New Year, New Staircase

11 Materials
3 Weeks

Just before Christmas we started ripping the old carpet off the stairs and good riddance to it! It has long been on our list to rid ourselves of the carpet that starts on the stairs and continues for the whole second floor. We had no idea what was underneath, though I wasn't hopeful there would be nice hardwood.
And I was right.  So after painstakingly ripping the carpet off a few stairs and pulling tons of staples, we decided to just pull up the whole stair, carpet and all. 
Before we did that we had to find the wood to replace them with.  Fortunately Will's grandfather had some 50-year-old walnut collecting dust in his barn and since we looove walnut and already have some of it in the laundry/mud room we thought it would be perfect to use.  We need something sturdy that will stand up to our dog bounding up and down the stairs at full speed.
The walnut was kind of thick and we needed to make sure the treads were all the same size, so we got to use an old planer.  We ran each tread through the planer several times until they were even and the top was uniformly smooth. 
Then we used a table saw to cut them to length - the table saw was a little small for slabs this size but it worked OK.
Once we got the wood home we ran the treads through the miter saw to get them to the right width with straight, clean edges. 
Three of the treads had large cracks that went all the way through so we needed to add some bow-ties to make sure they didn't split further.  To do this, we cut wood bow-ties on a small scroll-saw out of some ambrosia maple we had left-over from our kitchen counters.  We then traced them onto the maple and Will used a router to cut most of it to the depth we wanted (about 1 inch of the 1.75 inch treads).  I helped with using chisels to get the bow-ties to fit just right and then we used a wooden mallet and some glue to get them into place.
Then came the sanding...  Not a fun activity for the coldest week of the year.  We used a belt sander to really smooth out rough spots and remove dry rot.  Then we used a palm sander with finer sand paper to go over the surface of the top.  We finally used an even finer grit sandpaper to round out the edges that would be exposed on the stairs by hand.  I love the look of the grain!
The next weekend we actually replaced the treads.  Starting at the top, we ripped off two treads and toe-kicks at a time, and worked our way down, replacing them as we went.  
The third weekend we replaced the landing near the bottom of the stairs.
For the new landing we used scraps of walnut, 5 slabs in all.  Two of the pieces were 1/4" thinner than the rest so they had to be shimmed.   We glued them down and put angle brackets underneath so that it is really sturdy!
The first step and box were completely rebuilt since it was shoddy and not level before.  Will built the new box, added a lot more screws to tighten everything up.  We haven't added the last tread yet, since it had a lot of deep grooves and we needed to use a two-part epoxy to fill.
We are by no means done with the stairs.  Next up the last tread and toe kick, then the polyurethane for the treads and landing, primer and paint for the toe-kicks, and lots of trim, baseboard and caulk.  They already feel reassuringly sturdy and are so far less slippery than the carpet. Any suggestions on the best way to seal the treads? I want them to be well protected but not slippery or too shiny.
Update: here are the finished stairs! We just added some homemade trim, polyurethane, and paint. We are very happy with the way they came out. It is TBD if we will end up needing some sort of matte finish on the treads. So far we haven't found them slippery.
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3 of 8 questions
  • MaryAnn
    on Dec 30, 2019

    You should talk with a professional floor refinisher about finishing the stairs. You want a nice finish but not something slippery. Something a person at Home Depot or Lowe's might not be trained in. A specialty store that sells wood finishes, could probably recommend a good product. But Internet research, won't hurt either. The walnut is beautiful, is Grandfather a woodworker? Those were top quality tools coupled with that beautiful wood, When you talk about finishes, include doggo and his claws. You want a sturdy finish that doesn't scratch easily. I'm assuming the bannisters are down for cleaning and refinishing or replacement. A nice balustrade and railing would look nice on the room side. A finishing element, safety rail, and enhancement. It depends on what look you want to achieve. A basic farmhouse look in more of that lovely walnut would be gorgeous. The stairs are great looking, very sturdy, a nice rise, not too steep! Good job.

  • Lulis Del Castillo-Gonzalez
    on Dec 30, 2019

    Those are absolutely gorgeous!!!!

  • Ashley
    on Dec 31, 2019

    They turned out beautifully, but I'm curious, are the bow ties meant to be permanent? If so, could you not seal the cracks with epoxy instead, to make sure they don't split any further? That way you'd retain the original wood, and the look, without compromising its structural integrity...Just a thought, as I'm considering using reclaimed wood, with some cracks like yours, for my floors, but I can definitely see myself, and my 5yr old, catching a toe or two if I had to use bowties.

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