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From a basic staircase repair to a more advanced project — such as building your own — this section will help you determine the tools and expertise level needed so you can decide whether to hire a pro or tackle the project yourself.

Basic Repairs

These repairs are good do-it-yourself projects for anyone comfortable using a hammer and drill.

  • Fixing a loose baluster: Loose or wobbly balusters are safety hazards. Fortunately, they can often be fixed in just a few minutes, with a glue-covered wedge or by drilling into the top or bottom at an angle and securing it with a screw.
  • Fixing a squeaky step: If you can get underneath your stairs, a block of wood with some glue and nails will fix the squeak. You can also use a shim, a small wedge of wood that is narrower at its tip than at its base, to fill the gap. Gently slide the shim between the tread and the stringer until it's tight. If you can't get underneath the stairs, you can nail or wedge the treads tight from the top.
  • Replacing a baluster: Replacing wooden balusters is a great, simple way to update the look of your balustrade without too much effort. In fact, replacing them with iron balusters is a popular do-it-yourself project. You'll need a reciprocating saw to cut the old baluster in two, and a pipe wrench to twist it out (if it's doweled).
  • Installing a stair runner: Installing a runner is a great way to add color and texture to your stairs. You'll need tackless strips, carpet pad, carpet glue, staple gun, knee kicker, carpet tool (to set the carpet into the tackless strips and to drive the carpet into the gullies) and a rubber mallet.

Intermediate Projects

These projects take more time and skill.

  • Replacing a tread: With a saw and a chisel, you can cut a tread and pull it up in several pieces. Just be careful when removing it not to damage the stringer or skirt board. Installing a new tread can be a little more difficult if your staircase is closed instead of open. Do some research before starting out.
  • Replacing a handrail: Getting the angles right on a handrail is often the most difficult part, but because of the fittings involved, a handrail is easier to install or replace in a post-to-post system — where the rail is affixed directly to the newels — than in an over-the-post system.
  • Installing a new outdoor staircase: A deck staircase shorter than 30" is a great first do-it-yourself staircase project, since it doesn't have the same building code requirements, and you don't have to worry about matching your interior decor.

For Experts

Installing a new indoor staircase takes patience, skill and some basic math. You'll need a variety of tools, including saws, clamps, a framing square, a chisel, safety goggles, and, for closed stringers, a router. Depending on the type of staircase and your level of expertise, consider hiring a pro.

Know Your Building Codes

Building codes — standards enforced by local government, and designed to ensure safety — are very specific about staircases. There are rules governing virtually every aspect of your staircase, including the rise, run and width of your steps.

The 2006 International Residential Code has been adopted by most states. But many local jurisdictions amend the IRC, so make sure you familiarize yourself with the Code in your area before you start working.

Here are some sample rules from the 2006 International Residential Code:

  • Stairways must be a minimum of 36" wide
  • Treads must have a minimum run of 10"
  • Steps must have a maximum rise of 7 3/4"
  • For staircases more than 30" tall, the handrail must be between 34" and 38" from the step
  • Balusters must be placed so that a sphere of 4" can't fit between them

Common Tools

Some repairs don't require more than a hammer and some nails, but for others you'll need a better-stocked workbench.

  • Safety goggles: Flying debris can damage your eyes. Protect them when sawing, routing, drilling and even hammering.
  • Chisel: A pairing chisel (pushed by hand) and a bench chisel (hit with a hammer) should cover all your needs.
  • Clamps: You'll use clamps for everything from sawing out dovetails in treads (for dovetailed balusters) to mortising your stringers.
  • Framing square: A framing square will be invaluable when you're making the stringers.
  • Router: You'll need a router and the right-sized bits if you're building a closed stringer.