Tag Archives: balusters

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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Spring Update

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve given an update, and we’ve made lots of progress on a few different projects.

Our garden is planted, for the most part, and includes snow peas, a couple jalapeno peppers, eggplants, 2 roma-variety tomatoes and 1 grape tomato, bush zucchini, spaghetti squash, large sized and  pickling sized cucumbers, various herbs, and leeks. We started everything from seed inside about a month ago (except the snow peas, which were planted outside and are now a perfect row of happy little pea plants), so we’ll see how this goes. Doesn’t look like much now!

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We’ve also gotten a number of perennial flowers happily planted in our new flower bed, and everything is really starting to grow with the recent warmer weather.

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We made some mild progress on our balusters, and got them all primed with the paint sprayer a few weeks ago:

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But then the pollen hit and we decided to hold off on doing the final paint coat. No one wants yellow paint on their stairs! So these are still piled in our living room awaiting that fate.

We are almost done with our little side tables for our guest bedroom – they got stained on top, and got a coat of light gray paint (a runner-up color for our kitchen cabinets, when we were still considering painting them gray, so we already had that paint). Another coat of paint and some sealer and they’ll be all done. Here are some photos of this project from the beginning. They are kinda-matching, kinda-not:

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The paint stripper took of multiple layers of gummy, old paint.

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Tops all sanded

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Getting some stain

We’ve also made some progress with the buffet piece we’re refurbishing for our friends…the wooden surfaces we salvaged are all stained now, and the body is waiting for primer and paint. Nik busted out the router this weekend to practice with, since we’ll be attempting to cut out the middle of the solid doors in the front of the piece to put in some radiator grate or glass so they can put their cable box in there and still get a signal through to their remote. I’ll save pictures of this till the end…so it can be a surprise!

The weather was beautiful yesterday, so I dragged all the cut pieces of crown molding out of the garage, gave them a quick sanding and dust-off, and got the paint sprayer out. I’ve never put semi-gloss paint in the sprayer (which is what we use for our trim paint) so I was a little worried about how tacky it might feel – but it worked like a charm! The finish was really nice, and a bit glossy (not as glossy as when painted on with a brush). We had one minor clog in the gun, but running some water through it seemed to fix the issue.

So that took all of 15 minutes to do, once everything was set up. After about an hour of dry time, we decided to just go ahead and mount the pieces since we already had pressure in the air compressor. We started in the dining room and made it most of the way around the living room. There’s a few pieces left to hang but we finally called it quits at dinnertime.

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Everyone knows crown molding is challenging – and we definitely have some wonky corners/edges. I think the challenge is not finding the right angle, but getting the piece perfectly level and lined up in the saw – especially if its a 12′ wobbly piece hanging out the other side of the saw. If it’s not perfectly level, your angle can be a few degrees off. That combined with our walls/ceilings which aren’t remotely straight has left us with some intimidating gaps. We’re just going to have to make really good friends with the caulk gun for this project!

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Before

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After!

Despite my attempt to make organized lists of things to accomplish for the weekend, Nik always manages to go off and start a completely new project – like ripping apart most of our side deck off the garage, and replacing the floor, stair treads, and railing. Granted, this did have to happen at some point since the boards were completely splintering. He used left over wood pieces from the jungle gym – but we need to get a few more boards to finish the stair treads and railing. Before:

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During and after:

Progress-wise, our goal this month is to get the crown molding finished and patched, get somewhere with the stair railings/balusters, get our friends’ buffet piece and our guest bedroom tables finished up, and wrap up refinishing a dining table in the garage that we’ve had for a while that Nik recently unearthed and started working on. And THEN we can start on our bathroom!