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Stair stretchers are an important part of the installation process. In planning this article I was reminded of the problem of weak risers. As one of the stair stretchers examined here works like a power stretcher and braces off the riser like a pole stretcher braces off the opposite wall, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tricks on reinforcing weak stairs. Sometimes stairs are so shaky you cannot even use a knee kicker without breaking them loose.

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First, let’s deal with loose risers on enclosed staircases. By enclosed I mean there is a finished wall covering the back of the stairs, preventing the easy repair from the back. I always carry 1-inch angle brackets and dry wall screws in my truck for just this situation(Photo 1).

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The fix is relatively easy. You will need 1-inch angle brackets, 1-inch dry wall screws and a power drill with a screwdriver bit affixed to it. Using the angle brackets and the dry wall screws, fasten the tread and the riser together(Photo 2 and 3). One bracket on each side of the stair is usually enough to hold everything together so you can install tackless without worrying about pushing the stair apart while kicking or using the stair stretcher(Photo 4).

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If the whole stair is loose, take it a step (small pun intended) further and tie the step back to the stringer. To accomplish this, drill a 1/8-inch pilot hole at a 25-to-30 degree angle through the tread into the stringer. Next, drive a 3-inch dry wall screw through the pilot hole, tying the tread and stringer together. The pilot hole is important to prevent the tread from splitting. I learned this the hard way while fixing staircases in 40- to 100-year-old houses in Chicago. You will be amazed at how solid and quiet the staircase will be when the job is complete.

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Once you have finished the repair (remember, this is a chargeable service), put your tackless right over the brackets. If the job calls for runners, countersink the hole on the tread and use a little matching wood putty to hide the repair.

Both of the stretchers discussed here work from the top down. Not from the bottom up, as you are probably used to when using a kicker. What’s the advantage to this? Have you ever missed a kicker on a stair? Additionally, these stretchers make life just a little easier.

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The first stair stretcher works like a power stretcher, a lever-action tool with teeth in the front for hooking the carpet that stretches away from the riser where it’s braced. It can be used in both waterfall- and contoured-stair situations. Strip and pad the stairs as you normally would. Starting from the top stair, fasten the carpet and stretch the stair tight(Photo 5). Next, working from the center out, use a stair tool and a rubber mallet (not a steel hammer!) to drive the carpet down into the crotch of the next stair where the tread and riser meet(Photo 6). Then, move the stretcher to the other side of the stair and repeat.

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The second stretcher is for contoured stairs only(Photo 7). Prepare them as you normally would, except without tackless on the riser. The carpet is coming straight down and tackless on the riser would cause an unsightly lump. This stretcher also works from the top down.

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With the handle up, engage the teeth in the carpet. As you pull down on the handle the tool simultaneously stretches the tread and its bottom lip forces the carpet to conform around the stair nose, allowing you to staple under the stair lip with ease(Photo 8). Drive the carpet into the crotch, staple it and move to the next stair(Photo 9).

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When working with contoured stairs I prefer to staple the pad to the nose of the stair and cut the excess off(Photos 10 and 11). This gives me pad over the nose of the stair (very important to ensure proper carpet wear) with no extra to interfere with attaching the carpet underneath the lip.