Best way to make cherry steps (treads)?

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Forum topic by jtm posted 12-02-2013 07:52 PM 1580 views 0 times favorited 16 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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217 posts in 1055 days

12-02-2013 07:52 PM

Hi all,

I just joined the forum, and am looking forward to being an active part of this community.

I’m a relatively inexperienced woodworker, but I wouldn’t call myself a novice. I’ve done a lot of renovating in my house, and have a full workshop of decent tools. Most of my experience was with more carpentry-based tools (table saw, miter saw, etc…), but it made sense to me to buy the more specific woodworking tools to complete my shop – so I did.

My parents just completely renovated their kitchen, and my mother has her heart set on a cherry staircase. A brief google search made it very apparent that cherry treads are obscenely expensive ($100+, whereas oak are $25, and pine are $10). Rather than have her spend $1300 on treads, I jumped at the chance to make them for her.

I have a lumber supplier about 20 minutes away from me. I just picked up a lot of 6/4 rough cut cherry in various widths (this guy has awesome prices). I paid $2.75/BF for relatively defect-free boards.

My question is whether or not to glue these up. I probably have enough wide boards to make solid individual steps, but I assume a glued up tread is more stable and is the better option? Matching grain and glue lines are a non-issue for my parents.

If I do a glue up, is simple edge glued joinery sufficient? Or do I need T&G? Or even pocket screws? There are left, right, and center stringers if that makes any difference.

Thanks in advance,

16 replies so far

View pintodeluxe's profile


4824 posts in 2232 days

#1 posted 12-02-2013 08:27 PM

Simple edge glued joints are fine. Just make sure you find some good stock. The last batch of cherry I purchased was so warped, I could only use 150 b.f. of the 300 b.f. I bought.

Good luck!

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Glen Peterson's profile

Glen Peterson

555 posts in 2475 days

#2 posted 12-03-2013 03:22 AM

Edge joints are fine. Take your time to match the grain as best you can. I’ve been told many times that the glue joints are actually stronger than the wood. The 6/4 thickness will provide a great gluing surface. I started with lots of home renovations too, but changed to furniture when I got sick of leaving built-ins and cabinets in former homes.
Good luck. Your Mom’s a lucky woman

-- Glen

View mantwi's profile


312 posts in 1315 days

#3 posted 12-03-2013 09:11 PM

I like to make treads out of a plywood made from the preferred species then apply cherry bullnose nosing to the exposed edges. These can be made with a table saw, router , bullnose bit and some clamps. You can use tongue and grove or a biscuit jointer to attach the nosing without fasteners. The plywood is much cheaper, has greater dimensional stability and looks just as nice as a laminated solid wood tread. Additionally almost every stair supplier sell the same tread I have just described so it’s not cutting corners or a reduction in quality, it’s simply more efficient. Google L. J. Smith and look at their product line you’ll see what I’m talking about. It will save you a lot of money and time both of which are a major concern when Mother is involved. Don’t ask me how I know that.

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324 posts in 1416 days

#4 posted 12-03-2013 10:01 PM

If you have enough planks that are wide enough I would go that rout. Just be sure they are dry before you use them. As others have said a plain glue joint is all you need as long as the pieces are properly jointed. I have glued up treads for around a dozen stair cases without a problem. I have the fine woodworking stair building book if you can find a copy it has some excellent information and ideas.

-- A tube of calk and a gallon of paint will make a carpenter what he ain't

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1055 days

#5 posted 12-04-2013 01:41 AM


I considered veneering some plywood, but my mother specifically wants “real” cherry stairs. Plus, I already have more than enough cherry. In fact, I wish I had a bandsaw that could resaw 14” planks, because as it is now, I’m going to be making a TON of expensive cherry sawdust with my planer.


I have wide enough planks that I could make solid one-piece treads (albeit with a few knots/sapwood here and there). But I always thought gluing up the treads would be more stable.

View Tony_S's profile


597 posts in 2502 days

#6 posted 12-04-2013 02:59 AM

Gluing up the treads is more stable(providing you alternate growth rings properly), without a doubt.
I would never take a chance on a one piece tread myself.
The decision isn’t only based on how dry the lumber is, but what kind of humidity changes you might experience throughout the year. We get some pretty good swings here in my neck of the woods. I can’t get away with it for the most part.

As for Veneered treads….it wouldn’t even be a consideration in my shop, or any other stair company Ive ever dealt with, and yes, Ive built a stair or two…or three…or a thousand?

-- It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. Aristotle

View DeltaDaddy's profile


52 posts in 1072 days

#7 posted 12-04-2013 03:17 AM

I edge glued 4/4 together with biscuts, milled it down to 3/4 and glued a 3/4×1” piece on the bottom front edge making it look like 1 1/2” thick. that also allowed me to glue and screw 3/4 ply down to the stringers keeping it flush with the front of the stringer notches. then I ran the riser up covering the front edge of ply and it gave a place to nail or screw the risers behind where the 3/4×1” lip on the tread covers. I was able to access under the stairs so I screwed through the ply into the riser at the bottom. I also screwed the treads from the bottom so when they get scratched from pets/kids/shoes and altogether worn, a few screws some sandpaper and a couple new coats of pre catalyzed lacquer and they’re new again. good luck with your project and tell your mom to keep the dusting supplies or small vac close by. (the only draw back in my eyes is the dust and pet hair the stairs seems to collect) but they just look so beautiful out of solid wood.

-- Take it apart to see how it works

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1055 days

#8 posted 12-04-2013 03:44 AM


The lumber is 10 -12% right now. However, up in the Northeast, we can have extremely dry days, followed by a week of 100% humidity.


I plan on ripping the 6/4 boards into 4” strips, and then edge gluing them to make a 12” tread. I can then plane it down to the exact thickness (1”), and then rout the bullnose on the front (I specifically purchased a Freud 1/2” roundover bit for this purpose).

When they’re finished, I’m giving them to my Dad to install them at their house. I forgot to mention earlier that he is the ultimate handyman/woodworker, but he’s more than willing to let me do this project for him. It works out for me too, since he offered to buy me the Jet air purifier and a dust collector system in exchange for my services. Oh, and two huge slabs of 10/4 cherry and 8/4 maple.

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1055 days

#9 posted 12-04-2013 03:49 AM

Also, here is a picture of a long grain cutting board that I whipped up for a friend last week. I feel like these stair treads aren’t all that different. In fact, maybe a little easier.

View DeltaDaddy's profile


52 posts in 1072 days

#10 posted 12-04-2013 03:55 AM

I’d say you’re well on your way. Its amazing how much they charge for treads when it is so easy to make them. Nice board, I’m making one that is very similar but the colors are reversed

-- Take it apart to see how it works

View mantwi's profile


312 posts in 1315 days

#11 posted 12-04-2013 03:56 AM

Tony S does some beautiful work, check out his home page and his rant. Very nice indeed. I have worked in some upscale houses over the years myself but the bulk of my time was spent doing jobs for working stiffs like me. In those situations cost is a major limiting factor and the veneered treads are a good place to cut expenses. While it may be true that in Canada only solid wood treads are used many fine stair parts suppliers in the southeast where I am from offer the cheaper treads as well as their solid wood counterparts and I see it as a good option for those who want the look. They are generally comprised of a 1” thick laminated poplar core with 1/8” veneer on each side and solid nosing and there is no sacrifice in strength and little in appearance. It is a viable and cost effective option for those who don’t have the wherewithal for top flight custom work. Just saying.

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1055 days

#12 posted 12-04-2013 04:20 AM


If I had to pay $12+/BF for the cherry, I might have gone the veneer route.

However, I got all the cherry I needed for a little over $200. It would have cost almost $1000 at Rockler (and they only usually have one or two 6/4 or larger boards).

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


930 posts in 1774 days

#13 posted 12-04-2013 08:04 AM

I have not seen it mentioned so I will….

In flooring, stair treads and so on it is important to put the crown of the grain to the top. The cup to the bottom. This is to help prevent the floor boards (in this case treads) from bowing out of shape.

Edge joining is fine, but use a strong glue like titebond 3. It really is a simple process to make stair treads.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

View NoLongerHere's profile


893 posts in 2095 days

#14 posted 12-04-2013 01:26 PM

My question is: is this an existing staircase? Are you removing old 2x carpeted steps and installing 4/4 Cherry treads? What do the mop boards and risers look like? Do you have access to the back of the stairs?

Why cherry? Do you have oak floors? You do know that cherry is very soft for stair treads. You will need to watch for blotching of the stain too. maybe pre condition the treads. They don’t look good next to oak – imo.

This is not an easy job. It will be expensive and very time consuming. Not exactly a novice project but certainly doable if you have a good plan, the right tools and know what you are getting in to.

The other thing – once you start, there is no way to get upstairs so you have to have as much done and ready as possible. Pre prime and paint the risers, Stain and first coat the treads. Do any wall repairs and paint above before you install new stairs.

The biggest problem is fitting the treads to the mop boards and attaching the risers with screws from behind. You may have to remove the drywall.

Is there a dado in the mop board – is this a premade stair case? That is the only way to hide the butt joint well. If you can’t hide this joint in a dado, I would suggest you make a stair tread jig that will expand and fit exactly so you won’t waist a tread by cutting it an 1/8th too short.

The risers and mop board could be made of poplar and painted white, like your base trim – I assume.

If possible, get a quote from a stair guy and maybe he will give you some direction or point things out you are not aware of. Don’t feel bad if you come to the conclusion that this is a bigger job than you realized. Making the treads is the easy part. If a stair guy did the install, you still could do all the finish work which is a lot of work.

Welcome to LJs! the best place to come for more advice than you know what to do with. Be sure to follow up and post some pictures so we can see how it turns out. best of luck!

View jtm's profile


217 posts in 1055 days

#15 posted 12-04-2013 05:42 PM

Good points.

But I’m no stranger to home renovation projects.
I’d have no trouble installing these if I were doing them. But may dad is, so I don’t have to even worry about it.

The reason for cherry is that the staircase ends in the kitchen that my dad just renovated with all cherry cabinets. I told her we could use hard maple and get it to match, but her heart is set on real cherry steps.

Oak is completely out of the question. The other staircase in the house is oak (dad made that one), and she does not want the look of oak in this kitchen (not just the color, but the grain).

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