How to Install a Stair Runner

By Joseph Truini of This Old House Magazine

Posted by Action Plus Home Inspections

Use a stock runner (or two) to add a splash of color and cushiony comfort to bare wood stairs

how to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

If you have plain old stairs, a runner can make a statement and soften your footsteps. Runners made of woven cotton are affordable and easy to work with, and they range in style from beachy to baroque; here, we chose heathered stripes to complement a cottage-style interior.

Runner: Blue Heron Stripe Woven Cotton Rug by Dash & Albert, 30 inches by 12 feet, about $$124

Overview for How-to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Tools List

  • 100-foot tape measure  combination square  chalk line
    Tape measure                  Combination square         Chalk line
  • carpet scissors  straightedge guide  black marker
    Scissors                           3-foot straightedge           Felt-tip marker
  • staple gun  flat prybar  pneumatic staple gun
    Staple gun                        Thin pry bar                     Narrow-crown pneumatic stapler
  •                                                                                  and air compressor
  • bolster chisel
    Bolster chisel

Shopping Lists:

Felt carpet padding to cushion the runner

Flat-weave cotton runner(s)

Double-sided carpet tape to adhere the top end of the runner⅝-inch staples for the staple gun to secure the padding

1-inch 18-gauge narrow-crown staples for the pneumatic stapler, to secure the runner

28-inch-wide felt carpet padding: one at 18 linear feet

30-inch-wide flat-weave cotton runner: two at 12 feet to cover 22 linear feet (14 stairs)

Determine the Layout to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Measure the steps. Measure the riser height and the tread depth of one step. Multiply the riser height by the number of risers and the tread depth by the number of treads. Add those results together and tack on an extra 6 inches for waste to find the total length of one runner. If you need more than one, add another 12 inches for each splice, the seam where two runners meet.

Size the Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Measure and mark the centerline of the stairs on the narrowest tread, and line up the middle of the runner with the mark. (Conveniently, our runner has a stripe down the middle.) Use a tape measure to make sure the reveal on each side is even, then mark the tread at each edge of the runner, in pencil. Use a combination square to replicate the edge marks on each tread.

Cut the Padding to Width to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Slip a piece of felt carpet padding under the runner, inset from the edge to form a smooth transition to the tread, as shown. Measure the difference, and calculate how wide to cut the padding. Unroll the padding, use a chalk line to snap a cutline along its length, and cut along the line. Then, using a straightedge, cut it into sections 4 inches deeper than the tread, one for each step.

Taper the Sections to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Lay a section on a tread, its back edge a fingertip away from the riser, and wrap the front over the nosing. Mark the edges where they meet the riser, then draw lines at approximately 45 degrees to the front edge. Snip off the corners, as shown. Use this section as a template to trace and trim the pads for the remaining steps.

Staple the Padding to the Steps to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Center a section of padding on the bottom tread, leaving a small gap at the riser. Use a staple gun to secure it. Drive in five staples, working out in both directions from the middle of the back edge. Smooth out the padding and staple it five times along the front, about 1 inch back from the nosing. Gently smooth it over the nosing, being careful not to stretch and pucker it, and staple it to the riser, as shown.

Tip: Start installing the padding at the bottom step. That way, you’ll have a built-in cushion to kneel on as you work your way up the staircase.

Tape the Runner to the Top Riser to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Remove any interfering molding and apply strips of double-sided carpet tape on the top riser. Press the finished end of the runner directly under the nosing and tack it to the riser with a pneumatic stapler. Start in the middle and work out in both directions, stapling every 4 inches. Put two staples down each side, too. Press the runner firmly onto the tape.

Tuck and Staple to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Use a bolster chisel to tuck the runner into the gap behind the padding, as shown. Line up the runner’s edges with the pencil marks, and drive five 1-inch staples into the tuck. Smooth the runner over the nosing of the next step, tuck it into the gap, and staple it. Don’t overstretch the runner or you may distort its pattern. Continue until you hit the end of either the runner or the stairs. If one runner covers your staircase, skip to Step 11.

Trim the First Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

As you near the end of the runner, spread it over the last tread it covers and tuck it in at the base of the riser with the bolster chisel. Mark the runner 2 inches beyond the tuck and trim it to length. Fold under the cut end, leaving about 1 inch of runner protruding from the joint, and hold it in place with the bolster chisel, as shown.

Secure the First Runner's End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Secure the fold to the tread with the pneumatic stapler, as shown, working from the middle out.

Mate the Second Runner to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Set the factory-finished edge of the second runner over the end of the first runner, as shown. There’s no need to tuck it into the corner, but do be sure that the stripes on the two runners line up perfectly. Using the pneumatic stapler, drive staples straight down through the hemmed ends of both runners and into the tread. Continue to gently pull, tuck, and staple the second runner until you reach the bottom step.

Trim the Bottom End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Use the bolster chisel to crease the runner along the base of the bottom step. Measure out 3 inches and use a felt-tip marker and a straightedge to mark the runner. Cut it to length.

Tuck and Staple the End to Install a Flat-Weave Cotton Stair Runner

Fold under the end of the runner to create a hem. Pull it taut and staple it along the bottom edge of the riser, as shown. If the base of the riser is trimmed with molding, as ours was, tack the runner right along its top edge. When the runner eventually wears out, you can easily take it up and do it over again.


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