Cutting stair treads to create retrofit toppers

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Forum topic by BostonCharlie posted 10-20-2020 09:44 AM 1188 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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4 posts in 584 days

10-20-2020 09:44 AM


So I’m hoping someone out there may be able to recommend the right power saw to turn stair tread into retrofit treads. Essentially i have 55 stair treads that I purchased with the intent of topping my existing treads. The ones I purchased were 1 inch thick but I stupidly assumed that meant the nominal would be more like .75, however they are indeed 1 inch thick. My goal was to have them at .5 inches but these were on-sale and I figured I could work with the additional .25 inches as I would be sanding and would lose a bit that way. However the 1 inch is too thick.

The existing treads are this shape (but are red oak bullnose):

Anyway. I’m trying to cut them to toppers at this point to look like this:,ss:44&sxsrf=ALeKk01zAz1fguFkOfl3VyCZPMBSNf5bbg:1603115066371&prds=num:1,of:1,epd:7947558796688446253,prmr:1,pid:7947558796688446253,cs:1

Since mine are 1 inch thick I’d ideally like to half it to .5 thick with the 1inch nose overhang.

The treads are between 38 and 48 inches long and about 11.5 deep.

I’m sure I could do this with a standard hand saw but im dreading the idea of cutting all 50 like that. Is there any power saw that would work? My hands aren’t the steadiest so ideally I’d be looking for something that could cut fairly straight and I want to ensure it is a flat cut as the cut side will be the side facing the existing stair.

For a variety of reasons ripping out the existing treads is an absolute no-go unfortunately (I realize that would be much easier in many respects). Is almost as if I would need an extra long jig saw type saw. My tools are currently limited to DIY in home tools like a mobile table saw, miter, jig, router, reciprocating, etc. the budget could allow for a home level tool purchase but not a woodshop quality purchase.

Any help, advice, suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

12 replies so far

View grosa's profile


1101 posts in 4289 days

#1 posted 10-20-2020 10:13 AM

Bring them to a local wood shop and have them run it through there wide belt sander to the thickness you want. Then you can add the build up in the front to cover your existing step and you could do the round over. Add the finish and install.

-- Have a great day.

View BostonCharlie's profile


4 posts in 584 days

#2 posted 10-20-2020 12:46 PM

Thanks for the suggestion!! I talked with a couple local shops and the cost to do that is unfortunately too high given the number of treads – they were delivered on a pallet so transport is a little challenging as well. I’m also hoping to use the cut out pieces for the risers (I have purchased MDF Risers but have concerns about the durability) and for another project as finances are a bit tight right now.

View ibewjon's profile


2940 posts in 4253 days

#3 posted 10-20-2020 12:52 PM

If they came from lowes, return them and buy the pre made stair toppers. Lowes carries these in my area. I would want oak unless the steps will be carpeted. Pine dents easily.

View Ruscal's profile


148 posts in 639 days

#4 posted 10-20-2020 01:05 PM

I see two options.

1)With your table saw you rip the bull nose part off at full thickness. Buy a 12” benchtop planer and plane the main part of the tread to your desired thickness and then glue/clamp the nose back on.

2)Build a router sled and with a straight bit remove the thickness from the main part of the tread, leaving the bullnose intact. You keep the tread in one piece but that is a lot of routing.

3)Either option build yourself a crosscut sled for your table saw for most accurate cut to length.

-- Have a hobby? You should have a business.

View northwoodsman's profile (online now)


1088 posts in 5207 days

#5 posted 10-20-2020 01:37 PM

Build yourself a router sled and purchase a Spoilboard Surfacing bit for your router. I purchase my Whiteside Spoilboard bits at Woodcraft but I’m sure that you can find them elsewhere.

-- NorthWoodsMan

View BostonCharlie's profile


4 posts in 584 days

#6 posted 10-20-2020 03:19 PM

Hi all – thanks so much, can’t tell you how much I appreciate the suggestions. Got the covid DIY bug and definitley jumped in the deep end on this one so very grateful for all of your advice.

These are from an online distributer and unfortunately return shipping to the company would be exorbitantly expensive. I also got them at much lower cost than the retro-fit as they were on sale.

They are red oak.

Would any of these options allow me to keep the portion of the board that is cut away? I’d ideally like to use that for risers and other home projects. If I route it in full I believe that would end up all sawdust, correct?

I am going to remove the bullnose ultimately as I want a more square nose, so splitting each board into two 1/2 inch (minus the wood lost from the cut) could work. Would a planer leave both pieces intact?

Would a bandsaw be a realistic option to split them in half thickness wise creating two usable boards? (No clue if there are even good affordable consumer bandsaws that would have the precision needed to resaw these?)


View 4wood's profile


108 posts in 1414 days

#7 posted 10-20-2020 03:30 PM

I would first rethink the possibility of removing the old treads. If you add it to the top of the existing tread you will be adding 1/2” of height to the first riser and decreasing the top riser height by 1/2”, possibly creating a trip hazard. The maximum rise is 7 3/4” in a residence. Another method would be to put the same number on the end of each nosing and tread then cut off 1 1/4” of the nosing. Save the nosing’s. Plane or re-saw the treads to the thickness you want and then glue the nosing back to each matching tread. I think you will run into a cupping problem with them being 1/2”. If you go ahead with this I would use a good flooring adhesive for solid wood and spread the adhesive with the suggested notched trowel by the adhesive manufacture. Do a full spread of glue and make sure you removed the old finish from the existing treads. Here is one of the best adhesives for solid wood and it is available at Lowes in a caulking tube. Do a test on the first tread of your back staircase to see if it will work for you before you cut all of them. You can always sell the 49 leftovers.

Here is a link to a visual interpretation of the residential stair code.

View ohtimberwolf's profile


1115 posts in 3812 days

#8 posted 10-20-2020 03:45 PM

I don’t know what resources you have around you but this is what I would do. Your last statement says that you would be able to use them if they were cut into 2 ea 1/2 inch thick peices so here goes (from a novice) not a pro.

We have amish around here but there are others who could do this with a large bandsaw.
Have someone who is setup for this sort of cut and have them do it. You don’t need to create any more problems than you have now.

I’m sure you could find someone, maybe a retired person, who could and would be willing to cut these for you and end your problems. I see no cheaper way out without risking more trouble.

Just my limited thoughts. larry P.S. 4wood has good advice.

-- Just a barn cat, now gone to cat heaven.

View controlfreak's profile


3751 posts in 1062 days

#9 posted 10-20-2020 03:51 PM

I agree with @4wood. It is critical that each step be the same rise at every step. Every once in a while I will find a staircase that the builder didn’t deduct the thickness of the tread from the bottom of the stringers making the first step high by that thickness. It can be a bad trip hazard. I have seen building code officials walk a set of stairs and look to “feel” any irregularities. They are very easy to pick out even without measuring each step. I watched a contractor rebuild one staircase three times.

View BostonCharlie's profile


4 posts in 584 days

#10 posted 10-20-2020 04:19 PM

Thanks for all of these suggestions!

The stairs are already way outside of code (house was built in the late 1800’s/early 1900s) and the existing risers are between 7 and 9.75 inches so there is a lot of variety there. Unfortunately no access to the area under the stairs for any of the three staircases (including one that is semi spiral) and all of the baseboard wood is attached to see how they were built but based on the ones in the basement, tearing them out would be a massive job with structural implications (not to mention “historical” restrictions from the town). My goal is to ultimately be able to remove these treads if the house is ever restored but to update them to a modern look for the next 5-10 years. One contractor did propose effectively building stairs on top of stairs (putting essentially 1 inch frame between the existing stairs and the new ones, which I may try for the back stairs that are most out of code but there is minimal extra space at the bottom of the front stairs to take that approach.

View ibewjon's profile


2940 posts in 4253 days

#11 posted 10-20-2020 06:19 PM

The only way to save the extra is find someone with a large enough bandsaw to resaw the boards. After loss for the cut, and leaving enough to plane the piece you want to use, and the piece you want to save, you won’t have much left. Less than the 1/2” you want to remove. Any way you do this will be a noticable investment. It may be cheaper to ship back instead of paying for labor from others or tools you don’t own and and won’t use again

View metolius's profile


432 posts in 2191 days

#12 posted 10-20-2020 06:34 PM

It seems that all options have a cost. To let the cost be an investment, maybe this is a good excuse to buy the bandsaw and resaw/plane.

If you do, please get a Harvey AMBASSADOR C14 and post a review.

-- derek / oregon

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