Photo 1

Photo 2
This is the first in a series focusing on stair installations. The scenario is a basic one: An enclosed-box staircase installed waterfall, using tackless and a knee-kicker, from the bottom up. Why this approach? This is the standard stair installation method, as well as the method recommended in CRI 105. Yes, in some parts of the country the majority of stairs are installed contoured; Hollywood; Chicago; cap-and-band; or whatever the local term happens to be. That method will be dissected in another installment. We also will explore stair stretchers; custom stairs; caps; bullnose; runners; and concrete and steel stairs.

The first step is to install all the tackless on the riser. By doing this, you will get the most difficult part out of the way, as well as avoiding tearing your hands on the tread piece of tackless.

Photo 3
Count your risers and cut a tackless strip for each. Cut each strip the full width of the stair; on this staircase, the stairs are cut net, and strip is installed on the sides (turning edges will be dealt with in another article). You will want to install the risers in one piece. To avoid waste, the balance of the strips can be used in a room, or on the treads or landings.

Achieving the proper space from the tread can be a little tricky at first. To make a spacer, cut two, 2-inch pieces of tackless, turning the pins to face each other, and tap them together. This provides a block on which to rest the riser piece of strip while hammering, as well as providing the proper spacing from the tread (Photo 1). Install the tackless with the pins angled, pointing toward the tread. It is better to adjust the tread piece of strip to account for carpet thickness.

Photo 4
In this example, each riser is reinforced with a nail at each end, and an additional nail in the middle. In some older homes, the risers can be a little weak. To avoid pushing the risers back when hammering, hammer on an angle(Photo 2). This will direct the force of the blow in a more sideways direction, rather than straight back. Another option is to use 1-inch drywall screws. We will get to reinforcing weak risers, a good source for extra income, in a later article.

The tread piece of tackless is where you adjust for the thickness of the carpet. The proper gap between the tread and riser strips should be double the thickness of the carpet being installed, plus the thickness of your stair tool (Photo 3). Remember, do the risers first and save your knuckles. When cutting the stairs, install a strip on each side of the tread, leaving it ¼-inch short of the nose to avoid a sharp edge.

Photo 5
Using a straightedge, cut the stair pads to the width of the stair, in this case 1 foot. I suggest this approach because:

  • It’s fast
  • It conserves pad.

    A 2-foot-9-inch-by-6-foot piece provides six stair pads. Lay the stair pads on the stairs. Starting at the top and working down, staple the tread first, then the nose (Photo 4). Installing the pads from the top down is faster and less aggravating; you avoid hitting the loose pad on the upper step while stapling.

    Photo 6
    After installing the stair pads, run a strip of Duct tape across the stair nose. The tape reinforces the pad at the main wear-area on stairs, helping to reduce pad breakdown and extending the wear-life of the carpet. (Photos 5 and 6).

    Lay out the stair run, starting with the bottom stair. Secure the edge of the carpet to the strip. If there is carpet meeting it from a landing or the lower floor, leave a couple of extra inches and chisel it into the gap between the tackless with a mallet and stair tool. If meeting a finished surface such wood or tile, the riser strip should be ¼-inch from the floor. Leaving enough extra space for a tuck (¼-inch), secure the strip. In some cases, it is necessary to carefully part the naps and bury a couple of staples to help lock the starting edge to the strip.

    Photo 7
    Before you cut the excess of your starting point first stretch the first stair. This locks the starting edge in place. Starting from the bottom of the run, stretch the stair to the riser with the knee-kicker (Photo 7). You will feel it hook on the tackless. Next, using a mallet and stair tool, drive the carpet deep into the stair crotch. Don’t try to drive it all the way in one blow; it takes too much effort, and could tear the carpet (another lesson from the school of hard knocks). You are better off with two or three passes to force the excess into the crotch of the stair (Photo 8). Be sure the carpet is free of the strip on the stair above, or you won’t get enough carpet into the gap. Before stretching the next stair, set the carpet on the riser tackless by rubbing it on to the pins with the back of the stair tool.

    Photo 8
    I prefer a rubber mallet (white, so it won’t mark the walls) to a regular hammer for a number of reasons:

  • It won’t mushroom the stairtool head.
  • It doesn’t make that God-awful clanging sound.
  • When you miss the stair tool (and you will), smacking the back of your hand with a rubber mallet doesn’t hurt nearly as bad.

    After you have completed stretching the last stair, trim and tuck it to finish just like you would a wall.