4 ways to repair stairs yourself

You probably don't think of your stairs as needing much maintenance, because they don't. But when things are off, you should be able to fix the most common problems yourself. Here's how:

4 ways to repair stairs yourself

Tighten loose treads

Want to renew those creaky old stairs? It's usually easy to tighten them up, but the method you use depends on the stair construction:

• If the underside of treads and risers are accessible, take a look underneath. You may notice that the treads are fit into grooves in the stringers. Often in this design, forward-thinking carpenters, knowing that threads would shrink in time, make the grooves — called dadoes — a little large and then secure the treads with shims. If you see shims under each tread, just give them a tap with a hammer to tighten up the treads.

• If there are no shims in place, have someone walk on the stairs while you are underneath listening for squeaks. When you identify a loose tread, drive a shim into the stringer dado along the bottom of the tread. It can also help to drive a wedge between the tread and riser if that joint is loose. Put a little glue on these wedges. (Don't glue wedges into the stringer dadoes in case you need to tighten the joint again.)

• If your stairs are an open stringer design in which the treads sit on big notches cut into the stringer, drive trim-head screws through the tread into the stringer. Conceal the screw heads with wood putty. You can also use trim-head screws through the top if the dadoed stringers are inaccessible from the bottom. In this case, start the screws right at the joint between the tread and the stringer. Angle the screws, so they'll bite into the stringer.

Fix a wobbly newel post

There's no single solution for wobbly old newel posts, because posts were installed in a variety of ways. Here are the three most common installations and how to re-secure them.

• In newer homes, most posts are bolted to the framework or to the short wall that follows the angle of the stairs. In either case, the original screws were concealed behind wood plugs and are almost impossible to get to for tightening. You'll have to install additional lag screws from each side to firm up the post.

• If the post goes into the floor and is attached to a joist, you can add blocking, shims or additional screws from below. This procedure may require you to remove a section of a finished basement's ceiling.

• If the post was secured to the floor with a metal plate, the only way to steady it is to install larger screws in the stripped-out holes. First cut back the carpet or remove the tile and remove the newel post. Next install bigger screws, and then reattach the post to the floor.

Fix an unsteady baluster

If a baluster is coming loose from the handrail, you can fix it in two quick steps:

1. Cut a wedge to the width of the baluster. Put some glue on it, and wedge it in the space between the baluster and handrail.

2. Predrill a countersink hole for a wood screw angled up through the baluster into the handrail. Finally, cut off the excess wedge flush with the baluster using a trim saw.

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