Heading on up: Installing New Stair Risers

I hope you all had a good weekend!    It poured like cats and dogs Saturday and off and on Sunday. 

I pulled the Mother’s Day card on my kids and we went through every drawer and closet hanger, trying on clothes and making a huge pile for Am Vets to come pick up.  Strange way to spend the day, but at least it got done!  Sometimes you have to trick the kids into doing things, right??
Stair riser installationLet me warn you right now…..this might end up being a long post….with lots and lots of pictures!

I had a lovely email from a reader asking about the ‘kick plates’ for the stair project, and how I finished it all up.  She kindly pointed out that I was waiting to install them after the bathroom shower was finished, as I didn’t want the work boots scuffing up the freshly painted plates.  As the shower has been done for a while (geez……I think it has been a month now) I thought I better get off my butt and tell you about how I did the kick plates.  Seriously, what has taken me so long to tell you about them?  {Sigh}
Installing stair risers
First let me say that what I call kick plates are actually the stair risers.  I have no idea why I call them kick plates, but I do…..and I don’t see it changing.  Maybe they remind me of the brass plate you can add to the bottom of the front door, saving the paint job from dirty shoes kicking it……

This post is all about wrapping up the stair risers…..oooooh……an old dog can learn some new tricks!  Caulking, filling in nail holes and 3 coats of paint is the name of the game! I don’t even want to get into the stained banisters or the molding I added to one side of the wall.   When I can get over my bruised ego on these 2, I will tell you all about them!!

I think we left off at me making a mess staining the pine treads, for a total of 4 coats.  Could have been 5, but I really do think it was only 4.  If you need to get caught up you can do so with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

staining pine stair treadsI am still amazed at how well the stain held up to the work boots going up and down them.  I told one of the guys that he needed to wear a pedometer….just for kicks!  I was thinking I might have to do another coat, or put a coat of poly on them.  Very impressed with Miniwax’ Polyshades….didn’t have to do anything else to them!

Painted Stair RisersWhile they were working on the tile, I figured I could at least get the kick plates ready to go.  What a surprise I found when they weren’t the same width and height.  I had 3 different widths, and what I thought were 3 different heights.  We all know what happens when you make an assumption right?  Makes an “ass out of ___ and me”.  Notice I left your part blank, as I am the only ass when it comes to the kick plates.  😉

I took my 3 sets of measurements and headed to Lowe’s.  I bought a 4’ x 8’ plywood sheet, and had them cut it down into 13 pieces.  I do not have a picture of it, just trust that the man was VERY patient with me, and it didn’t take too long as he was able to double up on some of the cuts.  Normally, Lowe’s charges .25 cents after the first 2-4 cuts (depending on which store you end up at) so I was expecting to pay around $5.  Definitely not worth my time and energy!  I was pleasantly surprised when the young man said that there would be no charge as the project was easy to do.  Woo Hoo!
How to install stair risersImagine my surprise when I started to lay out the pieces and 11 of them were too tall.  Combination of the guy adding an 1/8 – 1/4 of an inch to some, and the assumption that I made earlier had me fuming for a few days!  I was all ready to pull out the jig saw to try and ‘rip’ them myself when our tiler told me I should be taking them back to have them fixed.  I didn’t think this would be the nice thing to do, as part of it was my fault!   After pulling out the jig saw, sawhorses and setting up my work station I decided that I had nothing to lose by bringing them back to Lowe’s.   The deciding factor was that we would be driving right by it on our way to pick out the tile.

Let me just say…..Lowe’s absolutely ROCKS!  They were able to fix them to my liking, and didn’t charge me 1 penny!  I was back in business.
Installing Stair RisersThe kick plates were quickly laid out on some long 1×4’s, and I painted 2 coats of glossy paint onto them.  I sanded each of them lightly after the first coat, but didn’t touch them after the second.
How to install stair risersAt this time, I dry fitted the kick plates to each riser and marked each one on the back with the number correlating to the appropriate step.  Remember, our steps vary in width and height.  Don’t understand that one, and really think it is UNBELIEVABLE!  After counting the stairs a lot, I finally numbered the risers with a sharpie as well.  I know, I know……my brain works in mysterious ways!
Installing Stair RisersI used finishing nails to anchor each one in, although I swear that some were so snug they didn’t need anything holding them down.  I used finishing nails, as I have had issues with liquid nails (think bathroom mirror) lately and didn’t want to take any chances.

Nailing these tiny little suckers had me dreaming of power tools, and pulling out xmas money to buy a nail gun.  As we speak it is still nestled safely in its box, but I am oober excited to learn how to use it!!!
How to install stair risersAnyone notice that I am missing the 2nd kick plate?  I don’t know if I left it at Lowe’s, or I really messed up on the measurements but somehow I was missing that plate.  I decided to deal with it later and moved on to filling in the nail holes and doing a little caulking.
caulking stair treadsWow!  I now remember why I hate caulking with a gun!  The stupid thing would not stop spitting out the caulk, and I was having to plug it with my finger until I was ready to move on to the next step.  You can even see that it is wanting to punch out the nail when I was done.  Before you tell me that I needed to unscrew that back doohickey thing to minimize the pressure….I did!  I know one of you is going to be able to tell me what I did wrong.  Until you do, I will buy those cute little tubes of caulk…..much easier to manage!  😉
How to Install Stair RisersThe top step gave me a little trouble as there was a gap between the tread and the pine riser the builder installed.  I solved it by doubling up on the kick plate that I added.  Once we replace the carpet in the upstairs hallway you will never know the hidden secret behind the kick plate!

Let me talk safety for a second…..

I was very nervous that someone would trip over the carpet either going up or down the stairs, so I tacked in a few nails to keep things stable.  I should cut the carpet a little straighter, but I am hoping that the crappy look of it motivates me to get the hardwood installed soon!!
installing stair treads
I knew I had to take care of that second riser, and grabbed what I thought was the leftover plywood, and got to work with the jigsaw.  My goal was to use another piece of wood as my ‘guide’ to keep a straight line.  The flimsy plywood and the clamps had a different idea….neither one being strong enough to support the vibration when the jigsaw was on.  I totally botched the first attempt, and through caution to the wind with the second by just following a straight line that I drew with a pencil.
Painting Stair RisersAfter everything was caulked and the nail holes filled, I followed it all up with a final coat of glossy paint.  At this time, I also painted the stringers, baseboard and banister base.   You will notice that I used a strip of kraft paper to help protect the stair treads.  I don’t know if it was a necessary step, but I am an extremely messy painter and didn’t want to take any chances.
Installing stair treadsI struggled with how to fix the edges of the treads.  Some steps took a beating when I tried to scrape off the excess builders paint from them.  I also had a little bit of paint bleed through……even using the Kraft paper!!!  A coworker suggested that I caulk all around the stair tread, but I didn’t want to do that.  I didn’t want to take the chance that it would shrink and swell with the various seasons and start looking crappy. Touching up stair treadsMy solution…..right or wrong…..was to mix up some black and brown acrylic paint, swirl in some leftover stair stain and using an artist brush very carefully paint my goofs!  I know the picture shows a very light tan added in.  This is just bad lighting!  It took forever but I am very happy with the results.
Installing Stair RisersI have to say that I am still a little shocked at how ‘white’ everything is.  If I am sitting on the couch in the family room it is all I see….. white, white and more white.  If I am at the desk in the den, it is a beautiful blend of stained wood nestled between white bookends!

I know you may have questions….fire away.  I hope I didn’t miss anything in the steps.  I will say that I love these stairs.  The easiest part was ripping out the carpet, preparing the wood, staining the treads and getting the kick plates in.  The hard part, in my opinion, was the staining of the banister (remember I have an open 2 story, so the banister ‘seems’ to go on forever).

Installing Stair Risers Recap:

  • If you are not blessed with great looking stair risers, buy a 4′ x 8′ sheet of 1/4″ plywood.  Mine was not top quality, I only paid $19.97 for it, and still have some leftover for various subway art.  Be kind to yourself and have the lumber yard cut it for you…..
  • I should have had this first, but measure the dimensions of the stair risers, measure again, and do it a third time for good measure.  You will thank me later!
  • Paint 1-2 coats of paint onto the kick plates before installing.  My plywood was primed already, but I still painted 2 coats initially.  This way you will only have to do touch ups once they are up.  I used Olympia Icon. 
  • Install the kick plates using finishing nails.  You will not need very long ones, I believe mine were only 1/2″ long.   Countersink the nail heads….you won’t want to see the nails as you walk up the steps each day.
  • Fill in the nail holes with putty, and caulk any gaps.
  • Do one final coat on the kick plates with your glossy paint.  You can just do a touch up to the putty, but I chose to do a full coat on all of them.
  • I mixed up my own paint to fix all the blemishes on the stair treads.  I used Folk Art Pure Black, Americana Gloss Enamel Dark Chocolate and dribbled in some of the Minwax Polyshades in Tudor.  My ratio was 1/2 black, 1/4 dark chocolate and 1/4 stain.  My goal was to get it to look a little darker than the stained stair tread.  I painted it on the imperfections and paint spots with an artist’s brush.  None of this cost me additional money, as I had everything on hand.

how to install stair risersI would do this again in a heart beat.  Definitely worth the love and attention you will be giving it, and definitely beats the ugly carpet we had on our stairs.  After completing the stairs, I cannot wait to rip out the rest of the carpeting in our house.  I was totally amazed at the yucky stuff I saw under that carpet.  {me shuddering in disgust}


Want to start at the beginning of the stair project?  Here are the links……

Part 1:  Removing the Carpet and Prepping the Wood
Part 2:  Staining the Pine Stair Treads
Part 3:  Installing new Stair Risers

40 thoughts on “Heading on up: Installing New Stair Risers

    • Thanks Heidi! There is not a post yet on how I did the railings….your question may be just the push I need to write one up. In the meantime…..I sanded them down very lightly just to take off any varnish. I then used gel stain on them, as normal stain would have been too messy. 😉

  1. Hi! I know this post is kind of old… how are the stairs holding up? I’m worried about the everyday wear. Also, are they slippery? Thanks!

    • It has been 3 years and the stairs are holding up great…..you would almost think that they were just completed. My husband thinks that they are slippery, but the kids and I have no problem running up and down them with socks on. I didn’t use a high gloss finish on the stairs (I believe it is a satin) and it was just for that reason; I was concerned about it being too slippery!

      • Hi Shaunna, thank you so much for this posting. My husband and I are looking to do the same thing. We are a family of six and have decided the carpet on the stairs has got to go. I wanted to know how they held up so this Q&A was super helpful!

        • Hi Yasmeen, the stairs are over 3 years old now and they are holding up great. They look almost brand new, with very little effort on my part (okay…..zero effort on my part)! Have you started the project yet?

  2. Very late to the party but I wanted let you know that there’s a caulk gun that does stop when you release the trigger. It’s called a dripless caulk gun. I got mine from Amazon for less than 6.00. Won’t caulk without it! Love your stairs. I’m looking at redoing ours in the near future.

  3. Hello Shaunna,
    Love the look of your steps and I am in the process of doing my own. I’m still at the sanding stage though 🙁 Did you caulk around the nose of the stairs? How about where the riser met the tread? Also, my builder decided to pain with the rug on the steps so now I have a gap of paint. How do I smooth this out so everything looks seamless when I paint? Do I sand them?

    Thanks so much!!

    • Hi Alexis, Congratulations on biting the bullet and removing the carpet from your stairs. Huge task, but I know that you will love the results! I did caulk at the bottom of the stair riser where it met up with the tread and in a few areas I did need to caulk around the nose (along the sides where it met up with the wall board. The gap of paint will be a thorn in your side, but you should be able to get it off with sanding. If it is really thick you might need to use a non-toxic paint stripper. I used this on the sides of my pine boards due to the same builder overspray! Would love to see pictures when you are done!! Shaunna

  4. Hi there. Did you do anything special to the stair railings or did you just paint over the old stain?

  5. Hello my question I have for you is, how or what did you use for the front of the your steps, I guess you can call it the nose part not really sure but I am very interested in redoing my steps.

    • Connie, The top and front of the steps are just the pine boards that I found under the carpet. I took an electric sander and rounded off the edges some so that the boards didn’t have such a straight/sharp edge.

  6. Hi, I see that you do an excellent job. I need help!!!! The guy I hired dis a terrible job on my stairs. He made the risers so ugly. He didn’t cut it even, left big and small gaps. Is it possible for me to remove the risers then place new ?

    Some info for you:

    1. We used all bamboo woods for stairnoses and risers.

    2. Big gap between noses and risers

    What options do I have?

    Thanks a lots. Cant wait for your answer

    • So sorry for the late response Christine! I am also sorry that your contractor did a lousy job. He is not willing to come back and fix them? Did you pay him the full amount yet? Was there a contract? I would first try and get him to fix the error. If there is no chance of that, I do think that you can pry off the risers and replace them with new ones. If this seems to daunting, then you might be able to just put new risers on top of the ugly ones. It all depends if you have enough clearance with the bamboo steps. Hopefully 1 of these 3 options works for you! Let me know how it turns out! Would also love to see pictures of the bamboo wood stairs, they sound awesome!! 😉

      • Thank you for your answer and sorry Si didn’t get this msg until today. I will trll my husband to put new risers. We have more than enough for it, i tink 🙂 thanks again

  7. As everyone has said you have done a fantastic job! Im going to initiate this project March 1st but am curious how you stained the banister? Did you sand them or use liquid stripper? Any tips as I am confident about this project except for the bannisters. Any guidance would be appreciated.

    • You are going to love the results, can’t wait to see pictures!! 🙂 As for the banisters, I only did a light sanding and then wiped them down with a lightly damp cloth. After I was positive they were dry, I used Rustoleum’s Kona stain on the banisters. The spindles (which was the pain in the butt) I painted the same color as the stair risers (aka: kickplates). There is 2 coats of stain on the banisters. Good luck!!!

  8. Hi Shaunna~I am so glad I found your website. I am in the middle of the very same project. Our stair are very similar and I am aiming for the same look as your stairs. I am so frustrated by all of the tiny little tacks that held down our carpet. My hands are killing me. I have been searching the internet for a tool to use to make it easier. I’m using diagonal pliers, flat head pliers and a small flathead screw driver. Ugh. Painstakingly slow….did you have these nails too and if so, how did you get them out faster? I can’t figure out how to post a picture, but they are 1/2 inch “u” shaped nails.

    • Susan, I was in the same boat as you…..those nail”staples” were the bain of my existence during this stair project! I used the same tools that you did, changing it up to give me hands some relief. Let me know if you find that tool…….although, if it is only good for this 1 purpose, it might not be worth the investment. All the aggravation will be worth it when it is done! You can send pictures of your ongoing project to temptingthyme@yahoo.com!

  9. Hi there! Great job! Did you use nail gun to attach the risers to the old ones? And why didn’t you just paint the old risers? Thank you!

    • Thanks! I wish I had used a nail gun….had a brand new one in the garage, but was too afraid to use it! Let’s just say that is not the case these days. 😉 I used finishing nails and a hammmer. PITA! Although, the wood steps were worth saving, the risers were not the same consistency with each step. To get the look, and consistency that I was desiring, I had to cover them up with the thin birch plywood.

  10. Love, love the stairs and surrounding railings, those look like a LOT of work, can’t wait to hear/see the rest of the story. I also hate carpet and have torn it out of every house we have owned. After seeing your beautiful new stairway, I am ready to tear out the carpet but I worry about the amount of noise of all those feet clomping down the stairs, has this been a problem?

    • I heard every click going up and down the stairs the first few weeks, and I thought it was going to drive me nuts……but now I only notice it when our dog goes up and down them and I am okay with that. Good luck with your stairs! I hope you share photos when you are done!

  11. You did an absolutely fantastic job – gorgeous! This is the exact look I have been searching for! Thank you so much for the pics & detailed instructions! Is there anything special you use for cleaning your stairs?

    • Thank you Kim! I currently use Bona floor cleaner with a regular dust mop to clean our floors and a rag for the stairs. Very happy with this product so far…

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  13. I love the look of your stairs. I feel it is something I could tackle during the summer. I have three questions: 1. Do you find them to be slippery at all? I walk around in socks more than shoes and am wondering about this before I start. 2. How is the dirt buildup on the stairs? Are you sweeping daily? 3. Did you consider opening the last few stairs to be more airy? I would like to have the stairs that are by the banister to go over to the edge instead of making the last few stairs closed in on the edge. (Does this make sense?)

    • Thank you! I am a sock kind of person too, and I don’t find them slippery. I used a satin stain/finish, and if I were you I would stay away from the high gloss finish. My sons’ also don’t think they are slippery, BUT my husband did slip once and now is not a fan of them. I do not sweep daily, that is just not in my nature no matter how hard I try. I do them about once a week. I would love to open up the bottom 2 steps and will eventually, but my husband freaked out when I told him of my plan. Baby steps….baby steps! I hope to cut open the “2 stair” wall on the left in the next 2 years and the one on the right will have a chunkier banister post. You can easily finish this up over the summer!!

  14. Your stairs came out beautiful. I loved reading your blog. We are in the process of remodeling an older home and I am going to redo my stairs as well. Yours are beautiful and I plan on using a lot of your advice. Thank you. I hope to read more. Happy New Year.

    • Thank you!!! Good luck on your renovation/remodeling and let me know if you have any questions. Happy New Year, Shaunna

  15. I am so glad you posted this project- I’ve been looking at doing our stairs which look almost exactly like yours when they were carpeted. Our carpet is 13 years old and looks exactly like your “before” picture. I am wondering why you installed the white kick plates instead of just painting the front face of each step white? Was it just easier than painting or did you think it would look better than painting in the end? It looks fantastic!

    • Karina, I wish I could have just painted the front of each step white. Luck was not with me, and the quality of each step varied from so-so to downright awful! To achieve a consistent look I had to install new kick plates (stair risers). Let me know if you decide to tackle your stairs, and send me pictures please. 😉 I love to see what others are doing. It is so worth all of the effort. I smile every time I walk up and down them….

  16. Looks great. How do you like the dark with your lighter floors? My floors are the same color as yours. Will you share a picture of the stairs with the bottom floor hardwood showing?

    • Hi Tricia, I am okay with our light oak floor with the darker stair treads. It is not ideal, but I don’t really pay much attention to it so it is not phasing me too much. With that being said, we are replacing our carpet on the second floor and the wood is a medium/dark tone, and I know that down the road (next year hopefully) I will be able to sand down the oak flooring and stain it to match the stairs and wood upstairs. Long winded for, no it doesn’t bother me right now, but it will eventually be stained to match. Here is a link where you can see the light against the dark…… http://temptingthyme.com/2014/04/16/staining-pine-stairs/

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