Installing laminate on an open "end" staircase may be one of the most taxing projects installers face.

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(Note: This article frequently references an installation documented by the author in the January/February 2000 issue of FCI titled “Installing Laminate Flooring on a Closed Staircase.” All mentions of the “Jan/Feb issue of FCI” refer to that installation.)

Installing laminate on an open "end" staircase may be one of the most taxing projects installers are faced with in basic laminate installation. Unfortunately, it is impossible to address every scenario that could be encountered during the installation. The variables include the style, either round or square (photo 1), number (normally two, but sometimes three or more) and size of spindles per step, not to mention their location in relation to the step's finished edge. The finished edge of the open side of the step will present its own obstacles for installation.

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First and foremost, assess the project before accepting the challenge. Consider all the obvious pitfalls and anticipate the unexpected problems. Open-end staircases will always be judged for their aesthetic value. DO NOT venture beyond your skills or invest heavily in your customer's expectations before starting. Mistakes and/or customer dissatisfaction will be expensive to resolve.

This article focuses on an open-end staircase, with two square spindles per step (photo 2). The first step, previously detailed in the Jan/Feb issue of FCI, is the removal of the existing bullnose in preparation for laminate flooring installation with a conventional bullnose on the finished edges (front and the side with spindles).

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The spindles pose several problems due to their size, proximity to each other, and the structural strength that they deliver for handrail support. For these reasons, do not attempt to undercut, instead, make a paper pattern showing exact location of the spindles, their size and the step's critical dimensions (photo 3). Determine the most natural break for the bullnose trim molding and the laminate edge as it relates to the spindles. Remember, the juncture of bullnose trim molding not only has to look good, but it has to be fabricated so that it continues to look good for years to come.

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Once the pattern has been made and the juncture determined, cut the laminate to the exact length with a technique and tool that provides a clean, smooth cut edge sufficient for a seam. Groove with the laminate manufacturer's router bit so that it matches the factory groove on the front of the step(photo 4). Position the laminate flooring on the step and cut the bullnose trim to length, including miters.

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You may find it necessary to cut a return on the step's end bullnose molding. Cutting the return miter safely is simple. First, cut the miter on an adequate length of material for holding without risking your fingers(photo 5). Now, cut the return miter to length by holding the long piece of material, reducing the speed of the blade as you near the completed cut. The reduced speed makes it easier to visually follow the small piece after cutting. Use a quality wood glue and attach the return to the end cut molding with masking tape(photo 6). Allow the glue to dry, remove the tape, and install the laminate flooring and flush mount bullnose molding per instructions, as shown in the Jan/Feb issue of FCI.

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The final step is the installation of the riser, as found in the Jan/Feb issue of FCI. Before the installation, a return must be cut and fitted on the laminate riser. Using the 45º angle on the table saw, and the saw's adjustable guide, cut the riser to length, approximately 1/8-inch less than the existing riser. Cut the laminate return's miter using the same technique, then adjust the saw for a 90º cut and carefully make the square cut on the return.

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Attach the riser following the detailed instructions in the Jan/Feb issue of FCI. Position the new riser with return approximately 1/16-inch from the finished edge of the existing riser, avoiding visual discrepancies between the two risers’ finished edges(photo 7).

As always, the manufacturer's installation instructions for step installation will always supersede these instructions. But when those instructions are unavailable, the step-by-step instructions for installing laminate on an open-end staircase serve as general guidelines.