Dealing With Squeaking Stairs

The main causes of squeaking stairs are the shrinkage of the timber treads over time, and general wear and tear. 

The tread(s) can start to rub against the top of the riser causing a squeaking or creaking noise.  Any adhesive originally used to bind the treads and risers together may also have become unstuck.  This is normally just an annoyance, rather than anything seriously wrong with your staircase.

treads can start to rub against riser

There can be several methods of addressing or even eradicating these squeaky steps.  In most cases the best results are obtained by repairs from the underside of the staircase.  This is not always feasible as sometimes the staircase is blocked off from the rear.  It is, however, also possible to repair from the front of the staircase.Let's assume for the moment that the rear of the staircase is not accessible and that we need to tackle the problem from the front of the staircase.  There are three main methods of tackling loose treads from the front.

1.

Screwing Loose Treads.

 

The best method of securing the treads to the risers is to screw them down. Normally, three screws per tread are more than sufficient. 

Before mounting the screws, you will need to pre drill holes through the tread level with the riser. 

It is recommended to use 38mm (1 7/16") No.8 countersunk screws.

  screwing loose treads
 

Once the screws are in place, make sure that they are countersunk below the surface of the tread. 

If the staircase is exposed (i.e. no carpeting) it is wise to use an appropriately coloured wood filler to conceal the screws. 

For a more professional approach, you could use a Plug Cutter and Screwsink set to properly disguise a countersunk screw.This process is detailed below:

  route out s woodplug with a plug cutter  

Using a block of wood which is of identical type to the tread, use a plug cutter to route out a woodplug with the same diameter as the screwsink.

       
  the block needs to be cut out  

The woodplug is formed in the block and now needs to be cut out.

       
  use a thin chisel to chip out the woodplug  

Use a thin chisel to "chip" out the formed woodplug as shown.

       
  drill out the pilot hole  

Now, using a screwsink, drill out the pilot hole for the countersunk screw, through the tread into the top of the riser.

       
  screw the countersunk screw into top of tread  

Screw the countersunk screw into the top of the tread and through into the riser.

       
  cover the hole left by screw  

With the tread secured, cover the hole left by the screw with the woodblock you produced earlier.  Cover the base and sides of the block with wood glue.  Make sure you align the woodgrain of the plug with the rest of the grain of the tread.

       
  leave the glue to dry  

Leave the glue to dry for a few hours.  Once this is complete, use a sharp chisel to slice off the bulk of protruding woodplug.

       
  sand the rough top of woodplug  

Finally, sand the rough top of the woodplug so it is perfectly flush with the top of the tread.

 

For MDF treads and risers, a slightly different approach is needed. 

No pre-drilled holes are needed for MDF, as it is recommended to use special MDF screws. These have the added benefit of not splitting the MDF board, as can occur when drilling pilot holes or using unsuitable screws.  

Using normal screws designed for Hard or Softwood can cause the MDF to bulge and eventually split.  

The secret of the MDF screw lies in its structure; a serrated thread means it cuts cleanly through the board without bulging or splitting the wood:

  the secret of the mdf screw lies in its structure
   

2.

Nailing Loose Treads.

 

One of the simplest repairs is to nail two nails (or more if needed) into the centre of the edge of the tread,  where they meet the riser as shown below.  

Please Note the "dovetail" arrangement in which the nails are inserted, this gives the nails better grip on the wood. 

Take care not to split the wood or pierce the edge of the riser with the nails.

  nailing loose treads
   

3.

Using A "Moulding" Or "Quadrant".

 

If a loose riser or tread is found, it is also possible to glue on a "moulding" or quadrant".  This long piece of wood can be glued either at the top of the rise or the bottom or indeed both. It is recommended also that the moulding be pinned to both the riser and the tread. 

This method is used as a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to simply nailing or screwing the treads and risers together, but it does require a bit more precision work. If the staircase is exposed (no carpets) it is recommended for aesthetic reasons to add these mouldings to all of the stairs.

   using a moulding or quadrant
   
 

Solving The Squeak From Underneath The Stairs.

 

If, on the other hand the rear of the staircase is accessible, more effective repairs can be made to the stairs.

These are as follows:

1.

Glue Blocks.

 

A successful method of strengthening the joints between riser and tread is to use "glue blocks".  These are triangular shaped small wood blocks, which can be made easily by sawing a square block in half down the diagonal. 

Four small pilot holes are drilled into the block at right angles to each other, as shown below:

  typical glue block
   
 

The glue blocks need to be placed near each corner (and one in the middle on wider staircases) where the tread meets the top of the riser:

  glue blocks need to be placed near each corner
   
 

Install the glue blocks with the help of these three simple steps:

  apply some pva glue to the glue blocks  

Firstly apply some PVA glue to the glue blocks.  It is important to move the glued block back and forth to rid of any air pockets within the glue.

       
  place glue block into position  

Place the glue block into position as shown and screw in the securing screws.  

Remember to use MDF screws if you have MDF treads and risers.

       
  taking care not to push the screw through tread or riser   Taking care not to push the screw through the tread or riser, carefully screw in the securing screws.  If you have someone to help, get them to stand on the tread whilst you drive the screws home.
       
 

An alternative to glue blocks, or indeed in addition if there is enough room, you could add small rectangular blocks to the corners of the stairs to secure the treads to the strings, as shown below:

   
  an alternative to glue blocks or an addition are string blocks
   
 

Referring to these rectangular blocks as "string blocks", the principle is essentially the same as glue blocks, but in this case are fixing the edges of the treads to the strings. 

The screws are at right angles to each other, one boring into the bottom of the tread and the other into the string.  Again, it is recommended that the blocks can be coated in glue and moved around back and forth on the surface of the wood to eliminate any air pockets in the glue.

   

2.

Replacing Worn Or Missing Wedges.

   
 

If the staircase is built into a housed string system, it most likely contains securing wedges for the risers and treads.  These wedges would have been placed in the staircase when it was originally constructed.

They are used to butt the risers and treads up against the mortises of the housed string so that no gaps are visible between the strings and the treads and risers.  

The drawing below summaries this:

   
  cross section through housed string
   
 

Over time and extensive use of the staircase, the wedges can slip or become damaged.  This can also lead to the dreaded "creaking" or "squeaking".

A slipped or damaged wedge can normally be spotted if there is a gap showing on the staircase between the tread and/or riser and the string mortise:

   
  view looking from above staircase
   
 

Inspect the rear of the staircase, if any loose wedges are found, gently chip out the old wedge with a chisel. 

Should the wedge be too damaged to refit into the mortise, new wedges can be purchased from our online shop.

  if any loose wedges are found gently chip out with a chisel
   
 

Coat the new replacement wedges with glue and use a mallet to gently drive the new wedges into place.  In addition, before fitting the new wedges, inject some adhesive into the mortise, that way, when the wedge is inserted again, the tread or riser will bond with the glue in the mortise and provide extra grip.

   

3.

Insert Small "Slip" Wedges.

   
 

Another method of effectively tightening the joints between the tread and riser is to insert small "slip" wedges into the joints.

The procedure of inserting these wedges into the joints varies based upon what types of joints the tread and risers are connected with.

Each wedge should be about 30mm long and tapered down from 3mm to a point.  By applying some glue to the wedges, they should be inserted based upon the following joints: 

   
    butt joint   mortise and tenon joint   housing joint  
   

Once the glue has dried, a sharp chisel can be used to trim off the ends of the protruding wedges.

 

Conclusion:

To completely resolve any squeaking, a combination of glue blocks, string blocks, new wedges and screws will eliminate the squeak.

 

Pear Stairs sell a number of products to finish your staircase. 

Remember if you have questions don't hesitate to phone us about your staircase finish.  We are a friendly company, phone Pear Stairs on 01938 553311.