A newel posts is the largest single component of a staircase. Because of the size and complexity of newel posts they are also often one of the most expensive stair parts in the balustrade. It is for this reason that the newel post doesn’t always match the scope and style of the railing system. Simply put, while you do need a post, you don’t necessarily have to have a large, luxurious one. Also, because your railing system is near the end of the project if it wasn’t considered early on, you may have gone over budget on the other items and no longer had the money to spend on the balustrade.
Often builders, original owners or even we ourselves may have decided to save a little money by downgrading the newel post. Usually we tend to financially progress, so while the home we bought at the time may have been all that our budget would allow, we are hopefully in a different, better position a few years later. This means that we might be considering a little upgrading and that earlier downgraded newel post may provide a good place to start.
If your balustrade is safe and secure and was a good design to begin with then you might want to upgrade the posts now. Changing newel posts is an easy and inexpensive method of upgrading the look of your banister. The starting posts of the stair are the easiest and require very little skill to do. The existing posts are removed, the new posts are cut to length, then they are installed. They can be prefinished or finished after installation.
Today I would like to offer a simple solution to a common problem. We receive calls on a fairly regular basis from customers who want to know how to stop loose balusters from rattling. It is a common occurrence for both dowel top wood balusters and wrought iron balusters and there is an amazingly simple solution, but I’ll get to that shortly. First, let it be known that even professional installations occasionally result in a loose baluster or two, so don’t be too hard on yourself or whoever installed the balustrade. If the system as a whole is structurally sound and a quality product, don’t worry too much about one or two loose balusters. Of course that doesn’t mean you have to live with the constant reminder rattling at you every time you walk up the stairs.
Most balusters, wood or iron, are installed into holes in the floor or shoe plate and also into the handrail. This is true as long as they have a dowel top. Usually wood balusters are installed with a small amount of wood glue in the hole, then finish nailed. Sometimes the finish nail can curve up into the hole and not actually penetrate the handrail or a hard bump can even break the glue joint. The best way to fix a rattling wood baluster is to simply re-nail it. This is done by shooting a finish nail into the baluster where it meets the handrail. The nail goes through the dowel top and into the handrail on the opposite side. However there is another method if you don’t have a finish nail gun or if you have wrought iron spindles, a toothpick. Yep, that is the professional secret to securing loose balusters. Wood toothpicks are perfect miniature shims for this application.
If you are considering a wrought iron baluster pattern you may be wondering, like many of our customers, whether you should choose a full iron balustrade with handrail and posts as well as the balusters or a combination of wood stair parts with wrought iron balusters. Of course I cannot tell you what will work best for your particular project but perhaps I can help you understand the differences so that you can make the best choice.
Here I am referring primarily to interior balustrades where sun and weathering are not an issue. I think the best way to address this choice is to first consider the stylistic aspect as a whole then to delve deeper into the individual components.
So, first let us consider a full iron balustrade which includes handrail, balusters and newel posts. Wrought Iron has been used for decorative purposes since the middle ages (prior to that it was used primarily for tools and weapons). In early 1900’s true wrought iron was gradually replaced by the less expensive and more easily produced “mild steel”. Mild Steel has many of the properties of wrought iron and is what virtually all wrought iron stair parts are made from today despite the fact that they the term wrought iron was erroneously retained. I assume that this is due to marketing considerations because “wrought iron balusters” sounds more appealing than “mild steel balusters”. Anyway, as far as we are concerned here, if the architectural style of your home harkens back to an earlier period to which you want to remain true then a full wrought iron balustrade may be the obvious choice. Wrought iron balustrades in interior spaces are stronger, durable and will last indefinitely. Of course, this may only apply to the structural capacity, because aesthetically this may not be true. A perfect example is the wide spread use of wrought iron during the late 60’s and 70’s, primarily for cost purposes, that are often very dated today. The reason for this is that they were typically “cheap” designs that made little or no attempt to stand on their own creative or artistic merits. While full iron balustrades are not nearly as common today as wood and iron combinations, there are many situations in which this style is preferable. These include, as I mentioned, maintaining an authentic theme in a home where wrought iron is perfectly matched or in many contemporary designs such as modern or semi-industrial perhaps using horizontal iron balustrades.
One of the most common questions our customers ask is, “Do I need a professional railing installer?” This is a loaded question based upon the complexity of your stair and railing system, your understanding of the simple mathematics and your carpentry skills. A full balustrade installation can be compared to piecing together a gargantuan jigsaw puzzle with a variety of tools and using pieces that have a specific position but require some modification to get that perfect fit. If you have zero woodworking experience then you should avoid all but the most simple of installations such as adding a wallmounted rail, etc. Unfortunately we cannot answer this question for you but help you to find the answer for yourself.
To do this you must first evaluate your particular system and the individual components that comprise it. The level of completion of specific components can vary based on the manufacturer which can make the installation more flexible for the professional but may also require more skilled craftsmanship. If you are not an expert, choosing stair parts that most closely fit your banister will make the installation process simpler. The stair specialists at WoodStairs.com are always available to help you identify the best components for your project. Feel free to call us any time 888-390-7245
Next look at each component individually and ask yourself, “Do I have the right tool for this job”. For example if you are installing wood balusters for stairs you will probably need a saw and a drill. While you may not own the specific stair installation tools you may be able to borrow them from a friend or neighbor. A large portion of stair and railing installation requires very little skill, such as screwing, plugging, sanding, etc. So, if you know someone who is skilled in woodworking and has a few of the larger tools, they can often help with the more difficult tasks leaving you with those that require less skill. Also, there are tool rental companies and many of the large home improvement stores have rental departments as well.
There are several different types of stairs that are used in architectural design. These vary for a variety of reasons, two of the most important being their visual appeal and consideration of space. Stairways can occupy a rather large footprint in a home but through some creative design this footprint can be substantially reduced when necessary when space is at a premium. Here are the six basic stair shapes and their uses in a home.
Straight Stairs are the most common type primarily because they are very practical while being the most simple and inexpensive type of stairway. A straight stair is basically one that travels from one floor to the next without changing direction or curving.
L Shaped Stairs are basically two stairs that connect at a landing or by winder treads at a 90° turn. These are most often used when space is more limited and a full straight flight cannot fit. The intermediate landing or winder tread area of the stair may be centered between the two straight flights or nearer the top of the bottom. Winder treads are pie shaped treads that increase the number of treads in the “landing area” when space is even more limited.
U or Switchback Stairs are two flights (often of differing length) that run parallel and joined at the top of the lower flight and the bottom of the upper flight by an intermediate landing. The landing itself may also be partitioned into two square landings or several pie shaped winder treads to reduce the length of the straight flights and thereby reduce the overall footprint of the U shaped stair. Ideally, there is a space between the two parallel flights to allow room for skirt boards, stair tread overhangs and clearance between bypassing handrails. This distance may be as little as 6” to upwards of 12”.
Stairs and banisters in general and stair parts specifically, compose a large assortment of terms that describe the many unique components used to create these elegant architectural features. In order to make this blog more helpful, to better assist our customers in making informed decisions and as a general information resource, we’ve created a very detailed glossary of stair and balustrade terms. In addition to the definitions we’ve also provided links to many of the items so you can see images.
Take for example one of the words I just used above, balustrade. If you are uncertain what the word balustrade means then you are not alone. This is a widely know term in our industry but is used infrequently beyond it. This is because it is very specific stair related word as you can see from the following definition as included in our Glossary of Stair Terms:
Balustrade – The combination of Handrails, Balusters, Newel Posts, and Tread Caps that serve as a Guardrail of a flight of stairs or Balcony. (Also Known as a Banister or Railing System or less accurately a Handrail)
More specifically there are many stair parts with very unique names, such as volute, easing, newel, baluster, shoe rails and so on. These terms are also relatively unknown to most people outside of our industry. Instead of asking for a part by name we are regularly asked about the “curly-q” thing at the bottom of the stair or where a customer can find the “pickets” on our website. These two terms are volute and balusters, respectively. We are hopeful that our glossary will help you find what you are looking for.
HGTV’s most outrageous homes will feature an $11 million house in Riverton Utah on its “Top 10 Outrageous Homes” this fall. Woodstairs is a proud, behind the scenes, contributor to this amazing project through the stair parts supplied to one of our customers, Titan Stairs of Utah. Titan Stairs has been a WoodStairs customer for half a dozen years now and we have worked on many amazing projects with them. They are true craftsman whose projects include some of the most elegant and richly detailed custom stairs and balustrades in their area. Of the many professional stair & balustrade and trim companies in Utah, Titan Stairs (with branches in both Salt Lake City and St. George) is widely regarded as the best. We highly recommend them and are glad to see their work showcased in this article and the upcoming episode on HGTV. The acclaim is well deserved.
There are many features of this home that helped to warrant it’s inclusion in HGTV’s “Outrageous Homes” episode. Of course our interest is specific to the stairs and railings. So what exactly make the stairs themselves stand out as outrageous? The answer is in fact, nothing. The stairs and banisters are not unusually extreme. Still, there is something about them that helps to enhance the overall extravagance and uniqueness of the home.
In fact, were every aspect of the home over the top it would probably not be recognized as the beautifully luxurious home that it is. According to John Pickett, of Titan Stairs, the thing that makes this home and it’s several stairs and balustrades stand out as extraordinary in his mind was the “integration and attention to detail.” Paraphrasing, John, the designer, Julie Stuehser, was meticulous in creating each space as a collection of details that perfectly defined the whole. So, in his opinion, while there were many unique and amazing features it was the overall integrity of the design that Julie, the builder, Upland Development and the homeowners envisioned, that made the home in its entirety something special. Passing from one room to the next, as you can see from the images, the design are completely different but according to John, “It is as if they could be from different homes, but the transitions are seamless.”
Adding wood handrail to a full wrought iron balustrade can literally heat up your railing system without the expense of replacing the entire banister. Wood handrails are typically larger, warmer to the touch and the eye and more comfortable in your hand. This is one simple and inexpensive way to perform a stair makeover of an existing full iron banister.
Over the last 30 years or so, what were once two separate railing styles are often combined. Wood and wrought iron balustrades allow you to have the warmth and comfort of wood and the versatility of wrought iron balusters. Wood stair treads, newel posts, handrails and moldings are generally larger and tie in better with the other wood features of the home such as base, doors, moldings and furniture. Wrought iron balusters on the other hand are far more versatile. Rather than repeating a single baluster over the entire balustrade, multiple wrought iron balusters are combined to create patterns within the larger pattern of the banister. Relatively new advancements (say the last 20-30 years) in wrought iron balusters have made this merger possible. Doweled tops for installation into wood handrail instead of having to be welded to an iron rail and baluster shoes that conceal the holes in the landing tread are the two most prominent of these.
Adding stair treads to a stairway can have a dramatic visual impact that adds value to your home. While we have not had the chance to speak with all of our many customers who choose this option, those that we have heard from have raved about the results. The few we’ve talked to who did this to help sell their home have been unanimous in their belief that this either helped to sell their home faster or that they were able to ask for more than they would have otherwise. Basically, the stair treads more than paid for themselves. This same sentiment is true on most of the home flipping shows on television. Old and outdated stairs are always addressed through some renovation and stair treads is one of the best and easiest.
This is because the stair treads offer a large area to upgrade and that the difference is dramatic. Even the most luxurious carpet is no match to the beautiful natural texture and patterns of the wood grain in solid oak stair treads. Also, while installing stair treads does require the balustrade to be removed and reinstalled, the components are reused. So, you don’t have to spend the additional money on handrails, newel posts, balusters, etc. The installation is also far easier than it was to begin with because everything is already cut to length, the layouts have been done and you only have to remove those balustrades on the stairs themselves, not the overlooking balconies. You might want to consider just adding a bullnose stair tread also called a starting step to the bottom step.
Replacing wood balusters with wrought iron balusters is one of the most common methods of upgrading an outdated balustrade. This is not to say that wrought iron is superior to wood in general but sometimes wood balusters may have been damaged, broken, or they are simply outdated. You may be able to remedy this look by refinishing which I discussed in my previous post, or you can swap out your wood balusters with wrought iron as I will described today.
There are three basic methods to replacing wood balusters with wrought iron balusters, I’ve named these the Up-and-Down Method, the Secure Method and IronPro. There is a fourth option in which you can replace the entire balustrade with the balusters this still involves one of the three methods listed above. In fact these three methods are the same when installing a new balustrade from scratch. Today, I don’t intend to go through the specifics of each method but rather to consider the reasons for and the possible results you can achieve by upgrading shabby wood balusters with wrought iron.
If you are interested in this option and would like more information on the details I’ve written a series of articles here that explain the processes and the pros and cons of each.