How to measure, saw and fit wood RetroTreads and Risers using a stair tread template tool, compound sliding miter saw and table saw to remodel carpeted stairs.
Table of Contents
This is a multi-part series:
- How to Remodel Carpeted Stairs with Wood RetroTreads
RetroTread remodeling overview, installation options, staining and finishing.
- Carpet to Wood Stairs Remodel – Saw off Old Stair Nosing
Remove the carpet, saw off the old stair noses and sanding the stairs.
- Carpet Stair Remodel – Measure and Saw Wood RetroTreads (you are here)
Stair tread template/gauge tool, miter and table saw work, dry fitting the new treads and risers.
- RetroTread Stair Remodel – Landing Tread to Carpet Floor Transition
Fitting the final tread under the upstairs door jambs and carpet floor transition moulding.
- Carpet to Wood Stair Remodel: How to Install RetroTreads and Risers
Install the new treads and riser with polyurethane construction adhesive and brad nails.
Carpet Stair Remodel – Measure and Saw Wood RetroTreads
A stair tread template tool is necessary because the stair stringers are not perfectly square or the same width for each tread and riser. The Collins Tool Company tread template worked great! I bought mine from Amazon.com. Loosen the wing nuts, set the metal wings against the stringers and tighten the nuts. Mark the 1×2 inch board with “Top / Front” to maintain the correct orientation:
My pre-fabricated carpeted stair stringers were bowed, often wider or narrower at the front or back each stair tread. The tread template makes it simple to cut and fit each tread and riser. Because this stringer is bowed in the middle, the tread will be sawn to fit the narrowest point:
The tread template tool is also used for measuring risers:
The basic steps are:
- Measure the old stair tread or riser with the template tool.
- Lay the template tool the RetroTread or Riser.
Make sure side marked “Up/Front” is correctly oriented.
- Mark a line along the edge of the template wings.
- Saw the ends off the tread or riser.
- Repeat the above steps for each tread/riser.
Stair Tread Template Tool – Riser Layout Steps
The riser layout steps are:
- Measure the old stair riser with the template tool.
- Place the template tool on the new riser, making sure “Up/Front” marked on the 1×2 is facing away from you and the bottom of template wings are even with the edge of the riser.
- Mark the cut lines by drawing a pencil along the edge of the template tool wings.
The stair template tool is placed more or less in the middle of the board because the stair stringer is not perfectly square. Sawing off the riser ends also eliminates the rare split or crack in the end of the board.
Important: Number the back of the Riser to match it’s position on the stair steps. Ensure the number is oriented upward to match the orientation of the tread template tool because the riser won’t fit if installed upside down.
Saw New Risers
A sliding miter saw is needed to cut the 11 1/2″ deep Young Mfg. RetroTreads because a standard 12″ miter saw can’t handle such wide material. I’m using a DEWALT DWS779 12″ Sliding Compound Miter Saw which cuts 16″ wide boards and DEWALT DWX723 Heavy Duty Miter Saw Stand. An adjustable miter saw stand is essential to support the 42″ long treads and risers when working alone:
The DeWALT sliding miter saw features a miter latch override lever to override the common stop angles. This was very helpful because each cut was an odd angle and fraction of a degree.
Make a shallow 1st cut to minimize splintering the edge, which would expose unstained/unfinished wood:
Then make the full depth cut:
As described in the project introduction, the new risers will be cut from 7 1/2″ to 6 7/8″ high because they rest on top of the RetroTread:
If your stair remodel calls for full height 7 1/2″ risers, skip the following step.
The riser is next ripped to 6 7/8″ high on the table saw per the “Option 3” diagram above:
Stair Tread Template Tool – RetroTread Layout Steps
The RetroTread layout steps are:
- Measure the old stair tread with the template tool.
- With the nose of the RetroTread facing you and verifying the “Up/Front” marked on the 1×2 is correctly oriented,
- Align template wings with the rear edge of the tread.
- Mark the cut lines along the wings.
- Write the tread sequence number on the back of the board.
The RetroTread nose cove molding is 1 1/4″ high:
I therefore cut a support block 1 1/4″ high on the table saw such that the tread would rest level on the sliding miter saw table:
Align the saw blade, make a shallow 1st cut and then a final cut:
Rip Saw RetroTreads to Match the Old Stair Tread Depth
Per my installation diagram, the 11 1/2″ deep RetroTread will be cut to 9 1/2″ allowing for a 1/4″ expansion gap. I placed a 3/4″ thick Riser against the stair and double checked the tread depth measurement: 9 3/4″ as expected:
The 9 1/2″ inside tread depth must be measured from the inside of the nose cove moulding. Place the RetroTread upside down, measure and mark 9 1/2″ from the cove moulding (my tape measure moved while holding the camera but the mark is accurate):
Then rip the RetroTread on the table saw:
Dry Fitting RetroTreads and Risers
Check the fit of each tread and riser as each is cut. The stair stringers often bowed vertically (in addition to horizontally) and I sometimes had to trim 1/16″ extra off a tread or riser to get it to drop in without binding.
Sometimes the old stair tread wasn’t perfectly level causing one side of a riser to extend an 1/8″ above the next tread. When this happened I held the riser in place and marked a line on the back following the edge of the tread, then trimmed the riser on the table saw.
Tip: RetroTreads end pieces can be used as spacer blocks under the riser for dry fitting. Saves the trouble of hauling treads back and forth.
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