top step was 3/4″ taller than the lowest step–and the stairs would wear constantly and always look old and dirty.

The first thing I had to do was remove everything he had done.Step two, remove the overhangs and step 3 fabricate and install brand new treads in Red Oak to match the floor and rail up top.

I have seen some tough looking staircases in my time. Gluing and nailing hardwood to each tread with a nailed on nose just won’t last. The best method is always to add a 1 piece tread to the existing rough stair tread.


You can likely buy pre-made treads at the big box store, however this is likely to be a laminated plywood product with a solid portion only on the nose. These laminate treads will wear out under foot traffic and because it is a plywood core they can’t be refinished. Check the ends of the narrow part to make sure it is solid wood.
Normally these store bought treads are unfinished, just make sure the species is a match and normally the store that sells you the hard wood flooring will also have small quantities of stain and varathane on hand for matching the flooring on thresholds and stairs.

We tend to make our own treads–using the same wide plank materials, gluing them up marine quality adhesives and laminating solid wood to form a nosing that will last.

If you are considering removing and replacing any hand rails just consider that hand rails are a specialty item and there are many ways of messing the job up. Installing a hand rail is difficult with all new materials. Installing a hand rail already installed twice and botched previously is a painful task at best.

Working with Rough Lumber


Stores typically sell dressed lumber. Here is a secret however there are times where it would be better to have wood that is 7/8″ thick rather than the typical 5/8 to 3/4″.

How on earth do you make the wood true? Often there is nearly an inch of crown to take out.

Merv showed me a trick the other week. I was recladding a staircase with oak so I bought enough rough cut lumber from him to do the job. I had always made a cradle and tacked the piece of wood to that and ran it through the tablesaw… which is tedius and takes 2 people.

He said take the factory edge off a piece of plywood and tack that to the board… then run that through the saw with the plywood against the fence. The pieces were only a few feet long, so it was easy to do with only 1 pair of hands.

What a great method… and just 2 little nail holes to fill later!


Thanks Merv–

BTW, Merv sells dried cabinet grade lumber from the store for reasonable rates. You may have to give him a couple of weeks notice though, he starts getting pretty busy this time of year.


Transitions and Thresholds


When a floor is a different level the pros use a transition strip. These are made from the flooring or any block of the same species of wood. The general rule is that it should be a gently tapered flush fitting piece that eases you from level to level.

There should be no sharp angles or butt edges that can be caught by foot traffic. Our goal with a transition in wood flooring is to avoid causing people to trip. It should be subtle and finished with the same color as the floor.
changing-heights-hardwood-flooringThe upper part of this floor is Beech, and the lower right hand side is pine. We used a custom tint to make them look similar.

When you cannot match the finish… you may wish to add contrast. Give it a darker stain on the transition if that will help make it look better.

You can use countersunk screws and tapered plugs glued in to cover the screws… or PL Premium adhesive and unobtrusive finish nails to hold it in place until the glue sets.

Tapering the cuts on the butt end of the threshold will help you get the joints tight. Typically you mount the threshold temporarily, then butt the end grain cuts up to the threshold.

Shown below are samples of threshold where it meets ceramic tile… those need to overlap the tile to protect from damage from foot traffic.

This type of threshold can be milled on a table saw and sanded smooth with a belt sander/palm sander. The harder the wood, the more aggressive the tools you will need to finish it.


Wide Plank Hardwood Flooring in Wasaga Beach


This floor was installed in the Elmvale Area (Just north of Barrie Ontario)– Custom Tinted, Random Width Beech Flooring. This old school floor was done to closely match the pine flooring in the adjacent room.

The lumber is from Colling-Wood Flooring and every piece was glued down to the sub-floor to avoid squeaks and movement. We left the odd scratches and imperfections to add character.

After a year, in the driest season of the year, this floor is absolutely tight.

  Lawrence Winterburn is a local carpenter that installs Colling-Wood Floors in Barrie, Elmvale, Wasaga Beach and Collingwood.

Contact Lawrence in the Wasaga Beach-Elmvale area at 705-322-9919