Tag Archives: railing

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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New house Aug 2015 021

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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!

 

Finding Inspiration

The last few weeks have been pretty stagnant at our household. We’ve made some progress cutting crown molding for the entire dining room and about half of the living room, but it hasn’t been nearly warm enough outside to paint with our sprayer and I’m not up to the challenge of painting all that trim by hand. So that project is on hold for a bit.

I did get around to spreading out new garden soil in our flower garden, and added some accent pieces, including a corner ceramic pot, and a garden gnome. My family had a garden gnome growing up and Nik seemed to like the idea of one. We just hadn’t found the perfect one yet. Then I came across this little guy – and he felt like the perfect addition.

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He has been named Sinclair, and in the several days he’s resided in our garden, he’s experienced a variety of weather conditions – including the dusting of snow we got on Sunday morning!

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So back to renovations…this spring has been slow going. Before starting on the master bathroom, plans this spring were to get the crown molding installed downstairs (on hold for warmer weather), build a kitchen island, and finish the stupid stair banister. That last one has been nagging us for months now, and we keep discussing it, running into problems, deciding we don’t know what to do, and then putting it off.

This is the area that we now need to install a railing/balusters, since we opened up this wall:

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Previously, that was a solid wall, and there was a simple railing running down that side of the stairs screwed into the wall.

So what are the problems? I think the biggest is we have railing upstairs on the landing with a light poplar railing and white wooden balusters, and you can see it from downstairs:

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Not my favorite railing/baluster combo, but I think we came to the conclusion we should attempt to match the new railing/balusters to what is upstairs. I like metal balusters, but they’re pricey (as I remember, about $8-10/piece) and then we’d need a lot of them to do the new opening downstairs and replace all the ones upstairs (~26-28 of them).

We then thought the balusters weren’t too atrocious, and I could purchase ones that are a pretty close match for the new opening, but the light wood railing is awful. So I wondered if it could be stained dark to match the floors. We have the railing still sitting in our office that was removed from the other wall, so I got to work sanding a portion to see if we could get a nice dark color:

The general answer was no. Sanding was difficult (curved edges) and the wood was very smooth and dense so it definitely didn’t take up stain well. It would be hard to ever get it to the darkness I like, and it would never have the rich grain/texture of a red oak railing.

So then we thought, can’t we save the balusters upstairs, and just replace the two railings? It’s possible…but we can’t really figure out how the upstairs balusters are attached to the railing and I’m pretty sure we’d ding them up trying to remove the old railing. And then I remembered I don’t really even like the shape of those balusters, but its costly to buy new balusters…you see how these problems escalate? At this rate, there will never be a railing.

But then we were watching Fixer Upper last night, and there was a staircase they did that caught my attention because of how beautiful and simple it was:

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I love the dark oak railing and those balusters – just straight cut pieces of wood! I love the simplicity. No shapes, fancy carving, and most importantly – inexpensive! So now I’m inspired again to see if we can make this happen.

To change the railing, we will have to buy new oak railings and get them home safely. A 12′ plowed railing is about $70, and we’d need probably 2-3 of these. I don’t exactly understand the difference between plowed and un-plowed railing and why the plowing is needed for some balusters, so we still need to go to the store to figure that out. The unplowed ones are cheaper, and there are also 8′ lengths available that would lower the cost if we don’t need a full 12′. We will reuse the newel post that is there, but paint it white. Then we can either buy pieces of wood to cut to a 1.25″ square baluster, or they sell pre-cut plain square balusters for about $5 a pop. I’m not sure what’s special about the premade balusters – some of the descriptions say they have some sort of removable pin, so we also need to figure this out at the store. Even if we buy these, plus the railings, the total price is reasonable, at a little over $300. If we can make our own balusters, I think that price will be a lot lower.

At any rate, I’m feeling newly inspired about this. It won’t be an easy or fast project, but I think we’ll end up with a stairway we really like, vs just trying to make the style that was previously there work with our new floors. I think we need to start by acquiring and cutting the required pieces, and perhaps when I spray paint our crown molding (if spring decides to ever come back), I can spray the balusters too and really get this project going. I didn’t see myself ever being this excited about my stairs!