Monthly Archives: March 2018

The New Stairwell, At Last

It took us one extra weekend from what we planned, but I’m glad to say the stairwell is officially done! We technically started this project in August of 2015, when we opened up our stairwell. To bring our stairs up to code, we needed to put in a small stretch of banister in this area…but then I wanted it to match with what was upstairs, and then I realized we didn’t like the banister upstairs, and then we decided we’d just replace all of the banisters/balusters, and, in conclusion, it took us 2.5 years to figure it out.

Last year, I realized I wanted to make our own balusters because we didn’t like the ones the store offered, and they were expensive and we’d need about 26 of them to do upstairs and downstairs. I saw an episode of Fixer Upper, and she used simple square, white balusters with the dark stained wood I wanted for the banister. Perfect!

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So, we got some raw lumber and Nik cut all the balusters then we primed and painted each of them:

 

We also bought the banisters, raw red oak, and sanded and stained them to match our floors:

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Finally, last weekend we began demo of our old banisters:

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We popped off the railing pretty easily, but we found the balusters were screwed into the base piece, which we were not expecting:

 

This derailed our plans to use this base board to add dowel holes to for the new balusters, since the screws couldn’t be fully removed without removing the board, and they were in the way. We didn’t want to remove the board because then we’d have to remove the newel post at the end (which we were planning to simply paint and keep in place). We brainstormed, and decided to simply add a second board on top. Not my favorite idea, but once it’s painted white it all blends together and it saved us a substantial amount of work.

So, we got all the rest of the balusters unscrewed and clipped off the metal screws:

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Then we painted the new board white, and Nik drilled 3/8″ holes into it at the right spacing (figuring out the math for the spacing was hands down the most time consuming part of this project! The gaps, and the width of the balusters, and accounting for baseboards, etc…it was trickier than it seemed!). He also drilled 3/8″ holes into the bottom of our balusters:

 

Then we used wood glue and 3/8″ dowels and put them in place:

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Our plan was to then put on the banister (with the baluster tops fitting into the plowed bottom and then cutting the little filets to go into the gap between each baluster), but after trying to fit in 19 of the balusters simultaneously into that plowed railing, we quickly realized it was not to be. So we gave up and decided we would just attach the filet as one long piece, put 3 nails at the top of each baluster to prevent twisting, and move on with our lives. When we removed the old banister, this was also how the people who built our house did it. We judged their method at first and scoffed at what bad contractors they were, but we ended up doing the same thing! And you know what? It’s still super sturdy.

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Then we popped the banister on and nailed up into it through the filet. This weekend we did some patching and painting to cover the screw holes and sealed the wood banister, and now it’s done!  IMG_0281

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You can see in those picture we also got the simple railing going up the stairway wall mounted. This one was pretty easy, with just a couple mitered corner cuts needed to finish it up:

 

And finally, we tackled the downstairs portion. We put this off because, well, everything is more complicated with angles!

Here’s the gap we’re filling:

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We used a similar strategy, with holes drilled into that board and into the bottom of the balusters that had been cut at a 41 degree angle. The balusters went in first, followed by the filet, and finally the banister:

 

I’m really happy with how it turned out, and it feels so good to have this major project behind us. Before I show the ‘after pictures’, here’s a little timeline of the evolution of this stairwell.

August 2015:

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September 2015:

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April 2016:

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April 2017:

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March 2018, and Gunnar approves:

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And, upstairs as well:

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The total cost of this project was really only a few pieces of raw lumber for the banisters (~$20), paint ($15), and the 3 pieces of banister ($155) and the extra base piece for upstairs ($12), so about $200.  Now, on to the next project!

 

2.5 Years Coming

With the master bath just about wrapped up, we finally got buckled down to work more on the banister install last weekend. I mentioned that I made progress giving our balusters 2 coats of white paint, so that’s done:

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And yes, that is Gunnar’s huge crate in our living room. Funny thing is, he hasn’t used it in months, but we haven’t moved it because it’s been great for holding painting projects! Perhaps once the stairs are done, the crate will finally be retired to the garage and we can get our full living room back.

We bought the railings a while back, two that have plowed bottoms for the sections that will have balusters (the spindles), and one that has a flat, unplowed bottom that will extend up the stairs over the walled area, and will be attached with metal brackets.

For those of you who don’t know much about installing stairs (hopefully all of you, because who the heck knows this stuff???), when you have a railing with balusters, the balusters generally attach to the bottom (which is typically either a stair tread or a knee wall like we have) with some sort of screw or peg. Since we made our balusters ourselves, we’ll be using a dowel peg. Nik wanted to just tack them into the knee wall with air nails, and I stubbornly talked him into using dowels to give the balusters more support.

The top of the balusters fit into the plow of the railing. Plowed railings have a side profile that looks like this, with a thin piece of wood called a filet inserted in the groove:

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The filet comes out, and you are supposed to cut it into pieces that fit snugly in between each baluster to hold them in place. So, we’ll use the filet pieces combined with an air nail at the top to hold the balusters in. For the one railing that is just against the wall with no balusters, it is simply a flat bottom (unplowed).

First, Nik used the angles and measurements he figured out to cut the angled railing for the bottom section of stairs. To get the measurement, he just rested it over the knee wall, since in theory it should be about the same length when we raise it to the final location:

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We’ll set this railing so it falls about 34-38″ above the stair height, as per code. Gunnar is very patient, if not bored, while we do all our weekend projects. This is his standard position, where he probably wonders A) why we’re so industrious all the time and B) why we don’t feed him more often. Also, he loves having his water bowl a little elevated and a paint can seems to work perfectly!

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After cutting the other two railings to size I tested some different stain options on an extra chunk of railing to get a close match to our floor color.

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Then I sanded and sanded and sanded since these were unfinished red oak, and weren’t exactly smooth to start with. They did sand pretty nicely, and then I got to staining. It ended up being a coat of red chestnut and then a coat of dark walnut stain. They look a little red in the garage, but they match the floors pretty well (which are always redder than I think they are).

This weekend we’re aiming high and planning to get all the railings and banisters installed. We started this project in August of 2015 (2.5 years ago), so I think it’s about time it got finished up! We made a Lowe’s run this week to buy the remaining things we need for this project and installing our little bathroom shelves, with our favorite helper in tow. We now have no excuse to not get it finished!

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The Planked Wall

For all intents and purposes, our bathroom renovation is complete! But I think there are a few more decorating details that we need to do to really call it done.

A couple weekends ago, we got the plank wall cut and mounted. My concern with this wall was that it wouldn’t match the grey tile that we used on the tub surround, but I wanted a warmer element that would make the room feel less cool and grey. We stained the planks with a mixture of classic grey and special walnut Minwax stains, which made it look like weathered wood.

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We installed the pieces with a few dots of construction adhesive on the back of each, plus a few nails with the air gun. We left a gap between all of them using pennies to space the planks, and worked our way up from the bottom. The last plank at the ceiling required some tricky trimming lengthwise, because of course our ceiling isn’t level, and while it isn’t perfect I don’t think the slightly not-straight edge is very noticeable.

Here’s pictures of the progress:

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And the finished product:

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And the tub hardware that we finally got installed:

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So, its obviously brown and the tile is obviously grey, but I don’t dislike it – I think it just needs to be integrated better with the rest of the room. So our idea to do this is to make some small wooden shelves over the toilet, using wood with stain to match the planks and with industrial style brackets similar to the ones in the kitchen:

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We’ll probably do 2 shelves, and Home Depot actually sells these brackets online now (of course, after we searched forever and spent a ton of money to get the brackets for our kitchen!). I think adding these shelves will bring the wood tone forward in the room, and not make the plank wall look so isolated.

Also, after our little bookshelf in the bathroom is no longer covered in my garden seedlings, the wood on that piece will also tie into the room:

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I also have pictures of our threshold to show. We ‘stained’ this with opaque grey deck stain – not an ideal color, but we couldn’t come up with any options that we thought would match better that weren’t expensive (such as a marble slab). And, before it was nailed down I got a picture of the routing and trimming work Nik did on this to make it fit perfectly around the cement board and carpet that this was sitting between:

There is one more task I’d like to do – both in this bathroom and our guest bathroom. All our fixtures are now brushed nickel, except the tub drain and overflow:

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That rusty, old tub drain was supposed to be fixed (as per our contract) by the seller when we bought our home, and somehow he worked his way out of that agreement and just bought a cheap new stopper which probably cost him $3.99. The drain plate above is an easy swap, as is the drain stopper, but the drain itself is a more difficult story. Depending on the competency of the person who installed it and how well they adhered it to the piping under the tub, sometimes the only way to remove these is to remove the tub since they’re usually threaded into the pipes with plumbers putty. We’re going to attempt to use either a short-cut method (needle nosed pliers and a wrench), or purchase a drain extractor tool to remove the drain. If we can get it to budge, we’ll put in a brushed nickel set. And if not, it will stay as is!

In other news, work on the banisters and balusters is underway. I have one more coat of white paint for the balusters to go, and after much trial and error, Nik finally got the measurements and angles figured out to move forward with installing the banister on the bottom part of the steps that will span the column to the wall. Once we have the banisters cut to size, we’ll give them a good sanding followed by stain and sealing, which is on the agenda for next weekend.