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Monthly Archives: November 2012

Solid or Veneered Stair Treads

Solid Treads and False Tread Caps

A common question our customers often ask about stair treads is whether ours are solid or veneered.  WoodStair’s treads are solid glue-laminated as opposed to engineered or what many call veneered.

Solid Stair Treads are several pieces of solid hardwood that are milled to thickness, straight lined, then glued together.  While it may be possible, depending on the species, to find boards wide enough to make the tread from a single piece, laminated treads are actually a more durable and long lasting product.  The laminating process actually helps to insure that the treads do not warp or twist.  Individual pieces of lumber are grain matched and laminated together with the grain of individual pieces opposing each other.  This helps to insure stability.  Additionally, modern adhesives result in joints that are usually stronger than the wood itself.  I mentioned that the boards of solid treads are grain matched, because they are different pieces of wood there will be some variation and additionally in today’s market many customers often request more variation and even knots in the final product.  Treads typically finish at 1” thick but ¾” thick solid treads can also be used on stairs with subtreads.

Engineered treads or veneered treads are an imported product, typically from china.  They are created as an oak “butcher block” style which is then veneered top and bottom with a 1/8” solid hardwood layer with an attached solid nose.  The many laminations involved in manufacturing this product actually increases it’s stability and engineered stair treads actually exceed all of the American Woodworking Institutes standards for glue-lamination.  The only true downsides to the product itself are the fact that it is not made in the USA and that it is not a true solid stair tread.

How To Install a Floor Level Newel Post

Newel Mounting Plate

Installing a Solid Newel Post on a floor level can be done several ways with several types of stair installation hardware.  Each makes the process relatively simple and easy for the do it yourselfer so don’t be intimitaded.  I’m going to assume that the posts have been cut to length, that their location has already been deterimined and laid out and you are now ready to install with one of the following four methods.  These are listed in no particular order.

The first method is to use a mounting plate.  A steel plate is first screwed to the bottom of the post then the plate itself (with the attached post) is screwed into the floor.  Always make sure you have appropriate backing in the floor itself and that you are aware of and avoid any electrical wires, plumbing, etc.  If necessary the post can be plumbed with small shims under the plate.  Finally the plate is then covered with moulding which is simply mitered and nailed into place.  The advantages of this method is in its simplicity.  It includes the addition of the moulding at the bottom of the post, to cover the mounting plate.  Many like this additional detail while others prefer the post to mount into the post without moulding.  There are a couple of ways this can be achieved as well but first another method using mouldings.

Skirtboard

Alder and Iron Balustrade Combination

Skirtboards are a category of aprons which are basically a type of stair moulding.  While Skirtboards are often used to describe all stair aprons, there is a better and simpler categorization that helps define the location of the apron on the stair or balustrade.  While the aprons on a particular staircase may be identical products, their location is often confused without a further distinction.This distinction comes from breaking the category of Aprons (commonly generalized as Skirtboards) down into skirt boards and kick boards, each with a very specific definition.  This makes designing, ordering and installing the items more easily discussed.

The best definition of a skirtboard is a long board that trims under the balustrade on the wall or stringer below.  This is further simplified into Stair Skirtboards and Floor Level Skirtboards.  Stair skirboards are installed under the stair treads on stairs with an open balustrade.  Typically stair skirtboards on open or saw-toothed treads are about 12” wide.  Stair Skirtboards on kneewalls may be narrower because without the tread notch they can otherwise appear too “heavy” in some circumstances.  There is another reason for larger stair skirtboards on saw-toothed treads and smaller on kneewall stairs that I will discuss shortly.  First that requires us to define the second type of skirtboard which is the floor level skirtboard.  This skirtboard is attached to the wall under any balustrade.  They range in thickness from a couple of inches to a foot or more wide.  It is the transition from stair to floor level skirtboards that must be considered when determining the width of each type.  For example, because saw-toothed skirt boards have a large percentage of the board notched out at the open treads, the look is not as heavy.  Therefore, you may find it more aesthetically pleasing to use a narrower floor level skirtboard rather than a full 12” wide that matches the stair skirtboard.  The following images may help you understand this concept a little better.

Happy Thanksgiving from WoodStairs.com

WoodStairs.com Happy Thanksgiving

Woodstairs.com would like to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving and Holiday Season.  We are especially grateful to our many customers.  We hope that our stairs and railings have helped you to create a beautiful staircase and balustrade.  Your patronage is truly appreciated in these tough economic times.  We pride ourselves in being the leader in our industry.  We understand that there are a variety of sources from which you could have selected your components and we want you to know that you have our sincere appreciation.  All of us at WoodStairs.com are spending this holiday with our families and we are very mindful of the trust you placed in our products and services.  Whether you purchased a single baluster or an entire stair system, whe are profoundly aware that our livelihood is based on your confidence in our company, products and services.  To all of those who entrusted us with your business we thank you.

Whether you have renovated your stairs and balustrades or have recently built a new home, we hope that your new staircase adds a little warmth to your holiday season.  Please know that your business has benefited a company of good, hardworking individuals that are deeply appreciative.

In addition, on behalf of all of us at WoodStairs.com, we would like to say that we are thankful to be citizens of this extraordinary country.   We are thankful for the Constitution which guarantees our many freedoms, for our military that defends those freedoms throughout the world and we are grateful for our families, friends and loved ones.    Finally, once again, we are thankful for those of you who have entrusted us with your business.  As always, we will continue to strive to be the leaders of our industry and in so doing earn your future business and your recommendation.  Happy Holidays.

WoodStairs.com

Handrail Fittings

Wood Handrail Fittings

A common question we recieve from our customers is how they connect two handrails where they meet at a change in direction or what the “Curly Q” at the start of the stair is called.  This in addition to a variety of questions about handrail fittings and what exactly they are.  Handrail fittings are those stair parts that are precision manufactured to match the handrail in order to change direction or terminate the rail.  There are a wide variety of them to be used in many situations.  There are basically two types of fittings, Level and Eased.  In each of these two categories there are an additional two types of fittings, transition fittings and termination fittings.  In addition fittings are often used in a series to make more complex transitions or to transition to a termination :) The following daigram shows how many types of fittings are used.

The level fittings include Quarter Turns which are available in several different angles, S-Turn Fittings, Level Volutes and Tandem Fittings.  Basically these are flat fittings as opposed to three dimensional fittings.  They allow a handrail to change direction in the same plane.  If this is confusing, here are a couple of examples.  Quarter turn are used to connect two handrails that meet at an angle such as 90 degrees or 135 degrees or to returns a rail to a wall or post.

Quarter Turn Handrail Fitting

135 Quarter Turn Handrail Fitting

S-Turn Fittings allow a handrail to go around a wall such as in the case of a balustrade transitioning to a wall mounted rail.

S Turn Handrail Fitting

Then you  have the capped fittings such as tandem caps and quarter turns with caps.  This type of fitting is used in a over the post systems that are made to accept Turned Newel Post  in the middle of a balustrade or at a corner.

Staircase Design

Extreme Staircase Design

Staircase design is a relatively simple concept especially if you don’t really put a lot of thought into it.  If do want to truly maximize the potential of this wonder architectural design space then you  will quickly realize that it may not be as simple as it seems.  As you dig a little deeper into stair design you will very soon discover the seemingly endless array of components available.  Honestly, most people stick with very basic, standard designs, virtually indistiniguishable from their neighbors’.

This is why you only see a handful of iron balusters, for example, on most stair parts websites.  Let’s break this architectural feature down a little to see what we have to work with.  You have two components, the stair and the balustrade.  The balustrade itself can be broken down into the five categories of treads or shoe rails, skirt boards, balusters, handrails and newel posts.  So at most you are probably dealing with six separate design elements.  While stair design, handrail profiles, treads and shoe rails, and skirt board options are not black and white, they are often the more simple considerations than balusters and newel posts.  Not only are these two items among the most visually prominent in the staircase, but they are available in unlimited materials, styles patterns and designs begin to become overwhelming for some.  For some these possibilities are exciting and allow us the opportunity to create our perfect space.

Stair Installation Tools

There are a wide variety of stair installation tools, hardware and supplies that help to make the installation process more simple and efficient while yielding a higher quality final product.  While some of these tools are essentially required, many are used in specific situations or for a one time project may be worked around.  The following list of stair installation tools includes most of the tools a professional stair installer will have.   For a do it yourself installation by a home owner, for example, use this list as a reference and just whittle it down to the essentials for your specific requirements.  Also, remember many of the larger tools such as a Miter Saw, Compressor, etc., can be rented from most of the big home improvement stores.  So without further delay, the following is an ideal list of stair installation tools for a professional installer or someone with an unlimited budget or a future need for them.

Large Tools
Miter Saw
Work Bench or Miter Saw Stand
Metal Cutting Saw – For Iron Balusters (This can be a grinder with a metal cutting wheel, metal cutting
band saw, or even a hacksaw)
Air Compressor and hose
18 gauge Brad Nailer
Trim Router and Bits
Palm Sander
Belt Sander
Power Cords
Jig Saw

Hand Tools
Versa Tool – Rail Bolt Wrench ***This tooll is a virtual necessity for any banister installation***
Hearing and Eye Protection
Measuring Tape
Hammer or Rubber Mallet
Speed Square
Utility Knife
Nail Set
Chisels – ½” & 1”
Drill Bits: 3/16”, ¼”, ½” Spade or Forstner, 1” Spade or Forstner
Caulking Gun
Construction Adhesive
Torpedo Level
4’ Level
Chalk Line
Stud Finder
Pencils
Pencil Compass
Pliers
Vise Grip Pliers
Block Plane

Specialty Tools
Centaur
Stair Tread Wizard
Balcony Pro
Baluster Marking Tool
Bore Buster

Stair Installation of Tapered Wood Plugs

Installing a tapered plug is a simple procedure.  As is the case with most stair hardware a few trade secrets will help insure that your installation is flawless.  There are only a couple of ways to incorrectly install a plug; first you can have poorly selected color or grain that does not match the stair part.  Second, the grain of the plug doesn’t go with the grain of the stair part.  Finally, the plug is not installed flush which if raised, creates a bump and if recessed, creates a divot.  In any of these cases, as long as the stair part itself is not damaged, the plug can easily be replaced with a correctly aligned, color matched and installed plug.  The worst thing that you can do when installing a face grain plug is to damage the stair part itself by sanding a divot, cutting the part with a chisel or otherwise damaging the part.  Those issues can be difficult or impossible to repair without replacing the part itself.   Here is the best and easiest way to install either ½” Tapered Plugs or 1” Tapered Plugs.

You will need:  the hole :), Wood Plugs, Wood Glue, Hammer, Chisel and Sand Paper.

First, during installation make sure that you drill the correct size hole.  On a test piece of wood, drill a hole with the bit you plan on using then check a plug to make sure it fits.  The plug should fit snuggly before it sets flush and require slight tapping with a hammer to get it flush.  A correct fit is pretty easily verified, just make sure that the plug doesn’t just drop in and that the hole isn’t too small because then the stair part could split when hammering the plug flush.

How to Layout Stair Balusters

The following are instructions for laying out stair balusters.  This is a relatively simple process that can often seem difficult if you haven’t done it before.  This post deals with the layout only, not the installation methods of the differing types of wood and iron spindles.  I’m also assuming that you have already determined the centerline of the handrail and the balusters on the treads.  The following diagram using the three baluster per tread scenario will be useful to help you understand the descriptions of the formulas below.  Also, the baluster placement (1 & 2 or 1, 2 & 3 as per the diagram) are always measured from the back riser forward toward the nosing in this method of layout.

Typically the first step in this process is to determine the maximum spacing between your balusters as allowed by code in your area.  In order to better help you understand this I am going to skip this step for now and we will come back to it later.  Just remember in most areas the maximum code is 4”, stated something similar to this: “No space shall be large enough to allow the passage of a 4” sphere.”   Again, since the math is virtually the same for all baluster patterns let’s just go through the two most common scenarios completely so that you can see why this first step is important and if you understand it, it will save you having to go through the trial and error we are about to do.  So, skipping the real first step here we go:

Vote Tomorrow!

When considering a topic for today’s post on stair parts, handrails, balusters, etc., I decided instead to alter from my area of expertise and discuss something that is relevant to all Americans, tomorrows’ Presidential Election.  In addition to being a Stair Specialist for WoodStairs.com, I am a proud, patriotic and grateful American.  I am far from undecided on the issues and the candidates but I do not intend to attempt to persuade anyone to join me.  Rather, instead I beseech everyone who is legally able to, to VOTE tommorrow.  More than this though, convince your family, friends and anyone else that you can, of the importance of this right and get them to Vote as well.

This election is widely regarded as one of the most significant in recent memory.  Tomorrow, when voters go to the polls, they will be casting their ballots for elected officials who will be involved in deciding what is done about major issues facing the country.  These issues include: the Economy and National Debt, Taxes, Health Care, Social Security, Immigration Reform, Energy Policy, Terrorism and much more.  Our two party system has produced two candidates with very different views on how to address these issues.  This election is perhaps more significant than some previous because of this stark contrast.  In addition, this election is extremely close, a virtual dead heat, so tomorrow more than ever, every vote will count.