- MDF (medium-density fiberboard)
- Solid hardwood
So which one is best? Should you use MDF or hardwood? How do you install a stair skirt? Is it even necessary? Keep reading for answers to all of these questions and more.
Which One Is Best?
Both MDF and solid hardwood have positive attributes. Either can be an acceptable choice for stair skirting. Each one suits certain styles and decor. Read more to decide which one is right for you.
MDF is a man-made material. It is smooth and flat. It has no wood grain or knots, and as a result, it lacks the natural character of hardwood. For this reason, it works best for simplistic or minimalistic decor.
MDF can't always be sanded or re-finished the way that hardwood can. This means that if any damage occurs, you might have to replace the whole thing. Replacing stair skirt boards is not an easy project, so if these stairs are going to be used heavily, you may just want to stick with repairable hardwood.
On the other hand, MDF is a cheaper, more affordable option upfront. For basic stairs that aren't taking a lot of abuse, there's nothing to say that MDF won't meet your needs, at a lower price.
Hardwood is more expensive to install than MDF. However, it also lasts for a long time with proper care and maintenance. You won't have replacement costs to factor in.
Wood is also easier to match (both in type and in style) to trim and other features already in the home. For example, if your stairs already use cherry hardwood, then cherry wood for the stair skirt is an obvious choice. Or, perhaps you'd like it stylized to match the trim of your baseboard. These are both more attainable with wood than MDF.
Wood is a more natural option. This applies both to the look of wood, and air quality - wood doesn't release the same chemicals (formaldehyde) that MDF does. If you're squeamish about the idea of breathing in chemicals while working, stick to hardwood. Wood is also easier to install than MDF. MDF doesn't hold screws or nails as well and tends to loosen in time.
Is A Stair Skirt Necessary?
A stair skirt is not necessary, though it does serve a few purposes. It's worth stopping to look at why you might need a stair skirt, and then you'll know for sure if you don't actually need one at all. Below are the two questions to ask yourself before you decide if you need a stair skirt.
Keep in mind that, if you want the appearance of trim on the stairs, the only option is to use a stair skirt or individually size and cut trim for every single step (both run and rise).
Stair skirts create a higher-end, polished look for stairs. Is your house design more casual or minimal? Perhaps a stair skirt isn't right for you. If the stairs are going to an unfinished basement, it may be overkill. On the other hand, a home with extensive and fancy molding and trim will seem a bit out of place if they skimp on the stair skirt.
Stair Use And Traffic
Is this a high-traffic area? Like other kinds of trim, stair skirts are protecting your wall from dents and dings. If you expect kicks and scuffs, a stair skirt may be worth the time. It's easier to paint over a mark on the stair skirt than it is to patch a hole in the drywall.
How Thick Should A Stair Skirt Be?
The thickness of a stair skirt really is not based on any functional need. It's an aesthetic choice. It doesn't affect the function or stability of the stairs. If your stairs are already built, there might be a gap left alongside the wall, for installing the stair skirt. In this case, you just need to make sure that the board you use fits into the gap. If, however, you are mitering the stair skirt yourself (or building the stairs from scratch), you can select whatever thickness you prefer, from 1/4 inch to two inches.
On a related note, check out How Thick Should Stair Treads Be?
How Do You Install Stair Skirting Boards?
The easiest way to install stair skirting is to do so before the stairs are finished. If you still have yet to install the tread or if the stairs are built with a spacer, you can simply put the stair skirting boards into the gap next to the wall. It rests on the stringer. Use a miter saw to trim the ends at a 45-degree angle.
Follow along with this Youtube tutorial for a visual guide:
If you're stuck having to install a stair skirt on existing stairs, it is, unfortunately, a more difficult job. At this point, you really need to have some pretty decent carpentry skills to pull it off. You'll be using a miter saw extensively and precisely. This video demonstrates the process, though it's not for everyone:
How Do You Remove Stair Skirting?
If you aren't sure that your stair skirting boards complement your current decor, you might be thinking about removing them. If you're trying to remove the stair skirting for aesthetic reasons, just be aware that you might be opening a can of worms.
Nowadays, it's rare to have significant gaps between the stair tread and the wall. The tiny gap that does occur can simply be covered with caulk. However, back when tools were less precise than their modern counterparts, the stair skirt was providing a service - covering that ever-present gap. If you remove it, you may find a hole that no caulk will ever fill.
It's also very possible that, once you remove the stair skirting, you'll find that your drywall needs replacement. Most stair skirting boards screw or nail right into the drywall. There's little chance that you can remove the boards without damaging at least some of the drywall. If at all possible, it would be better to repair your skirting with wood putty and paint, rather than try to remove the whole thing.
However, if you must remove the stair skirt (or are determined to, no matter the cost), chances are that the first thing you need to remove is the stair treads. The process of removing the skirting varies a bit, depending on how the stair skirt was installed in the first place. But it's most likely that you can't access the skirting board until the tread is out of the way. Once that is done, you can reach the nails holding the stair skirt in place. You can carefully and gently pull it out by removing nails at each step.
Stair skirts are typically made out of MDF or hardwood. While MDF is the more affordable option, it is not as easy to repair as hardwood. Hardwood is a bit more expensive but offers a range of styles and options that complement any decor.
Stair skirts are not always necessary. However, they do offer a more finished look for stairs and create a higher-end appearance. In the end, stair skirts are an aesthetic feature, and any way that you choose to include them (or not) in your home is a personal choice.
For more guidance on stairs, check out these articles: