Tag Archives: stairs

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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Making Balusters

I find that when I make a blog post with goals and plans, we get more done that weekend. So here we go: last weekend we did make a lengthy trip to Lowes to investigate our stair options. We measured our stairs, and realized we only need 2 x 8′ pieces of plowed handrail to cover the sections that will have balusters, and 1 x 12′ piece of unplowed handrail to cover the walled section that won’t require balusters. Plowed handrails basically just have a small groove on the bottom, to hold the balusters in place and hide that junction. There is also a little slat of wood that slides out of the bottom of that groove, called a fillet, and I think you can cut this to fit between each baluster to get them spaced evenly and further secure them in place (fillet shown in the right picture):

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Our plowed groove is only 1.25″ wide, so that will be the width of our square balusters. The ones we have upstairs are currently 1.75″ and they feel too bulky, so I think the 1.25″ will be a nice, airy upgrade.

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So the two plowed 8′ railings were $47 each and the 12′ unplowed one was $57, totaling $151. Unfortunately, after all the effort of getting the 12′ one home sticking out the trunk, we realized we bought a 12′ plowed one ($20 more expensive!) so we’ll have to return that and get the unplowed one. To mount that one to the wall, we’re not sure the plowed bottom will attach to the brackets correctly, since they’re designed to attached to an unplowed rail.

Speaking of brackets for that handrail, we bought some new ones that are a bit more attractive and substantial since this railing is heavier than our previous one. Those were about $18 total. We also bought two oval wooden wall plates for where the banister hits the wall, $14 total. Not sure those are both necessary yet, but we can return them if they’re not needed.

Finally, we headed to the lumber section to see what we could use for balusters. We found 2″x2″x36″ pieces of poplar or oak that were nice quality wood – but $6 each! We need 28, so that would be $168. Too pricey. So we wandered further into the lumber section and found plain 2×6 white pine boards (actual size 1.5″ x 5.5″ x 8′ length). Some were bowed or had bad knots, but after about 20 minutes we had selected 4 satisfactory boards. We measured that we could get out 8 balusters per board, and, best part, each board was a little less than $5, totaling $19, and leaving us with 4 extra balusters for when we inevitably mess some up. That savings almost pays for our table saw that we used to cut them all!

So on to the cutting…Nik first cut them to length with the miter saw, leaving some extra length for figuring out the exact height that will be on the slanted section of our new railing area:

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Code is 32-38″for balusters on steps, so since they should all be the same height here with a knee wall vs. individual steps, we’ll aim for 34″. Then he used the table saw to rip one edge off the board and make it a fresh, flat cut. Then we ripped the remaining 3 sides on each baluster to get them to 1.25″ (remember, the  boards are 1.5″ thick and we wanted a fresh, sharp cut on each side).

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So I think it was a total of 8 initial rip cuts for the original pieces of wood, then 3×32 cuts on each baluster. Over 100 table saw cuts certainly took a while and the noise potentially annoyed some neighbors on a Sunday evening. It looked like we’d been snowed on afterwards, but we got them all done!

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This Saturday we’re finally having a yard sale in the morning to clear out some pre-wedding housewares and other clutter we’ve collected, but the afternoon should be warm and lovely – a perfect time to get out the paint sprayer! We use this one from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Critter-Spray-Products-22032-Siphon/dp/B00006FRPJ.

Critter Spray Products 22032 118SG Siphon Gun

It is cheap (but requires a good air compressor), and is only practical for small painting projects (trim or cabinets – not walls, for example). It screws right on to cheap pint sized mason jars, and we always strain the paint first, then thin it a little bit with floetrol and water for water-based latex paints, to prevent clogging.

We also bought more crown molding while at Lowes last weekend, so we’ll cut the remaining pieces we need to finish off the living room walls, then do a massive paint sprayer session on all the crown molding and all the balusters. We might do a protective clear coat of water based polycrylic on the balusters after they are installed, depending on how durable the finish feels with the paint sprayer. On Sunday we’ll do more paint spraying if we don’t get it all done Saturday, and hopefully get the remaining sections of crown molding installed.

The next steps will be caulking, filling, and doing touchup paint on the crown molding. For the stairs, we’ll need to sand, stain, and seal the new handrails, remove the old banister/balusters upstairs, and move on to installing the new ones…then caulking, filling, and doing touchup paint where needed. The sooner we get these projects done, the sooner we can start thinking about our master bath renovation – that’s good motivation for me!