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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Iron Balusters

Iron Balusters

Solid & Hollow Iron Balusters

We’ve touched briefly on the concept of Hollow versus Solid wrought iron balusters briefly in past posts but we decided today to give this topic a little more attention.  Iron balusters come in many shapes and many of these are available in two categories; yep you guessed it, solid or hollow.  So what exactly is the difference between the two, other than the obvious?  Following is a comparison of those characteristics that you should consider when making your decision between the two variations of iron balusters.

Strength & Durability
Solid Iron Balusters are made from a low grade iron called “wrought iron”.  Even though the iron is a low grade, because they are solid iron they are very strong and durable.
Hollow Iron Balusters are made of a higher quality iron which makes them comparably strong to the solid version though they do seem to have a little more deflection or flex.  Still they are completely adequate and code-compliant.
Conclusion:  If it is critical to you that your railing system is “solid” or has very little flex, Solid Balusters are the way to go.  However, an exaggerated example may help you understand why a baluster can be both strong and flex at the same time.  Think of a trampoline, very strong but lots and lots of “flex”.  Hollow Balusters have just slightly more flex than Solid Iron Balusters.

Cost
Solid Iron Balusters require more steel, are heaver and can therefore be more expensive, especially when considering shipping.
Hollow Iron Balusters are typically, although not always, less expensive because they require less material and weight less than the solid option.
Conclusion:  Hollow usually translates to less expensive but make sure to compare pricing to verify this.  Also Hollow Iron Balusters are more environmentally friendly; less material and reduced fuel required to ship because of their lower weight.

Plowed Handrail

What is a Plowed Handrail?  This is a common question we receive from many of our customers.  The answer is simple; many wood handrails are manufactured with a channel removed on the bottom side.  This “Plow” allows for the simple and clean installation of square-top wood balusters, including completely square Mission or Craftsman wood balusters.  The handrail is ordered with the correct plow to match the exact width of the balusters being used, typically 1 ¼” wide or 1 ¾” wide although custom sized plowed handrail is available.

The balusters are installed into the handrail and then the space between them is filled with small precisely fitted pieces of wood called fillet.  Fillet is made from the same wood species as the handrail and is available in several profiles to add additional detail to the balustrade.  It comes in 3’ lengths or longer and is very similar to a wood molding.  These longer lengths are then precisely cut into small pieces to fill the plowed area between the wood balusters.

Plowed handrail is also used to cap wrought iron railing system or a tempered glass balustrade.  In these cases custom sized plows may be required.  Woodstairs.com offers custom plowed handrails at no additional charge.

Finally, a related question applies to shoe rail.  In many cases when using wood balusters a plowed shoe rail is also used.  In this situation the shoe rail is also ordered to match the width of the wood baluster at the bottom block.   Fillet is also used in the same way to cover the nail holes made when installing the balusters and filling the plow between the balusters.

If you have questions regarding Plowed Handrail or any other component, design ideas or installation procedures please don’t hesitate to contact one of our stair specialists at 888-390-7245 or CustomersFirst@WoodStairs.com

Stair Design

If you are considering a new stair design in your home but are on the fence here are a few examples of the dramatic difference this often simple renovation can make.  Whether you want to rejuvenate your living area for your continued enjoyment or add something extra to help sell or increase the sales price of your home, this is one area that can have a huge impact.  We are all aware of the importance of Curb Appeal when selling your home.  The entry serves the same function in your homes’ interior, giving the first and last impression from the front door.  In any home with a staircase in the entry it is obviously a central feature.  These before and after pictures dramatically illustrate the major improvements that can be made by renovating an outdated stairway and balustrade.  The extent of this type of renovation can be as simple or complex as necessary.  Sometimes just a paint job will do the trick, other times its easier to tear out the old and start from scratch.  Below you will see the addition of solid treads in place of old wornout carpet and the replacement of wood spindles with wrought iron balusters.

As I mentioned balustrade renovations can be as simple as refinishing the existing stair parts, though usually if the finish is bad the components have been damaged as well.  Replacing balusters is a relatively simple step.  Often outdated or worn wood balusters can be replaced by iron designs while keeping the other stair parts in the system intact as in both the above example and the following one.  Sometimes the change need not be from wood to iron but simply from a passé design to more modern wood balusters.

Wrought Iron Railings

Wrought Iron Railings have become extremely popular over the last decade or so primarily because of the great versatility they allow in creating a unique balustrade.  Wrought iron as it is known today is basically a mild steel and the term literally means “worked iron”.  It has been around for several centuries, although in the past wrought iron railings, fences, gates and furniture were seldom combined with other materials.  As far as stair parts are concerned, wrought iron components have evolved from the rough pieces that required special tools and welding into the virtually finished products, ready-to-install upon purchase.  Wrought iron balusters are now available with doweled tops, pre-powder coated and with accompanying baluster shoes to make installation into shoe rails or stair treads simple and easy.

The versatility of iron balusters is unparalleled in staircase design.  The huge diversity in surface treatment from plain to hammered to patterns in addition to the many ornamental features and shapes allow for a virtually unlimited array of patterns.  In addition iron spindles are available in raw steel or powder coated a variety of colors which makes the installation process even more simple and inexpensive.  One thing to consider when comparing cost with traditional wood balusters is that typically there will be an additional charge to paint the wood balusters while the iron will be finished upon installation.  Wrought Iron balustrades can be rustic, simple and elegant or richly detailed and luxurious.

Iron Balusters and Wood Balusters

Wood and Wrought Iron Balustrade

Choosing between iron balusters and wood balusters is almost entirely a decision of appearance.  When installed correctly either option provides very similar strength characteristics and are more than adequate for the job.  In addition Wrought Iron Balusters and Wood Balusters overlap substantially in cost, with a wide variety of each being very comparable.  In the mid-range price category of Stair Spindles, iron styles do offer more options.  There are also many more options of iron spindles that are more ornate and correspondingly more expensive, these include scrolls, larger dimension balusters and hammered or forged series.

Wood Spindles are available in two major categories, Arts-and-Crafts and Traditional.  Credited to New York designer,  Gustav Stickley, the Arts and Crafts style of furniture prevailed in American between 1870 and 1920.

Mission Balustrade

Mission Balustrade

Also known as Craftsman or Mission, it is a theme marked by simplicity and durability that was a sharp contrast to the embellishing Traditional and Victorian styles of the era.  Reminiscent of the rustic, it is characterized by rectilinear lines, dark hues, and exaggerated construction.  Often beautifully weather-beaten and aged, the bold, heavy featured functionality of this design is based on the philosophy that “less is more”.  The new identity of traditional is of fine woodworking and craftsmanship.  It is a style of straight yet graceful lines contrasted with curved details.

Traditional Wood Balustrade

Traditional Wood Balustrade

Traditional styled features are warm, rich finish woods, often with intricate carvings. The delicate curves of this style combined with the luxurious woods create an air of elegant drama to any room that often feature “historical themes” like British Colonial, Queen Anne, or Chippendale.  A traditional look to your home creates a warm, inviting and time-honored feel that is always a classic.

Wood and Iron Balustrade

Wood and Iron Balustrade

Prefinished Stair Parts

Many of our customers request prestained or prefinished stair parts instead of the unfinished alternative.  While we offer both options at WoodStairs.com, many customers change their mind when they they realize the disadvantages of using prefinished components to construct their balustrade.  If you are doing a simple wall mounted handrail then using a prefinished handrail is perfectly acceptable.  However for more extensive installations pre finished components involve a variety of issues.

Firstly, there is the possibility of damage during shipping.  While every economical means available is used to protect the products during shipment, there is always the possibility of minor damage.  This is not a common issues but because of the nature of the product, when it does occur it can cause a big problem.  If the products are unfinished, they can usually be lightly sanded and the problem disappears, when they are pre finished this is not possible without touch up.  Of course the damage during shipping is covered by the carrier but there is the delay in having the items reshipped.

Second and most prevalent is the very nature of stair and railing installation.  Virtually all of the components in a normal installation have to be cut to length, drilled for attachments or to accept balusters, sanded to fit and so on.  The issues that arise are very minor, slight splintering of drilled holes or saw cuts and sanded areas.  Because there is so much cutting, drilling, and sanding involved, these minor areas of touch up can quickly add up.

Newel Posts

Traditional Turned Newel Posts with Traditional Turned Balusters

Newel Posts are one of the most important structural members of a railing system.  They contribute the largest percentage of strength and durability to the balustrade.  There are two major categories of newels, turned wood newels and box newel posts also called box posts. When selecting a newel post you should consider the overall balustrade style, the size of the space in which the stair and railing system exist and the additional strength required.  Turned Newel Posts are solid wood posts that are turned on a lathe to create an infinite array of profiles.  These range from simple, minimalist or contemporary designs to luxurious and richly detailed traditional designs.  If your preference is for turned newel posts then there are two options available, post-to-post and over the post or continuous.Post to post systems are just that, the handrail attaches to the top block of the post , which typically has a finial or post cap, rather than running over it with handrail fittings.  Continuous is just the opposite, instead of the handrail terminating into each post it travels unbroken or continuously over the post.  As you can see, the names pretty much define the style of balustrade.   Most turned stair posts are available in both Post-to-post and Continuous options.  The greater portion of the post, of a certain style, is identical and only the top varies.  For continuous systems, the top of the turned post will reduced so that it will accommodate the handrail or a handrail fitting.  Post-to-post newels have a top “block” into which the handrails will attach.  So, which is better?  That depends solely on your taste and preferences.

Mission Sequioa Box Newel Post

Stair Treads

Stair Treads have been the topic of two of our customers’ questions this week alone so we thought it would be a good idea to address this major stair component.  Both customers asked whether or not they could use their hardwood flooring on their stairway as treads, which is a question we are commonly asked.

The short answer to this is yes you can.  To elaborate though, you will find that most often although you can, if you want a long lasting product, you should not.  Hardwood flooring, whether solid or laminate, is manufactured in relatively narrow boards that are then fitted side by side and end to end to cover a floor surface.  The surface itself, whether concrete or plywood provides a solid foundation over a large area.  In the case of stairs, flooring is used cover the rough, plywood treads but with an overhang called a nosing.  This nosing extends beyond the rough riser, finish riser, moulding and further to create a bullnose detail.  This is where most of the problems come from.    In addition stairs have far greater movement than floors by their very nature so using a many pieced flooring tread as oppose to a “single” piece Stair Tread creates numerous issues.Wood Flooring Stair Treads

Wrought Iron Stair Railings

When you are trying to decide which type of railing you should secure your stairway with there are many different factors you should consider.  The first and most important factor is safety.  Stairs are used to get from one level of a building to the next level.  So there is always a potential for a fall.  So you want to make sure that you have a set of stairs that will be safe for all that us them to get from one floor to the next.

One of the most important safety factors is the type of balusters used.  The balusters are the horizontal bars on a stairway.  These are also called spindles as well.  A baluster and a spindle is the same exact thing.  Another popular term for some of these are wrought iron railings.  These are obviously made of wrought iron.  A lot of times these are very popular on outside railings.  They hold up much better to the elements than balusters made of wood or other types of metal.

Wrought iron railings have become popular with indoor staircases as well.  They can add a rustic look to your home.  If you already have the look you will be glad you choose to go with metal railings.  So when it comes to picking the right type of handrail to your home you can go online and see some examples of what it will look like in your home.

Quality Stair Parts

Many people wonder if you can actually buy quality stair parts at a big box store. If you are only given the option of a yes or no answer the answer is no. The problem with big box stores is that they order a lot of their products in bulk from countries such as China.  The problem with this is that the quality control leaves much to be desired and you are getting products that have been shipped half way across the world.  You can imagine the problem of shipping wood for weeks across the sea.  The greatest issue with this is the change in humidity which causes wood components to expand and contract causing cracking and warping.  In addition wrought iron stair parts often begin to form microscopic areas of rust which can lead to problems later on.

The greatest issue with box store stair parts however, is not the quality but the selection.  Visit the stair parts isle in any of your local home improvement stores and you will see one or two handrail profiles, a very limited selection of balusters and posts and typically in one or two wood species.  So going this route virtually guarantees a cheap railing system that will very closely resemble everyone else’s balustrade who buys from these locations.  A professional installer, designer or homebuilder can very easily identify a “store bought” system both by the quality and the design.