The Basement Stairs

Five years ago I saw a bolt of carpet — a stair runner — on Craigslist for $25. Though it was 100% polyester, it had a familiar pattern with familiar colors. I thought to myself, Someday I will have a house and that house will have basement stairs. So I bought it.

Today I have the house, and I have the stairs. I thought it would be fun to carpet the the stairs during my week camping in the basement. I could work on it at night and it would be a surprise for DH on his return home.

The first thing I had to do was to cut a nubbin of steel from a lally post alongside the stairway. I’d asked Nick to cut off the edge of the post plate that stuck out dangerously. He had brought in a grinder and removed 3/4. The grinder could not reach behind the stair edge, so he’d left a piece. I thought this might be dangerous to future grandchildren.

I put a metal blade in my Sawzall. Whenever I use tools I tend to think of the person who taught me to use them; the Sawzall came from Damon years ago.

It cut through the steel easily. (Thanks, Damon!)

Eventually I will fit a piece of board to the beam end to make that area flush and remove all possibility that a small hand or foot can catch on the jagged edge. But for now I was satisfied.

I had read articles online that told me how to carpet stairs. The first step was to measure the stairs, mark the center, and nail up tack strips. Tack strips are pieces of Douglas fir studded with tiny nails.

The article said I could cut the tack strips to length with metal snips. It seemed incredible that I might cut Douglas fir with scissors, but it did work, in a clumsy fashion.

Handling the tack strips to cut and nail them was tedious, like handling small cacti. They are cheap but for some reason the rug store calculated my need so carefully that the last few steps had to be nailed up out of fragmentary left-overs. At last it was done.

Next came carpet padding. I hate cutting carpet padding. Over the years I’ve created angry purple indents in my thumb from forcing scissors through the heavy felt. A woman in the hardware store sympathized and told me that the trick was a new blade in a box cutter, and something soft underneath that you don’t mind slicing into. I own three box cutters, but two are tumbling somewhere in the garage tsunami. The only one left in the drawer did indeed need a new blade.

Since my carpet pads had to be cut to 11.5″, I found a scrap of 12″ shiplap barn siding. With a sharp new blade and the soft pine to press into, cutting the pads to cover each stair and nosing was easy. I started out using my staple hammer (thanks, Dean!) but though it was faster, it wasn’t as accurate. I soon went back to the boring old staple gun.

Now I used a combination square (thanks, Gary!) to draw lines on each edge of the tread to guide me in placing the carpet.

Then, starting at the bottom of the stairs and using my staple gun, I began stapling on the runner. Various sites had said that a staple gun loaded with 9/16″ staples would work. It did not work for me. I had rented a carpet kicker for $5 (it was quite a bit more battered than this one pictured). Every time I “kicked” the carpet tight, all the staples popped out. By 11 PM I was exhausted and had a rumpled stair runner bristling with tiny silver fangs. I gave up, removed all the staples with pliers, and went to bed.

Early yesterday morning before my first class I returned to the carpet store. Did they rent an electric stapler? No. However, looking at my tired, discouraged face, the owner softened. “Maybe I have one in the back you can use.” He did.

While I was paying the $20 rental, I asked they also rented stair tools. “Oh, no!” he exclaimed. “The men all have their personal stair tools that always ride in their trucks.” You’d think I had requested to rent their underwear. These tools, that look like heavy fat chisels, are not expensive but they are a specialty item not carried in most hardware stores. I did not want to drive an hour to the city.

I spoke to my friends Tom and Larry at lunch. Tom was sure he had a chisel that could do the trick. Larry listened and found me in my classroom fifteen minutes later. He had quickly welded for me a homemade stair tool out of steel scraps.

After work, using the electric nail gun and the homemade stair tool (I couldn’t manage the kicker, the stair tool, and the gun all at once, so the kicker was gradually left behind) I laid the carpet.

It’s not perfect. I’ll definitely hire professionals for the real stairs. My runner wanders 1/4″ from side to side and the risers have a few wrinkles over the tack strips. However, it’s DONE. Another chore crossed off!

The basement is still a half-unpacked hodgepodge (the floor rug in the background  isn’t actually going to go there) but with the new carpet runner on the stairs, I feel we’re moving towards civilization.

4 Responses to The Basement Stairs

  1. Jack Merritt says:

    Your stairs look really nice. When I see your work I often wonder if I could do as well.

  2. Ned says:

    Looks good. Now that you have practiced on the basement and have the tool, you can save some money and do the rest.

  3. Missy says:

    I think that looks pretty great! The photos certainly don’t show any flaws! Well done.

  4. Jane Welker says:

    Omg! What a great job! You’re hired! I have a staircase waiting for you! haha 🙂 Maybe I’ll just have to reread your post carefully or probably hire someone else!

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