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I've bought a Victorian house that the previous owner, in their infinite wisdom, boarded up the main staircase.

I've removed the boards to reveal the original spindles, and it seems they have trimmed the treads to fit the boards over flush. As a result, some repair work needs to be done. I've done loads of searching, but in all the cases where people have restored boarded up staircases, they have been of the closed stringer variety (no damage to the treads).

What is the best way to proceed with this? Can the treads be saved, or would they need to be replaced?

Victorian staircase with sawn-off ends to the tread

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  • How do you plan to finish the treads?
    – isherwood
    Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 18:12
  • It is more than just "finish" the treads. Some of the treads are missing a board except for a sliver left under the spindles. Measure the tread to tread height - I'll bet they're not consistent because of that, which is itself a code violation (aside from "ugly"). Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 18:25
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    Who ever did this I have to give them credit for their sawing skills. They were able to trim the edges off without one scratch to the rest of the stairs. Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 18:58
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    I see some nail holes but not any saw marks. Seems to me whatever was there was nailed on and pried off and not cut off from the tread. Do you have any other staircases in the house you can compare this one with. Commented Nov 2, 2021 at 19:06
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact - the spindles don't rest on the treads, they [correctly] rest on the open stringer. They are then trapped in place by the now missing end mouldings. Admittedly, the lowest 'whole' step we can see has had damage on the nose. You could saw that back flush & replace just the nose with a decorative moulding. You can't set new treads with a return on the outer edge unless you want to cut a dozen square holes for the spindles, which you'd then have to remove the bannister to re-fit. It's just had the mouldings removed, nothing more.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 9:58

3 Answers 3

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What appears* to have happened, is that someone removed the finish carpentry that dressed the end grain of the stair treads and also sealed up the rough joints where the spindles meet. There also appears to have been a thin portion of 'mini crown' that went underneath each tread side. This would have been the easiest and quickest mess-up to perform, and since people are inclined to do the easiest thing... that is my guess.

If the treads are excessively worn on top and at the nose, you may wish to either hire a carpenter to replace them with fresh material or just choose to embrace the project yourself. If this house is to be a project of love, then buy a decent compound miter saw and learn to drive and sink finish nails by hand.

If this is a house that is intended to be a temporary place to stay (less than five years), then install some high-traffic carpet over the stairs and be done. Older houses like this will have many things that need attention, like plumbing/electrical, leaky roofs, foundation problems, wood eating pests... You must pick your battles.

* my eyes are old.

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  • Thanks for the reply - I completely agree with you regarding the picking of battles. I have put a job on mybuilder, and someone is coming round to quote tomorrow. His suggestion on the phone would be to make it a closed stringer staircase. This would mean replacing all the spindles too, but to be honest not such a bad thing considering the condition they are in (trigger happy previous owner with the nail gun)
    – James
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 10:11
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Use a contour gauge to reproduce the profile of the stair edge as shown here:

enter image description here

Or see if you can find identical trim to just build it out.

Reproduce the edge shape and extend the treads from where they end, continuing out over the spindles, then 45-degree mitered and continuing along the side of the tread to cover up the exposed board ends.

I suspect this is how it was built originally, I don’t think much if anything has been sawn off.

Look at neighbors’ homes to see how their stairs were built.

Look at, and ask your question on, Facebook Group Historic Home Renovations (and many similar groups) for further advice.

Then ... start stripping. Just keep stripping, just keep stripping.

enter image description here

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Just to round up my myriad comments into its own answer.

To me, it looks as though all the previous 'remodellers' did was to remove the decorative end-cap mouldings. They didn't damage the actual treads, though one of the lower ones has damage to the nose, likely unrelated. Fortunately, the mouldings are not structural in any real way.
This leaves the balusters to flap in the breeze a bit. Structurally, they just need tacking back into place with a couple of judiciously-placed nails [into the treads], then they're trapped in place by the new mouldings.

The original end mouldings will likely have been factory made, each as a single piece, for rapid fitting on site. An L-shaped piece, router-cut on three sides. Push into place & nail on. Note there are no visible nail holes in the baluster or stringer fronts, which adds weight to this theory. Also note that the moulding fixings are into the tread ends, not to the stringer or balusters, so they float correctly with the treads under load.

I don't know of anyone that makes that L-shape any more - though you never know. [Though I have always lived in Victorian houses, they've all just coincidentally had closed stringers.]
The modern equivalent would be to get some bullnose-type moulding & mitre cut three pieces to make up the L-shape.

enter image description here

You could also perhaps get away with this used to fix the damaged tread front. Screwed & glued properly it should stand up to the traffic.

For somewhere to start on finding the right moulding, try https://richardburbidge.com/shop/mouldings [rather than B&Q's limited selection;)

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  • Really appreciate you taking the time to put this all together. I have a chippy coming round tomorrow morning, he said on the phone he would probably just convert it to a closed stringer staircase. Your comment seems to suggest fabbing some L shaped mouldings and fixing them in place, which could be cheaper?
    – James
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 10:31
  • It might be cheaper in material cost, but more labour-intensive, cutting all the mitres… unless he knows where you can still get pre-made ones [you can always hope some retro victoriana place might do them], or job them out in his workshop.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 10:44
  • Good to know - I've done many of the jobs round the house myself (especially during lockdown), and hired in for some specialist labour for others. I've got no idea how much it would cost to reinstate the mouldings, or just convert it to a closed stringer.
    – James
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 11:07
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    Open can look more elegant & was a far more expensive construction at the time. Bear that in mind.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 11:12

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