Custom Stair Runner Installation: Top 7 Pro Tips

By: Russell Webb

Let’s do a deep dive into learning the best approach to fabricating a staircase installation. There are a few factors that I look at before I get involved in any stair runner installation.

Now, add the complexity of a custom fabricated stair installation and I have an even bigger challenge.

Are you up for it?

Follow these seven tips for a smooth & fearless custom stair runner install with an outside border design.

First, a hypothetical:

I’m predicting you have designed & bid on the project. Your client loved your design & can’t wait to have it installed.

You are also getting paid very well for this installation because you’re one of the few highly trained custom rug makers in your area.

Tip #1

Team up with a qualified carpet installer.

Most custom stair runner staircase projects will be brokered through a carpet dealer.

There will likely be a full carpet install & the staircase is just one part of the entire project.

Sit down with the carpet dealer and installer and iron out the strategy for the installation. You will be the lead director of the project. The installer is the mechanic. Start this process with some basic questions.

A) What type of staircase is this? Box stairs, side wrap, spiral, bullnose, or is it a custom staircase?

B) Can you do the installation as a waterfall, where you are installing 3-5 steps in one run? Your template will reflect your decision.

The other option is to do each stair step one at a time. See more below.

C) When installing a custom runner on a spiral staircase, your design may need precision placement. Let’s say you have a rose on each side that falls exactly on the tread/step. You’ll want to install each step separately. Do this as your default if you have any doubts. You’ll have better control this way.

Tip #2

Make an exact template for each step. Ideally, you would use the existing stair carpet & trace directly onto the new piece of carpet. Remember to have face fibers down on your work table – working from the back, so when you flip it over, it looks and installs perfect.

Note: Most custom broadloom rugs are produced from the back, in reverse, and when flipped over, are correctly positioned. This will make sense when you are in training. See images.

Of course, this implies that your client has approved of your strategy. And has allowed you to use their existing staircase carpet.

This could be a sensitive arrangement with your client. I have done this before. I replaced the old carpet (to be used as a template) with a temporary carpet used on the treads. It’s easy to do and will alleviate the pressures of a super-fast turnaround with your new install.

The other method is to use heavy brown paper. You can buy a roll from your local home improvement store – you’ll find it in the paint section.

Now you can create stair runner templates for your installation using heavy paper and a roll of tape. Piece sections together as needed.

Either method you choose, you’ll need to MARK EACH STEP – the first step is #1, the next step is #2 & so on. Mark this on your drawing as well.

Tip #3

Prefabricate the whole staircase in your work room ahead of your installation. Do as much carving & beveling as you can before installation. It will be difficult carving a staircase runner carpet on-site.

Tip #4

Give yourself at least an extra 1 inch of carpet around the perimeter of each side.

This will give you a little breathing room in lining up your step during the installation. The excess carpet will be trimmed during the installation.

If your edges require edge binding, then make sure your fit is perfect before you install the stairs. You may want to do your edges on-site.

Tip #5

Be there for the installation as the lead director.

Have your tools available. Be prepared for any last-minute additions or adjustments.

Have extra carpet on hand.

Tip #6

Avoid placing design elements on the pivot point of the tread & riser. Horizontal seams can open & ‘grin.’

Instead, center your designs on the tread & the riser.

Random designs are acceptable. You will want to be aware of where they land during the installation.

Tip #7

Consider using decorative stair rods. You don’t have to use it on each step. Your decision will depend on your design.

BONUS TIP: If necessary, you can double up your tackless strip on the treads.

Double strips can help anchor the carpet if you are working on a grand staircase. Or you may have a stubborn piece of material to work with (too stiff or cold or thin).

Yes, some stair runner projects are easier to install than others.

Ultimately you are in the driver’s seat during the design phase.

Plan during the design phase. Have a strategy in place so you can avoid unnecessary surprises.

Let's Recap into a 7 Point Summary:

The Top 7 Pro Tips for a Custom Stair Runner Installation

  1. Work with the best installation crew that you can find. You want the A crew. Pay them well.
  2. Create templates for each step and number sequentially.
  3. Prefabricate your stairs before installation, do as much work off-site as you are able.
  4. Give yourself extra material to trim on-site, an extra 1-2″ is enough. Finish your edges ahead of time if necessary.
  5. Be the lead on the installation. Have your tools ready for any last-minute adjustments during the installation. Include your edge binding gear.
  6. Plan your design with ease of installation in mind. Avoid any horizontal seams on the tread and riser pivot points.
  7.  Use stair rods if the design calls for it. Usually for more traditional designs.

Bonus Tip – Add more tack strips on treads by doubling up the strips for extra grip, if necessary.

In conclusion. If you focus on creating a high-end quality product, then your client will be impressed with their new custom stair runner.

Custom staircase runners can absolutely have the WOW effect on customers.

Learn more about custom rug making in our advice and tips section.

Russell Webb

Russell has been designing & fabricating premium custom rugs since 1991. He has helped 100’s of companies, gov agencies, & private clients with their custom rug needs. And he is absolutely convinced this is the best creative home based business opportunity you will find online. Learn more about Mastercraft on our about page.  


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