Re-Facing a Stair Stringer

A woodworker needs to apply a veneered face to an existing stair stringer. Here's the advice he receives on scribing and fitting. October 27, 2008

I have a staircase with spruce stingers. The treads are to be carpeted. I am wanting to cut and fit 1/4" veneered plywood on the inside face of the stringers and install solid wood moldings to cover the top edge of the stringer. I am looking for suggestions as to the easiest way to cut a template to match the side profile of the stairs so I can cut the 1/4". The stairs have a bullnose tread design and as such I must fit the 1/4" around each tread.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor H:
Take a square and handsaw, mark and then cut a 1/4 " of the nosing off. Slip your 1/4 " in behind the nosing. The rest is just using a square and marking out each tread and riser. Do not just measure one and mark them all. They are in theory the same but in reality they are not. Carpet and padding give you some room for minor error so don't be anal about it. Its not rocket science.

From contributor S:
I template the same way most countertop companies do. First I rip strips of 1/4" door skin to 2-3" wide, then I take those along with a utility knife, a Japanese saw, square, measuring tape, blue tape and hot glue gun to the site. In your case you could pre-cut the door skin pieces to rough length (helps if you put 45s on the ends) then just press the pieces tight to the stringer and glue the pieces together. Work your way up the staircase, coping all the necessary pieces as you go. Once your done you have an exact template that can be transferred to your sheet goods. This isn't rocket science either but i think it's easier than laying out each cut by hand (and more accurate).

From contributor J:
Contributor H is dead on right. Same principal as when you lay a new floor. You could spend (translated "waste") all of your time trying to transfer your angles to a template, only to be disappointed. Flooring installers use a jamb saw to cut back jambs and then slide the new flooring under the jambs.

Measure the thickness of your veneer. Not all 1/4" material is 1/4" thick. Take a scrap piece and press tight against the skirt board. Scribe a mark to the tread and riser and take your saw and cut it back. As Contributor H said, make your cuts and then slide the new material into place. Its much quicker and definitely a cleaner look. On a side note, I only use templates when fitting new material into place. When scabbing a new piece to an existing one, I look for ways to cut as few angles as possible.

From contributor N:
If the treads are easily removable take them off and run full rips of veneer and notch them with a flush bit. If not, definitely notch your treads as Contributor H suggested (you'll spend all day trying to cope all the bull-nosed ends). I'll usually quickly measure the seat cuts in the stringers and use the longest one as the number to set my stair gauges. Then when you slide your veneer in place just trace the plum cuts of the stringer onto the veneer, slide it back out and cut the lines. The difference in tread lengths will be covered by carpet and pad.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
You could also cut the veneers to 9 1/4" strips and then take them to your local stair provider to be routed. Make sure you supply them with the rise, run, tread thickness, and that the nose is indeed 1" from the riser.