The stairs in your home should be quiet and stable. This Fix-It Guide on stairway repair tells how stairs works, what often goes wrong, how to identify a stairway problem, and what parts and tools you will need to fix them. It then gives simple instructions for how to quiet a wood stairway from squeaking, how to tighten a stairway newel post with angle brackets, how to tighten a stairway newel post with screws, and how to tighten a stairway baluster. See paint repair if needed to finish your stairway repair.
How Does a Stairway Work?
A stairway, is a series of steps leading from one level of a residence to another. A stairway is made up of several parts. The riser is the vertical board under the tread. The tread is the horizontal surface of the step that is actually walked on. The stringers are the inclined sides of the stairs that support the treads and risers. On some stairs, molding covers the joint between each riser and tread. Nosing covers the exposed front of each tread.
Open stairways also have handrails and related components, collectively called the balustrade. The newel post supports the handrail at the top and bottom of the stairway or at the turn on a landing. Balusters provide support for the handrail between the newel posts.
What Can Go Wrong with a Stairway?
The most common problem with stairs is that they squeak; they can even move when you step on them. Newel posts, handrails, and balusters loosen over time. All are easily to fix.
What constitutes stairs or a stairway? It’s a series of steps and landing having three or more rises. Anything less is a set of steps.
How Can I Identify a Stairway Problem?
- If a stair squeaks and is open from behind, squirt a small amount of polyurethane foam sealant along the open space between the tread and the riser. Alternately, insert glue-coated wedges between the tread and the riser with a hammer and driving block.
- If the entire tread is loose and you can access it from the back, screw two or three metal angle brackets at the joint of the tread and the riser.
- If a wood-finished stair squeaks, you can perform a temporary or permanent repair (see below).
- If a newel post is loose, you can tighten it with a small angle bracket (see below) or with screws (see below).
- If a baluster is loose, you can tighten it up (see below).
- If a handrail is loose, drill a hole at an angle through each baluster into the handrail and screw the baluster to the rail.
Never use furniture polish to clean wood stairs because they will be slippery and can cause injury.
What Do I Need for Stairway Repair?
Basic stairway components, such as treads and risers, can be cut from wood available at a lumber yard. Decorative pieces may be found through larger supply houses or online. Here are the tools and materials you’ll need for common stair fixes:
- Wood filler
- Wood glue
- Angle brackets
- Paint or stain
- Finish nails
What Are the Steps to Stairway Repair?
Quiet a wood stairway from squeaking:
- For a temporary fix, squirt powdered graphite into the joint of the tread and the riser.
- For a permanent fix, drill pilot holes into the wood of the squeaking stair, then drive ring-shank flooring nails in through the holes. Fill with wood filler, then sand, and paint or stain.
Tighten a stairway newel post with angle brackets:
- Screw a small angle bracket to the base of the newel post to support the joint.
- Install a second angle bracket at another side of the post if necessary.
To hide the angle brackets, use a chisel to notch out grooves in the wood surfaces for the bracket, then fill with wood filler, then sand, and paint or stain. Alternately, you can mount them as above and paint the area to make them less conspicuous.
Tighten a stairway newel post with screws:
- Carefully drill pilot holes near the newel post’s base and into the floor, then countersink the holes (drill a wider, shallow hole above the first so the screw head can be countersunk).
- Apply wood glue between the post and the floor. Insert flat-head wood screws into the holes and tighten.
- Fill the holes with wood filler, then sand and paint or stain (see the Paint Repair Fix-It Guide).
Tighten a stairway baluster:
- Pry off any molding with a putty knife.
- Drill a pilot hole into the tread, then countersink the hole.
- Apply wood glue around the hole.
- Insert a wood screw and tighten.
- Replace the molding.
Having trouble finding replacement newel posts or balusters? You can remove the component and have a woodworking or cabinet shop make you a new one. Or you can check local salvage yards for similar components. You also may find replacement parts online.