Sureing up some old steps

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Staff member
Dec 14, 2002
New Jersey
Our 1930's home has front and back stairs. The front stairs are very sturdy oak, the rears are somewhat flimsy pine. The rears have shown a bit of separation such that the treads and risers have a bit of a space, and Im worried that Ill go through at some point.

We have been working on the space under the stairs, so I have access, now is the perfect time to shure them up. Looking at the stairs from underneath, they look like this:





As you can see, there is a gap at each spot where the tread (?) meets the riser (?) (hope my terms are right). In other words, it's at the point where if I was on the stairs, Im at the furthest forward part of the flat section, right where it hits the vertical section going up.

So it's just held in with some nails. I need to close the gap and strengthen it. Should I just nail the old nails back in as a start? Since the wood is old and dry, do I need to take any cautions?

If I want to strengthen, how should I best do it? Metal straps like the simpson strong tie things? Should I put (glue?) another block of wood there first to help put more "meat" to nail into?

If Im nailing new nails into this wood, which is maybe 1/2" thick, should I predrill first or something to prevent cracking? What size nails should I use?

I'd go in there with some 2x4s cut into 18 inch lengths, formed into Ls, bolted together at the bend. Mount these upside down underneath.; stainless decking screws might look boss or completely out of place. An air nailer will use nails with hot glue on them which will keep squeaks down; the friction of the nailing temporarily melts the glue. And the heads will look proper for an older house. With all the new 2x4 ends sticking out, run a 2x8 diagonally up and bolt or lag screw the whole mess together.

I assume you're fond enough of the outward appearance of those steps? The right fix would probably be to tear them apart and put some "zigzag" precut stringers in. You might be able to rescue the old pine and cut it down.
There should be stringers on each side of the stairs that support most of the weight of both the tread and the riser. So, your problem seems to be as much cosmetic, with maybe a bit of structural component.

Pulling the gaps together would make for a stronger "box" with less noise. If accessible, screws would pull the joints together better than nails. Wood glue or even liquid nails type adhesive would also help strengthen and eliminate squeaks.

But, I'm just guessing based on your photos. If you hired that Holmes fellow, you would completely tear out the stairs, rebuild from scratch, and take out a second mortgage.

Pre drilling would help IF the wood is really 1/2", but compared to the 2X lumber, the boards look to be 3/4" or even 1".

Good luck.
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