Floors and Stairs Repair
Floors and stairs take a lot of punishment from daily use. It’s no surprise that they occasionally need repair or even replacement. Squeaky floorboards usually indicate a gap between the floorboards and the subfloor, which causes the wood to rub together. To fix it, tap the floorboards gently with a hammer to locate the joist.
Stair treads take a beating, especially in older homes. Each time a foot is planted on the step, it slips slightly across the surface, which can rapidly wear away the finish or leave grit that scratches the wood. These stresses, combined with a general scrubbing of the tread by shoes, can cause the wood to crack. Cracked steps are not only unsightly, they can also be dangerous. In the worst cases, someone could fall through the step and break their leg. Fortunately, replacing broken treads is not too difficult.
You can repair the problem with wood glue if a stair tread has cracked. First, dry fit the new tread to make sure it fits properly. Then, apply carpenter’s glue inside the crack or split. Once the glue dries, you can fill in any remaining gap with wood putty that matches the color of your stair. Finally, sand the area to smooth it.
Another cause of squeaky stairs is loose balusters. If the balusters are nailed to the staircase, you can tighten them with a wrench and hammer. Alternatively, you can use wood shims between the baluster and stair tread.
Wood shims can be purchased at most hardware stores. They’re also easy to install, simply slipping the shim under the nail head and tapping it into place with a hammer. The squeak will disappear once the shim is fully secured.
If the squeak is caused by loose stairs, you can also fix the problem with wood glue. If the squeak is coming from the outside edge of the staircase, you can apply the glue to the treads and wiggle them to work the glue down into the cracks. If the squeak is coming between the steps, you can smear the glue on both sides of the joint and then tap it together with a hammer.
All buildings settle over the years, but they don’t always do so evenly. This is known as differential building settlement, and it can cause a staircase to pull away from the wall or sag toward the newel post. If the stairway is seriously out of level, you’ll need to gradually jack it up and brace it. If it’s just a minor amount of deflection, you may be able to solve the problem by reinforcing the carriage stringer and re-nailing the balusters.
When a nail pops loose it can cause the surface of the wood to creak. This is particularly pronounced with pine and cedar boards. Loose nails are most often caused by trauma, such as a blow to the toe or dropping a heavy object on a nail. This may create enough pressure on the nail to separate it from the nail bed and cause it to become loose. Other causes include excessive bleeding beneath the nail, which can also generate enough pressure to cause the nail to become loose. Finally, repeated long-term rubbing of the toe against the tip of the shoe can also cause the nail to become loose.
Many stairs are built with wedges that are inserted between the tread and riser to minimize gaps and prevent the tread from moving downward under pressure. Over time these wedges can become loose, creating a creaking sound as someone climbs the staircase. To fix this problem, a woodworker can use a hammer and claw end to pry loose the old wedges, then tap in new wedges that are spaced further apart. Once the wedges are tapped in, it’s a good idea to use a screw and a countersink tool to conceal the heads of the screws so that there are no exposed sharp edges.
Some squeaks are more difficult to repair than others, but if you have access to the area underneath your stairs, this can be a quick and easy fix. First, block off the stairway so no one can use it, then remove any molding or trim from around the squeak area and pull up any loose carpet. Remove any loose nails as well.
Next, identify the squeak hot spot by having an assistant walk up and down the stairs while you listen for creaking noises. If possible, mark the suspected squeak spot with painter’s tape. If the squeak is coming from the back of the stair, you’ll need to remove some of the riser. If the squeak is from the side or front of the stair, you’ll need access to the stringers, which are the boards on either side of the stairs that run along the floor. Secure the stair to the stringer by driving pairs of spiral flooring nails, using a nail set, into both sides of the stair. The first nail should be angled in one direction, the second at a 45-degree angle.
Wedged mortise-and-tenon joinery is a classic design element in woodworking. It adds structural strength to joints, and its rough look evokes a sense of ancient craftsmanship. When used well, wedges create a knockdown joint that won’t work loose or split under pressure. However, improper use of wedges can cause a staircase to squeak or creak. Depending on the squeak source, you may need to tighten or replace wedges. Loose wedges are an easy fix, but you must also consider grain orientation and relief cuts.
On traditional stairs, the stair treads and risers are held firm in the stringers (side timbers) by timber wedges hammered tightly between them. Many modern staircases replace the wedges with triangular timber blocks that are both glued and screwed to the side of each riser.
Check under the stairs to see if any of the wedges are loose. If so, remove them with a chisel and clean off old glue from the ends of the wedges with sandpaper before replacing them. To avoid re-loosening the new wedges, choose replacements that are close to the originals in size and shape, then apply woodworking glue and hammer them tight.
When tightening the wedges, keep in mind that wedges must be oriented to apply pressure against, rather than across, the grain of the timber. Pressure applied across the grain can split the wood, causing a squeak.
If squeaks continue to occur, try lubricating the stair components with a silicone lubricant or other solvent that will ease friction between parts of the stair. You can also use construction adhesive to add a thick layer of bonding between the stair components and the stringers.
If you can’t reach the wedges from underneath the stairs, try installing screws or spriral-shank flooring nails through the risers and into the stringers to secure them. These should prevent the squeaks by adding support to the edges of the risers, preventing them from rubing against the rear edge of the stair tread above. You can also install smaller glue blocks, cut from shim stock, to fill in gaps between the stair pieces and the stringers.
The cracking of wood is inevitable in certain environments, but it doesn’t have to be a sign of structural failure. Splits in boards or unfinished furniture can be repaired easily and almost imperceptibly using simple tools and techniques. This is true for splits in deck boards, fine wood furniture and even particle board that’s been damaged by water or sunlight.
Before repairing a split, carefully examine the board to determine the severity of the damage. If the split is small and hasn’t affected the integrity of the board, it may be best to leave it alone and only apply a stain to the piece. For larger splits, the simplest way to repair it is to use a waterproof wood epoxy to fill it and keep moisture out. The epoxy can be stained later to match the surrounding wood.
For best results, thoroughly clean the area around the crack with a cloth doused in mineral spirits. After cleaning, tape off the edges of the board on both sides. This protects it from the epoxy and minimizes the mess while you’re working on it. Then follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mixing the epoxy and pouring it into the split. Once it has set, a heat gun or torch can be used to pop any bubbles that rise to the surface.
A small amount of sanding will smooth the patched area. If the crack is a deep one, it might be necessary to sand down to the level of the surrounding wood to make sure that you don’t create a hole where it doesn’t need to be.
If the split is in a piece of wood that’s already finished, you can color the patch using a colored marker. This can be done quickly and easily while the epoxy is still wet and will be invisible once it hardens. For pieces that will be left unfinished, a white marker can also be used to cover any undyed specks in the final product. When the epoxy has fully cured, remove the painters’ tape and admire your handiwork.