Introduction: Converting an Old Staircase to Look New and Modern

About: I have been a woodworker for over 40 years, working in a cabinet shop to making custom interiors for executive jets. I have a full shop in my garage and have been making wood pens for the past 3 years. I am al…

My wife and I decided it was time to have our house remodeled and I decided to tackle the staircase on my own. The original staircase had 22 year old carpet and out dated turned spindles and Newell posts. The new staircase has luxury vinyl flooring for the tread and white risers. The turned spindles were replaced with square shape spindles and the Newel posts were covered with 1/2” MDF to give them a boxed appearance.. See before and after photos

Step 1: Definitions of a Staircase and a Sketch of My Treads and Risers

The first drawing shows the definitions that I will use throughout this instructable. The second sketch shows the details for the risers and treads and the material needed to put below the tread to raise it 1/2 “.

As the original carpet and pad were roughly 3/4” thick, and the new luxury vinyl is 1/4” thick I needed to add a 1/2” piece of chip board on the tread that will be under the vinyl. I show this in a later step.

Step 2: Tools Needed

1. Tablesaw

2. Mitersaw

3. Compressor and Nail guns

4. Jigsaw

5. Small handsaw - Japanese works best

6. Stair Tread Tool - These sell between $50 and $130 dollars. I made mine from some left over 1/2 ply.

7. Tape Measure

8. Square - small 8 to 10 inch

9. Drill - Screw Gun

10. Scribe

11. 2mm pencil or carpenter's pencil

12. Gloves

13. Safety glasses

14. Dust Mask

15. Straight edge

16. Vice Grips

17. 3/4” Fostner bit

18. 16” level

Step 3: Material

1. MDF 1/2” x 4’ x 8’

2. Chipboard or OSB 1/2” x 4’ x 8’

3. Pine molding 1/4” x 1 3/8” x 8’

4. MDF Molding 1/4” x 1” x 8’

5. Carpenters Glue

6. Liquid Nails

7. MDF Cutting List

8. MDF Cutting List

9. OSB Cutting List

10. OSB Cutting List

Step 4: Demo and Construction of One Side of the Staircase

Note that the carpeting was removed when the rest of the house carpeting came out. Also I don’t show removing the padding as it was a messy process where I used gloves, safety glasses and a mask ?.

We have a unique staircase in that it has 2 entrances and a landing in the middle before going to the second story.

Our entrance by our front door had 2 steps that had rounded treads. See the first 3 photos. As I was replacing the carpet with vinyl flooring I needed to square off the 2 steps.

Photo 1 - Steps with the padding

Photos 2 & 3 - Rounded section of the steps.

Photos 4, 5 & 6 - Demo of the rounded sections

Photos 7,8,9 &10 - Show the boxes that I created to square the 2 steps. I used 2 x 6 to frame the boxes underneath my 3/4” birch plywood.

Step 5: Removal of 1” Overhang on Existing Treads

As mentioned in the last step, the staircase has 2 entrances, the first photo shows the enterece by our family room with padding on the stairs.

The second photo shows the treads and risers going from the landing to the second story. Padding still on the stairs.

Because the stairs had carpeting, there was a 1” overhang on the treads over the risers. As I was putting vinyl flooring over the existing treads, and it has its own 1” bullnose, I needed to remove all the overhangs on every stair... 24 in all.. See photos 2 & 3. To cut the overhang I used a Jigsaw and had saw for the ends. As you will see in later steps I did not have to be perfect on my cut as I added a 1/2” piece of MDF to the riser which gave me a straight and flat surface to attach my final painted risers.

I used a scrap piece of wood to guide the Jigsaw along the front of the tread.

Step 6: Prepping the Newell Posts to Be Boxed In

Next I needed to remove material from the top of the Newell post such that when I added the 1/2” MDF siding it would be straight. See photo 2 where there is a gap on the bottom. I used a long straight edge to mark the post assuring I would be parallel on top and bottom. See photo 6 where there is no gap.

As each staircase will differ, be sure to take your own measurements. For my Newell posts the bottom is a 4” x 4” square base. With this I cut my MDF to 4” and 5” strips by 48” long.

Step 7: Remove the Molding on the Side of the Staircase

When I replaced the the bottom 2 steps with square end vs the original round, I decided to move where the molding drops down. Photos 1 - 4.

I also needed to remove all the molding around the staircase to accommodate for the wood I added to the risers.

Step 8: Removing the Spindles... All 85 of Them

As Chip Gains says “Demo Day”.

My next task was to remove all the spindles, 85 in total.. I first thought to break out the Super Sawsall but tried my Japanese hand saw and they cut like butter.. The builder nailed the top of the spindles but did not use very good glue for the bottom. One cut and the spindle came out other than a small piece on top. I removed the top piece with vice grips.

As there was glue in each hole, I used a 3/4” inch fostner bit to clean the holes out.

Step 9: Adding the 1/2” MDF to the Risers

There were two reasons that I needed to add the 1/2” MDF to the face of the risers.
The first was to assure the vinyl bullnose and the original maple wood on the outside edges of the staircase were flush with each other. This maple edge houses the spindle bases and the Newell posts so I wanted to keep it enact.
The second reason was to assure I had straight and flat surface to attach the final piece of MDF after it was painted.

The MDF risers were glued and screwed to the existing risers, but could have been nailed. I was not concerned about the screws as I will later put the finished riser over this one.

Step 10: Adding the 1/2” Chipboard / OSB to All the Treads and Landings

My next task is to add the 1/2” Chip Board or Oriental Strand Board (OSB) to the Treads and Landings which when adding the 1/4” Vinyl floor it is flush with the existing maple border on the outside section of the staircase. Refer to Photo 1 where I placed a note box. You will see more on this photo in step 14 where the white Risers and Vinyl floor and bullnose are applied.

As I knew I was adding another 1/2” Riser, I cut the 1/2” OSB 1/8” short of the measured Tread to assure I could make the front flush with the MDF riser that I added in step 9. I used an 8 inch square against the MDF and pulled the OSB flush. I used titebond glue and screws to attach the OSB to the Treads and Landings.

Step 11: Boxing in the Newell Posts

This step took the some time as there was a lot of thinking and cutting both on the Tablesaw, Mitersaw and hand saw. Since I was adding 1/2 MDF to the posts, I had a choice to either cut the Maple or notch the MDF.. I choose to cut and chisel the Maple as shown in figure 1.

As mentioned in a prior step, my post bottoms are 4” x 4”.. I also decided that I wanted the new boxed in post 2 inches above the hand rail. Since 48” gave me more than enough height, I cut my 4” and 5” strips x 48” in length and then custom cut the wood based on each existing post.

I roughed up the post and glued and nailed the 4” MDF to the sides of the post using a 4 foot level to assure the posts were straight. Refer to photos 4 and 5.

I added a 1” thick x 4” x 4” piece of pine 1/2” from the top of the MDF. Refer to Photos 6, 8 and 11. Once the 4” MDF pieces were added, I then added the 5” pieces to the opposite sides. Refer to Photo 7 where I had to put a 1/2” notch in the rail on the inside to allow the MDF to slide into place. For the 2 posts on the landing and the post on the second story, I had to cut the notch on both sides of the rail...

I also had to notch the MDF to slide from the bottom up through the notch in the rail. I made this cut using my Tablesaw and bandsaw. Once the MDF was in place I cut pieces to fill in the notched section above the rail. Refer to Photo 7

Once the posts were boxed in, I then added a bottom skirt 6” up from the Maple base. I used 1/2” MDF for the base. Refer to photos 14 - 20.

Photo 24 shows caps that were made of pine and were made from 3 pieces. The bottom is 1/2” OSB cut 4” x 4”. The mid section is 3/4” pine 6” x 6” and the top is 3/4” pine 5” x 5”. Note that the pine was routed with a 3/4” round over bit before the pieces were put together.

Step 12: Adding the New Molding and Filling the Nail Holes

In this step I added the pine and MDF molding to all the outside facing sides. I also added a small piece of 1/2” MDF to the side face next to the Riser. Refer to Photo 3

Photo 6 shows where I filled in the nail holes and covered the end grain of the MDF.. This added a lot of extra work to assure the paint would not soak in.. In hindsight I should have cut the MDF at 5” with a 45 deg miter. More work cutting, but less spackle and sanding. One trick I did use on the end grain was a 50 / 50 % mix of water and glue applied with a brush. This sealed the end grain and the spackle and sanding made it smooth.

Step 13: Adding the New Spindles or Balusters

One thing that always bug me with the current spindles is that they were loose on the bottom and would spin around. When I removed them there was signs of glue but they all pulled out like there was no glue at all.

As the new spindles had a longer dowel on the base, I used a 3/4" Forstner bit to clean out the holes. Once clean I used a shop vac to remove the dried glue.

I started with the spindles on the second story as I thought I could cut the spindles all the same size.. not the case. When the hand rail was installed it was higher in the middle and lower on both sides. So I measured each space for the spindle before cutting... (Measure twice cut once)

I used a level on each spindle to assure it straight from the base and parallel to the next spindle.

I used liquid nail to glue the bottom dowel in the hole and put a screw on the top with liquid nails.. These spindles are rock solid.

I proceded to the round section of the staircase hoping they would all be the same.. No such luck.. So I measured each spindle, glued and for these I used a nail gun to hold the top in place along with liquid nails. Screws were over kill, but it was on the second story so I wanted to be safe. These again are rock solid.. This is the first time I used liquid nails and very happy with the results. 85 new spindles installed, really happy with he look.

Step 14: Adding the Final Treads and Risers to the Staircase

The next step I added the Vinyl flooring and end cap or bullnose. Doing some research I found a tool called a Stair Tread tool, reference photo 1. This tool is invaluable for measuring and marking the stair tread. You can buy many different types of this tool but they all do the same thing. You place the tool where the tread will go and expand it to each side, then you adjust the ends of the tool in case the left and right sides are not parallel.. In my case not one stair was parallel. Once you have the length and angles you simply place it on top of the Tread, mark it and then cut it.

As my bullnose sits over the white Riser, I had to put the Riser on first leaving a 1/4" gap in the bottom to allow for the vinyl floor to slide underneath. I used liquid nails and a nail gun to attach the white Risers. Photo 1 shows the stair Tread tool. Photo 2 shows the Treads in place with no gaps on the sides.

Photo 4 shows the main landing where both lower stairs meet before going to the second story. This was tricky as I had a curved end and 2 bullnoses that I need the flooring to be perpendicular to one another.

Photo 7 shows the 1" round cut out I needed to make to match the corner on the wall.

Photos 10 - 12 show the lower landing on the front door side of the stairs.

Photo 12 shows the stairs with the tile flooring in the foreground. We were really lucky to match the Tile and Vinyl flooring for this project.

Step 15: Painting the Stairs

For the stair rail we choose to go with a dark brown paint, Simi gloss. The rest of the stairs are white Simi gloss.

As the majority of the stair is white, we painted the top rail first then masked it off to paint the white. As I had a painter in the house painting the walls, doors and existing cabinets through the house I had min paint the stairs.

Step 16: Before and After Photos - Stairs Complete

I added the before and after photos as the changes really stand out. The project took me 5 full days including buying the wood, and molding plus demo..

The painter spent 3 days from prep, prime to the final coats.

If you have questions, as I am sure I left some detail out please let me know.


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