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Make That Squeaky Stair Shut Up For Good

By Brett Freeman
Make That Squeaky Stair Shut Up For Good

A squeaky stair can be annoying. It starts to squeak for one reason and one reason only: it has worked its way loose. The noise can be caused by the sound of wood rubbing on wood, or it could be from a nail that is coming loose, causing it to shriek with every step. Whatever the case, silencing the stair is simply a matter of identifying where the rub occurs and tightening things back up.

Anatomy of a Staircase

Your staircase is made of three parts. There are the stringers, the notched boards that make up the frame of the staircase. There are the risers, which are the boards that attach to the stringer and form the front of each stair. And there are the treads, the boards that, fittingly enough, you step on as you go up or down the stairs. The treads are attached to the stringers and to the top of each riser.

Listen and Learn

Get down close to the level of your squeaky stair and listen while someone steps on it. If your stairs are carpeted or have a runner, you need to pull the carpet or rug up. Try and determine exactly where the rub is occurring by putting your hand flat on the tread or the riser, which can help you detect exactly where the vibration is. If the problem is at the front edge of the stair, the tread may be coming loose from the riser. If you hear the noise toward the middle, back, or sides of the tread--and this is more likely--then the tread or riser is coming loose from the stringer.

Hammer at an Angle

A tread that is coming loose from its riser is the easiest problem to fix because both parts are visible, and you can generally pinpoint where the rub occurs. Drill a nail starter hole an inch or two to the right of this spot, angling it towards the rub. The starter hole serves as a guide for a 10-penny finish nail. You want the nail to go through the tread and enter the riser at a 45-degree angle. Have someone stand on the front of the tread near where you plan to hammer the nail. They should put a foot on either side of where you're hammering, if possible while you hammer the nail in. Now do the same thing an inch or two to the other side of the rub, angling it in the opposite direction. This should stop the squeaking.

The fix is basically the same if you need to tighten the tread to the stringer; it's just a little more difficult because you can't see the stringer. There should be one stringer at either side of the staircase and a third one in the middle. You should be able to locate exactly where they are by looking for the original nails or screws that fasten the tread to the stringer. Drill a couple of starter holes in the tread directly above the stringer closest to where the squeak is. The starter holes should angle towards each other at 45 degrees. Have someone stand on the stair as close to where you are hammering as possible, or with one foot on either side if you are reattaching the tread to the center stringer. Use 10-penny finishing nails to tighten the tread to the stringer. You may have to tighten the tread to more than one of the stringers to stop the squeaking.

When the stair has been tightened to the point where the squeaking has stopped, use wood putty to cover the nail holes, and enjoy the sounds of silence.

Source: This Old House

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