How to make wood stairs treads for cheap

DIY stair treadsIf you’ve been following me on Facebook or Instagram then you already know that we have been tackling a makeover on our kitchen stairwell. I originally intended to just make one big stair makeover reveal post, but then I realized that it would be a ridiculously long post and pretty boring for those of you who just want to see the pretty “after” pictures. So, instead I decided that this post  would be about the more technical aspects of building new wood stair treads and finishing them. Look for the whole stair makeover reveal later this week.

If you are just joining us this is what we started with:

kitchen stairs beforeI had hoped that when we ripped up the carpet that we would find nice wood stair treads that we could refinish underneath, but like many 1980’s era track homes we found particle board instead. I was pretty bummed, but Cody was actually relieved. He had already decided that building new treads would actually be less work than trying to revive old ones full of staples and nails.

Now, you can buy pine stair treads at Home Depot for about $10.64 a piece.  These treads are basically a pine board that has been routed to be round on the front of the tread. We needed 10 treads, so that would have brought us to $106.40. That’s not terrible, but there were a couple of issues with these treads. 1) they are only 1 in think which we decided would look pretty puny once installed and 2) ours stairs have exposed sides which means we still would have had to route some of the boards.

I found these nice chunky 2 in stairs treads, but at $123.75 a piece for “paint-grade” ($1237.50 total!) they totally blew the budget. So, we decided to just make our own stair treads.

Building stair treads

The treads are built from 2″x12″ pine boards that were 12′ long.  Look for boards with the least amount of knots and that are not warped.

make your own stair treadsCody started by securing a 12′ board to a table and routing the front of each board with roundover bit.

routing stair treadsHere’s an idea of what it will look like when it’s done. Don’t worry about any imperfections now. Those will be sanded out later. If any of your steps are open on the side (like our bottom 5) you will also have to route the side of those steps.

how to make your own stair treadsOnce the routing was complete, Cody used a table saw to cut 1″ off the back of each board to make the steps the depth that we wanted.

how to make stair treadsFinally, he measured and cut each board to the appropriate tread length using a chop saw.

how to make your own stepsCody measured and cut each step individually as there were some slight variations is lengths. We dry fitted the steps as we went to make sure everything fit perfect. The bottom 5 steps also required some fancy cuts to account for the newel post, exposed sides, and hand rails.

how to make wood stair treadsFinally, we sanded the crap of of each tread with an electric sander to get the boards as smooth as possible.

Staining and Installing

We are finally at my favorite part: staining the treads! I knew from the beginning that I wanted to stain them Mission Oak. It’s my favorite stain color and the same color we used on our industrial console table.  Cody didn’t want to take any chances with the color though so I tested out a few options we had lying around on a leftover piece of pine.

staing wood stair treadsOur goal was to match the laminate floors in the kitchen as much as possible. The dark walnut (same as we used on the kitchen counters) and the Jacobean were both a little too dark and didn’t have enough of a honey tone as I would have liked. We decided that mission oak was the winner, but we didn’t want the kind with the polyurethane in it (which is what I had on hand), so off to the store I went only to find out that Mission Oak is only sold as a Polyshades. Sigh….. So, I scoured the shelves for a color that was the most similar to Mission Oak and settled on Special Walnut. I tested it on the pine and we were sold!

Before I started staining the treads I removed any dust with cheesecloth then applied a coat of wood conditioner.  Wood conditioner allows the stain to penetrate the wood more evenly. I always use it when staining a highly visible area such as a table top or in this case stair treads.

pre stain on tableI allowed the wood conditioner to dry to the touch then using an old rag applied the first coat of stain making sure to go in the direction of the grain. I set up a staining station in the dining room because it was too humid in the garage to get the stain to dry properly.

staining stair treadsI applied two coats of stain over the course of one day than allowed the treads to dry overnight before applying the sealer. Finally the treads got two coats of Pro finisher Polyurethane for Floors. I choose a satin finish to keep the treads looking a little rustic like our floors, plus they are easier to keep clean. I sanded between coats then let them dry overnight before installing the treads.

To install the treads Cody started by applying liquid nails to the stair braces (just made up that term). We did this to reduce noticeable nails on the treads and to keep the steps from wiggling.

installing wood stair treadsNext, Cody shot in about four finishing nails on the sides of the treads. This helps them stay in place as the glue dries. We opted not to fill in the nail holds as they were hardly noticeable and added a little more rustic glamor to the steps.

installing stair treadsAnd with that we had working steps again! Building our own steps cost about $100. The same as the off the shelf Home Depot treads except ours our 1 3/4 in thick (that’s $1100 less than the 2 in treads we found online!)

Update: The stairs are done! Check out the complete reveal here!

Update 2017: We used the same treads for our foyer stairs. Check out the whole makeover here!

 

Has anyone else tackled a stairway makeover? Do you prefer wood or carpet stairs?

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  1. I missed the Final Reveal of your wooden staircase.

    Please email me the link.

    Thanks,
    Michael

  2. Hi! This is the best DIY stair tread tutorial I have seen out there… and I have read through a bunch of them! I love the thicker tread idea. Question: did your hubby route both edges (top and bottom), to make a complete rounded front, or just the top part?

    Thanks!

    • Hey Jill! He definitely routed both sides of the treads. When you are at the bottom of the steps looking up you can clearly seen the underneath of the top treads so you’ll also want to make sure you stain the bottoms.

  3. I really like the larger treads, and the stain choice.
    I may do the same with mine, what did you do for the risers, which paint did you use, and did you polyurethane them as well? I am thinking about using 1/4 plywood and cutting out several strips for my risers, but wondered what you guys chose to do.

    Great job,

    Frank

  4. The size and colors work well together, this would work well in my home.
    I love the larger treads, I was thinking about the same, and plan to do them now, seeing that they look so good.
    What did you use for the risers, I am planning to use plywood and cut to size, but am open to new ideas.
    Which paint did you use for the risers and stringers?

    Frank

  5. lol pine is so soft and warps thats why you dont usaly see it on stairs.also pine stairtread alrerady made is cheaper by the foot than 2 x 12. bad idea and a more expencive time consuming way to make them. (resources – im a custom home builder)

    • Pine treads seem to be the standard in our area and fingers crossed but it’s been a year and we haven’t seen any warping yet. I’d love to know where we can get 2 in stair tread already made for cheaper though. We still have another staircase to do; and we’d love something less time consuming.

    • Your comment adds ZERO value to this post of an amazing idea. (LOL) Sources, I have seen trolls before, normally under a bridge, gnawing on pine boards.

  6. How long were the nails that you used to shoot the treads down? And did you make the risers? And what size board for risers?

  7. Excellent post and tutorial. Hope to do this on my stairwell. I couldn’t find how you removed the stair banister spindles. Did you reuse the spindles? How did you remove and reinstall?

    • We did reuse the spindles. They are actually just dry fitted into the banister and steps using a peg and hole setup, so when we removed the banister the spindles just fell out. We reinstalled them the same way. Good luck with your project!

  8. Do you happen to remember which wood glue or construction adhesive Cody used for the treads? It looks like the loctite brand, i am hoping to find which specific one he used.

    Thank you,

    Frank

  9. Last question, I promise. with using a 1.5″ tread, how long were the finishing nails that he used? I have a nailer with 2″ nails, and will use mine if he did the same, and am also trying to avoid having to buy a new nail gun for the longer length nails.

    I have everything purchased, and am finished routering the boards, now to cut and stain.

    Thank you,

    Frank

    • He used 16 gauge 2 1/2 in finishing nails. He said he would have gone bigger if he could have and he doesn’t think 2 in will be enough. On the other hand the nails are only there to hold the step in place while the glue dries. They are not actually structural. Good luck with your project and please share pictures when you’re done!

  10. Stephanie,

    Thank you for all of your help, I have put off completing my stairs because I was not sure exactly what I wanted, until I saw yours. They are exactly what I want them to look like.
    Thank you for entertaining all of my questions, it is very much appreciated.

    I will share the pictures when I finish the job.

    Frank

  11. This is such a great post!! I’ve been researching doing this for years and we got our supplies today! How long did it take to complete?

    • It probably took about 2 weekends to finish. The demolition and construction can be done in a weekend, but the painting and staining took forever. It takes about 3-4 coats of stain or paint for each part. The banisters in particular were a pain. We’re going to experiment with spray painting them on our other sets of stairs instead and hand brushing. Good luck!

  12. These are awesome! I’m thinking of doing something very similar. Do you mind telling me if you routed both the top and bottom portion of the long face of the tread? Thank you!

    Rob

  13. This is an awesome post and answered so many questions I had about doing this myself.

    Out of all the tutorials out there to do this you rarely see one with open treads at the bottom of the stairs – so I was super excited to run across yours!!! I’ve been pulling up the edges of the carpet going up my stairs for about a year now and have decided this is the next project I’m going to tackle along with some iron balusters that have been sitting in my garage for a year waiting for a new home. Thanks so much for your tips….I especially love your husband’s comment that he banged the heck out of the old treads until they came up!

    • I’m so glad it was helpful! Those iron balusters sound amazing. I can’t wait to hear how your project turns out. We’re about to tackle our foyer stairs this winter which have more complicated newel posts so fingers crossed that they turn out as well as our kitchen ones.