Carpet to Hardwood Stairs

My carpet to hardwood stair project was my very first project!  I’ve lived in my home for nine years and have hardwood in all rooms but two. I think the stair carpet is original to the build.  Which makes me believe that there is 15+ years of foot traffic–gross!

Stairs and wall stringer are carpeted
Carpet on the stairs and wall string


Checking Pinterest for ideas–wow!  There are many great ideas!  I was hoping for luck–an easy project like Stacy’s $60 Stair Makeover. Her tutorial on the remodel is wonderful and gave me the inspiration to try.

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Ripping the carpet out was straightforward; simply pull one corner and roll down the stairs. Starting from the top,  I removed the carpet and stairs one or two steps at a time; cutting the carpet as I worked down. The staircase remained usable to shower and sleeping–the important stuff! There are a gazillion staples holding the carpet and padding. Each staple had to be removed.  Look and look again–it is worth the extra time so not to step on an exposed staple!

Problem 1: MDF not Hardwood

I did NOT find hardwood under the carpet, so the plan of refinishing and staining was out the door.  What I found was MDF treads and plywood risers.MDF is pretty ugly and does not take to finishing well.

Something had to be done–no way the stairs can be this way! Ripping out the MDF would present a challenge beyond my expertise since the staircase is closed and with no access below. I am beginning to freak out.

I solved the problem by using Stairtek’s Retreads. Retreads are hardwood caps that fit over existing treads and available locally. I selected the unfinished red oak treads. Problem solved.

Stairtek has a great video that shows the entire project!

Problem 2: Paint and Drywall Mud on the Wall Stringer

Since the builders covered the stringer with carpet, drywall mud and paint were splattered on the wall stringer. Not a big problem, just more work. The best stripper is Citristrip–powerful, stays wet for 24 hours, safe and for indoor use. Simply brush on the gel and wait, then scrape off with a paint tool.  I found that the paint tool worked better than a putty knife.

Citristrip is safe for indoor use
Safe for indoor use!

The thick viscosity is ideal for vertical surfaces!

Viscous Citristrip works great on vertical surfaces!
Citristrip on vertical surfaces
Problem 3: Dry Wall Gap on Stringer

Since the wall stringer was to have carpet, I guess there was no need to bring the drywall down below the stringer.  Instead, I found a 3/4″ gap between the top of the stringer. Gotta love unplanned challenges, eh?

The solution was to put in baseboard molding, so not really too much of a problem–except since I was installing the molding, I might as well install what I want–6″ molding!

Tools used in this part of the project (with affiliate links):

The tear out and paint removal took me about three days–Friday and over the weekend.

The bare stairs intimidated me. Not enough to stop the project, however.

All the Pinterest postings gave me motivation; with a deep breath…I moved on.

No way would I have bare ugly stairs….

The Installation and Other Fixes

Stair Installation

The Retrotreads I purchased were unfinished red oak. I knew I wanted a dark color, so I tested three Minwax stains: Ebony, Espresso, and Jacobean. Since I did not have any scrap red oak to test, I flipped one Retrotread over and did a side-by-side test on the back.  After three applications of stains, the winner was Jacobean.

Staining is straightforward; with the Retrotreads, I did not do any sanding preparation. I do, however, recommend using a pre-stain conditioner to help with even stain application. Doing so is not required; red oak can be sometimes challenging to stain evenly.

Pre-stain conditioning, three coats of stain with sanding in between coats with 220-grit sandpaper and then finish.  Next was polyurethane–the choice was Rust-Oleum’s Pro Finisher in Clear Matte.  I did not want a high gloss–stairs are slippery enough!

Stairtek’s Retrotreads dimensions are 11.5″ x 42″. My stairs came in around 36″, requiring a cut down.  To do so, I  opted to use a tread template  by Collins to make the job easier. Colllins has a great YouTube video that shows how it’s done! Stairtek has a tread template as well but they are plastic and I wanted metal.

I did not purchase the risers.  The cost was $10/riser. Instead, I opted to use 1/4″ 4×6 sheets of plywood.  At $10/sheet, I was able to get four risers from each sheet, spending $40 instead of $150. This part of the project was done!

Addressing the Drywall Gap and Not Breaking the Bank

My choice was to cover the gap with baseboard.  Since I was installing baseboards, I wanted to put a fancy and tall baseboard in.  However, tall baseboards are expensive and wasn’t a cost that I wanted to bear.  I had to do something!

Fortunately, Pinterest has great ideas for design and I was looking for ideas for moldings–floor, crown, door, wall.  I happened across Little Green Notebook’s blog and the DIY Extra Tall Baseboards post.

I did not build an eight inch baseboard, but what I ended up doing was using 1X4 lumber and builder grade molding.  I took a crash course in learning to miter cut corners as well as coping corners–but I got it done!