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I just got hardwood stairs installed. [The installer left a gap between the end of the hardwood plank and the molding and filled it with putty—and it looks terrible.][3] What can I do to cover that gap? I hate it.

the worst stair

looking from top

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    Did you ask them about the gap? Your description sounds unacceptable for a professional.
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 17:34
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    it seems like he cut all the planks and stairnose the same size instead of measuring each one individually.
    – Emma H
    Commented Jul 19, 2017 at 17:38

4 Answers 4

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Maybe a stained or painted quarter round or some sort of small fancy, decorative moulding.

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That's a pre finished engineered, very stable. He should have pre glues planks together to make full size treads and risers. Then each step can be templeted. Then each tread and riser get glued in and blind nail. I full spread glue mine on but a nice serpentine of construction adhesive works too. They look awful, be sure to get him back out.

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  • If by "pre finished engineered" you mean some sort of laminate flooring, I'd respectfully disagree. The closeup shows a fair bit of texture and they just look like real wood, not fake stuff.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 14:56
  • It could be engineered wood, which is a thick veneer over some kind of composite.
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 1:56
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Depending on environmental conditions, the wood may expand and contract with the moisture in the air, so the gap is useful.

Decorative moulding is one option, though you may have difficulty making it look good as it curves around the nosing.

An alternative is to find some wood coloured decorators caulk and apply a small bead in the gap. You should be able to match it to the hardwood used on the stairs. This will be flexible and provide a consistent finish down the flight of stairs (as long as you apply it neatly...).

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  • I left gaps between the treads and the wall-side skirtboard of my stairs intentionally, to allow for expansion. The treads themselves probably don't expand and contract enough for that to be necessary, but the skirtboard wood itself may expand and contract, so I probably made the right choice. I plan to put little molding strips to cover the gaps, but I haven't decided what to do at the ends of the stair noses, so I haven't installed trim yet.
    – Steve
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 23:39
  • @Steve & Alasdair - Wood will expand in all directions, but the primary expansion is across the grain not along the grain. Thus, these boards will get wider or shallower (affecting the depth of the stair tread), but not significantly longer (affecting their fit between the skirt boards). There's no real need to cut them short for expansion in that direction.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 14:58
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    NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT. There will NOT be any meaningful expansion and contraction. Expansion and contraction is multiplied by length -- the steps are narrow. Expansion matters when it is pushing against a solid surface which expands and contracts differently. -- The edge is wood, the steps are wood, the covering is wood. It will all expand and contract together. The expansion excuse is a bunch of meaningless BS that does not apply to this job no-how no-way no-excuse. A bad job was done. Period. You can not pay anyone to care. The person that did this job does not care. And he won't care later.
    – Paul
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 23:10
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The installer did what was done. His quality, or lack thereof, is unfortunate, but typical. The use of putty to fill the gaps was a mistake. Putty gets hard and will crack and create problems because it won't stay put. Do yourself a favor and forget about the installer. Don't call back. Don't complain. The bad attitude free 'repair' work that you might get will only add to your problems.

Dig the putty out. You will never locate anything that will be an exact color match, so choose calking of a color which matches, but is darker than the wood. Carefully fill the gaps with the caulking.

You need to choose a caulking which dirt will not get stuck in and is cleanable. Considering that fact, your only choice is silicon. Another feature of silicon is that it can be cleanly removed via heavy rubbing long after it is dry. This is a good feature because you can replace it if it gets bad. This is a bad feature because you cannot rub it hard unless you want it to come out. It is not going to come out with a soft broom or use of a sweeper. Use a soap and a soft sponge if you choose to clean it, but it shouldn't get dirty.

Any caulking other than silicone will allow dirt to become ground into its surface which cannot be cleaned. I find no reason for expensive silicone. Silicone cannot be painted. Bronze is going to be your color. Do not lap the silicone over the steps or up the wall. Do not wipe it with your finger during installation. If you gob to much on, immediately remove excess with a clean rag containing a small measure of paint thinner, then reapply the caulk as needed.

You'll be fine. The silicone, if it is darker than the floor and cleanly installed, will not attract attention.

BEFORE YOU INSTALL THE SILICONE...

It may be my imagination, but it appears that the wood is not cleanly cut and light colored fray is visible. Fix this problem BEFORE adding caulk. Caulk will not fix the rough cut made by a cheap and/or dull saw blade.

Step 1: Painters tape the wall as if you were going to paint the steps. Get a permanent marker or, better yet, stain which is darker than the steps. I emphasize this again: Darker than the steps or it will be very noticeable. Rub the stain with a stain soaked rag into the rough end of the wood against the tape. Immediately remove the excess from each step as you apply it with a clean rag. The stain will not stick to the finish that is on the wood. But the stain will soak into the rough ends. Stain and marker will also permanently soak into your wall, so be sure to use good wide painters tape to protect the wall. Use paint thinner to remove stain from where you didn't want it to go, but be careful. The stain will come off the finish on the steps, but that is about the only thing it will come off of.

You can remove the tape the shortly after you applied the stain, but be sure to let the stain or marker fully dry before applying silicone. Stain and marker use a strong paint thinner so that it remains a liquid during application. The strong thinner must completely evaporate or the silicone will not stick to it. A couple days drying time will be more than long enough.

The goal is to make the light colors at the edges dark so that the roughness won't be noticed. Once you darken the edges, you will realize that only the large gaps need filled.

I do not recommend trim because I think trim is gaudy. A skilled wood worker doesn't need trim.

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  • Not calling out the installer on this just allows him to continue to do shoddy work for others. A report to the BBB and/or bad on-line reviews is definitely in order, as well as getting him back. If everyone lets this quality of work go, he has no incentive to get better. Also, you may think trim is gaudy, bot not everyone does, and making trim fit well and look good is a significant skill in-and-of-itself and doesn't necessarily reflect on on craftsmanship. It's often necessary to cover the slop left by the framers.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 20, 2021 at 15:02
  • Making trim fit and look good is just as difficult as undoing and redoing the job properly. The step covering job is a trim job. If you can do a good trim job, then can do the job right. Not calling back is common because it isn't worth the heartache. His care level is self-evident. Considering typical workmanship, it is not ultra horrible. -- Beware of anybody that says they 'never get call backs'. I always get callbacks. I am also very hard to find because I cannot fulfill my demand. Hiring help only costs me money. You can pay someone to do anything, but you cannot pay anyone to care.
    – Paul
    Commented Aug 21, 2021 at 23:03
  • @Paul, that's the difference between professional and skilled amateur work. The professional does the job just well enough to get paid without the involvement of small claims court, or for better ones, enough to get good Yelp. But the skilled amateur does the job to a standard of quality that inspires pride in the work, and happiness when looking at the job as they walk through their home.
    – Steve
    Commented Aug 24, 2021 at 1:55

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