As with any installation, there are always a few "finishing touches" that can help raise the final result from satisfactory to outstanding.

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The response to the in-depth looks at laminate flooring installations on steps that I have conducted recently has been exceptionally positive, but there are a few more details that may occasionally be required for those “Finishing Touches.”

The article in the May/June 2000 issue of FCI titled “Installing Laminate on an Open End Staircase,” demonstrates how installers can identify the exact location of the balusters, or spindles, on each step using a paper template. I addressed square balusters only, but the technique would be the same for round balusters, with some additional precautions:

  • The natural break line between the laminate flooring installed on the step and the finished edge molding should always be the center of a round baluster. This not only makes completion of the project easier, but helps ensure a clean, precise fit every time.

  • A small pilot hole can be started on the step/molding assembly after the diameter and center have been located with the paper template. Use the correct paddle drill bit to make the hole perfectly round (photo 1).

  • After drilling, provide some relief on the underside of the holes by using a half-round rasp. Carefully remove any excess material that could interfere with a net fit at the surface (photo 2).

  • Be careful. If a round baluster is also tapered from the step to the handrail, it will gradually become smaller in diameter. To avoid misjudging the cut, raise the paper template equal to the thickness of the laminate to be installed before marking, then follow the steps mentioned above.

  • The May/June article demonstrated the procedure for cutting a small return for the exposed end of a laminate riser. The photograph showed some chipping at the 45-degree miter. Most laminate manufacturers offer color-coordinated touch-up/repair kits. The installation is not complete until the touch-up work is finished. Usually, the excess will be removed from the surface during clean up, leaving the matching compound behind in the voids created by the chips. Substitute a matching wood-colored putty if a kit is not available from the manufacturer.

    photo 3
    A small specialty molding can be used on the square-cut, exposed end of a laminate riser (photo 3). These moldings can be found at hobby shops, cabinet shops, lumber yards, and possibly model shops in a profile that is acceptable in aesthetics and size. The length of the riser will be determined after you decide on the type of molding. Most of the specialty moldings will be unfinished in a limited number of wood species, requiring the blending of the stain and the finish of the molding with the laminate color.

    photo 4
    Using wood or laminate iron-on veneer tape, an iron, and a trimming tool, the square-cut, exposed end of the laminate riser can be finished by ironing the veneer to the square-cut end and trimming (photo 4). Unfinished wood veneers will have to be stained and blended to match the laminate’s finish after application.

    photo 5
    Occasionally, the end-user may request that the decorative step-brackets on the finished side of the staircase be replaced with laminate. It will not be a problem, but it will take much more time that should be factored in during the pricing stage. Once the time has been allotted…

  • Carefully remove one of the decorative pieces by setting the nails used to attach it, and use a molding/pry bar to remove it. If it has been glued, trace around the piece using a sharp utility blade and cut the wood surface it is glued to. This will minimize the risk of splintering beyond the perimeter of the decorative piece during removal. Clean both the back of the now-removed piece and the exposed surface. Save the removed section for use as a pattern, after it has been checked against the remaining decorative step brackets for consistent size and shape, or else create a pattern of ¼-inch plywood (photo 5).

    photo 6
  • Convert your router with a simple template-attachment guide that allows you to follow the pattern while cutting the laminate with a straight-fluted, carbide-tipped trimming bit (photo 6). Follow all directions and warnings accompanying the router and attachments for both safety and optimum performance.

    The tracing attachment will produce a duplicate slightly larger than the pattern (photo 7). This will be an advantage, as the new piece will cover the paint line remaining from the removed section. The square-cut, exposed edges can be finished with wood or laminate iron-on veneer tape. Any of the options discussed above may be used to join the decorative stringer with the laminate riser – specialty molding; 45-degree riser; or else allow one to overlap the other, and finish with an iron-on laminate or wood veneer.

    photo 7
  • Attaching the finished decorative will look best if it can be done with adhesive on the back and held into position until it sets. Small finish nails will work when used sparingly and puttied after they have been set.

    This concludes a three-part series on installing laminate flooring on stairs, and should address much of what will be encountered on site. If you have additional questions concerning the installation of laminate flooring, please feel free to contact me at (302) 325-3801.