Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Refacing Stairs

Sorry, it's hardly woodworking, but it's what has been happening in my garage lately.  Sometimes trading a fatter pencil for your marking knife while switching into "FHB-mode" is a good thing.  Well, I tell myself that.  As Chris Schwarz said, blog what you know so the next guy can learn from you.  So blame Chris for this entry :)

My neighbor is having me put down high-pressure laminate flooring on his second floor and in his stairs.  The stair 'kit' comes with wider boards that have a built-in bullnose.  They want it put down with no molding on the edges so that 86s the use of a nailer.  Further, the existing stairs have 1" thick particle board with a built-in bullnose.  As you can see, we'll be working with fine exotics.

First step, remove the existing bullnose.  For this, I used the jigsaw and created a guiderail for it.  To do that, I ripped a 5" wide strip of MDF about 34" long (stairs are 36" wide).  I glued a 1" wide strip of MDF to one edge and tacked it in place with a brad (remember, FHB-mode).  Next, run the jigsaw's side-body against the 1" wide strip while cutting the 5" strip.  This leaves you with a guide where the edge is exactly where the blade will cut.  You'll see what it looks like below.

Using a double square, I get the distance from the front of the bullnose to the riser; I want to flush-ish the tread to that riser.

Flip the square and use it to place the guide the same distance from the bullnose.

Screw down the guide; nobody will notice the screw holes.

Now, when I run the jigsaw on the guide, I'll have flushed the tread to the riser.

Now, as a woodworker, you'd think of using a router for this.  a) nobody wants a cloud of particle board dust in their house, b) no matter how careful you are, I guarantee there's a couple nails you'll hit; the jigsaw is more forgiving, c) jigsaw makes chips and minimal heavy dust that settles nearby, d) I happen to use it instead of a miter saw for all the other flooring (because of reason c) so I have just one Systainer to carry :)

At this point, I glued up some of the flooring to make wide enough boards to rip and glue onto the riser.  I tacked them in place with nails near the very top and very bottom since those areas will be hidden.

After the risers are refaced, you can now scribe each new tread to each step; they wanted a minimal gap to the walls (all scribed).  Their wall makes the Great Wall of China look like a straight edge.  Fortunately (?!) it is full-on monsoon season here so those steps are as large as they will ever be.  That said, I'm scribing to within 1/32" of the wall.  You need to wait until the risers are refaced to get accurate tread widths, but less obvious, to get the bevels correct on the sides.

I neglected to take pics of scribing each tread, so some MDF scrapes, flooring offcut, tread offcut and some clamps and voil√†! a stair mockup.  The new tread is very small in these pictures as it is an offcut of a real one I already installed (they bought exactly what they needed uhg).  So here goes:

Put the new tread in front of you, bullnose in front, but upside down; we'll be writing on the back.

Using a bevel gauge, measure the bevel of the left side of the existing tread; that is, place the bevel gauge reference against the riser and push the bevel arm against the wall; lock it.
Mark the bevel on the right side of the new tread bottom (remember it will be flipped so left is right; right is left). Here I placed a piece of ply against the bevel gauge then used the ply as a straight edge to draw the line.

Measure the inside measure of the existing tread right above the new riser.  You don't care about the number so push the tape measure against one side and push the body up tight against the other side and lock it.

Transfer that measure by placing the back of the tape on the line you drew on the right and marking the other end; again, you don't care what the number is.  (Yes, I changed the measure for this mock up ;)

Measure the bevel on the right side of the existing step (if you look carefully at the pictures, you'll see that the "walls" flair away from the treads; every step I installed had different bevels!)

Put the bevel gauge on the mark you last made on the new tread and mark the line. You now have the width scribed to the existing step opening.

Last step, measure from the front of the existing step to the back riser on both the left and right side.  Transfer that to the new tread (flipping right/left).  Remember that the front of the step will be behind the bullnose so measure from there.

Alrighty, you can carry all that to your shop 5 doors down and cut them all up.  Here's how I processed them:

I used the MFT because it was convenient, but you could easily lay your guiderail on each line and make the cut.  Since I had the bullnose to contend with, I put a piece of scrap MDF on the tread to be able to lay the guiderail on there.

I did the widths first then moved to the long bench to do the rip off the side.  With the treads on the long bench, I reset the plunge depth to just score 2mm into the tread and ran 3 shallow kerfs.  I want these for the Liquid Nail to grab and hold.

Lastly, a quick pass with the RO-150 in disc sanding mode with P80 to kill the shine on the back.  This was really fast to do and I feel it will give the glue more adhesion.

Now carry it all back :)

Installing the treads.  Well, the dealer said, "use a ton of Liquid Nail for each step".  Sounds like a punt.  I know LN is flexible to a degree.  I want to lock the treads into position, but can't use a nail since the top of the tread is completely visible; no hidden place for a secret nail.  Even a pin nail would show since the laminate face is very chippy on impact.  For the solution, I turned to dowel centers.

I used a 5/16" set of dowel centers.  On the back of each new tread, I made two 1/4" deep holes 5/16" in diameter.  Put them anywhere; I put them in the back third near the outer corners.  Insert the centers in each hole.  Dry fit the tread then press down hard around where the centers are.

The result is a small divot dead center of those dowel centers (i.e., center of your 5/16" hole).  I used this divot to drill a 1/4" diameter hole deep into the tread.

Insert a bit of 1/4" dowel and cut it about 1/4" proud (note that I drill this hole deep so if the dowel sticks up too much, it will just be pushed down).  Also note that the hole in the new tread is 5/16" while I'm using a 1/4" dowel.  This gives just 1/32" play on either side of the dowel and makes insertion so much easier.  Once inserted, the tread never moved laterally.

Once the dry fit verifies you have everything golden, time for Liquid Nail.  I loaded a big bead in the three shallow kerfs, a big bead on the step just behind the riser, a big bead near the back of the step, and whatever goo is on the nozzle into the dowel holes under the new tread (no need to glue the dowels into the steps.

Press down and dance a little on it to squish everything down and release the trapped air (this is why you only want to make beads side to side; if you circle or cross, you trap air).

For this install, I did odd steps one day, even steps the next and had the owners avoid the recently glued steps for a day "just in case".  I found that the dowel pins, though, completely locked the tread in place so I'm happy.

Oh, yes, for the curious, here's a bigger picture of the mockup step :)  Man, the things I do for both of you...