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Category Archives: Installation

Stair Makeover – Changing Newel Posts

Turned and Box Newel Posts

Newel posts are the largest component of a staircase.  Because of the size and complexity of newel posts, they are also often one of the most expensive 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 posts, they don’t necessarily have to be large, luxurious ones.  Also, because railing systems often come near the end of projects, if it wasn’t considered early on, people often go over their budgets on other items and no longer have the money to spend on the balustrade.

Many people decide to save a little money by downgrading the newel posts in their balustrade, so as home upgrades are considered, newel posts can be a good place to start. Changing newel posts is an easy and inexpensive method of upgrading the look of your banister.  Replacing the starting posts of the stair requires very little skill.  The existing posts are removed, the new posts are cut to length and are then installed.  Newel posts can be pre-finished, or they can be finished after installation. The new posts may be similar in style, or they may be a completely different type  of post.  For example, turned newel posts may be replaced with box newel posts  and vice versa.

How to Stop a Baluster from Rattling

Iron Baluster Closeup

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.  However, that doesn’t mean you have to live with rattling every time you walk up the stairs.

Dowel Top Baluster NailMost balusters, wood or iron, are installed into holes in the floor or shoe plate and 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 and a finishing nail.  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.

Do I Need a Professional Railing Installer?

Wood and Wrought Iron Balustrade

 

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.

Stair Parts Glossary of Terms

ANATOMY OF A STAIR

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.

Stair Makeover: Part 1

Stair Remodeling

You’re not the only thing that needs a makeover!  Actually, you probably don’t need one at all, but old, worn and outdated stairs can often use a little (or a lot) of freshening up.  Whether you want to make your home a better place to live or if you are trying to sell it, your stair and balustrades provide a great opportunity.  Over the next few days I plan to write a series of articles on one of the most commonly asked questions we address.  What are the best, easiest and most cost efficient methods of stair makeover?  Of course this question depends on what your existing balustrade consists of, what it looks like, what damages, if any, it has and how strong and secure it is.  While this question may be asked because a system is unsafe or insecure, it is usually one of aesthetics.  For some reason the existing stair is just plain ugly, doesn’t match new renovations or maybe it’s fine but not the work of art you know it could be.  Whatever your reasons, in order for me to help you decide what course of action you should take I have to address the different types of balustrades upon which you will be improving.  So, let me begin with a list of possible balustrade types and then today I will summarize the different techniques you can use to revitalize each arrangement.  In subsequent articles I will address each solution in detail.

All Wood balustrade
All Iron Railing System
Wood and Wrought Iron balustrade
Other

Adding a wood handrail to your existing iron balustrade

Upgrade your full metal stair by simply adding a wood handrail.

There are several reasons that people choose to upgrade their current system by combining wood and wrought iron railings.  If your existing balustrade is all metal, the simple addition of wood handrails can dramatically improve on the existing design with little cost and simple installation.  Wood handrails are larger, warmer to the touch, often more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing and finally, they may better compliment other colors and textures in the home.  Taking these advantages one at a time, I’ll start with size.  Wrought iron handrails are typically substantially smaller and lack the available detail that is available in the wood alternatives.  Wood is warmer to the touch than the significantly colder iron, and coupled with its larger size and comfortable shape it is an overall more sensually inviting option over iron.  Personal preferences will determine whether or not you prefer the look of wood over iron, however its use often helps to better compliment the other aspects of the space such as wood floors, doors, finish carpentry, furniture, etc.  I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with full iron balustrades.   This is primarily a matter of preference.  Look at the above pictures, you may prefer the full iron version.  There is nothing wrong with this design.  In fact, the wood addition is in this case more of a trim piece though, many prefer it for the above mentioned reasons.

Whatever your reason for wanting a wood handrail with your existing wrought iron balustrade, the process is relatively simple and inexpensive.  Often, there is no need to remove or replace any of the existing balustrade components but instead you can simply add the wood handrail over the old iron one.  Many iron handrails are square or rectangular and the wood handrail can be added on top or plowed so that the iron handrail is recessed into the bottom of it.  Even the most decorative iron handrails are typically not very large or ornate and can be concealed in a new decorative wood handrail. 

How to Install Iron Balusters: Part 3

IronPro - Level Kit

If you want to know how to install iron balusters, there is now a third option and one we highly recommend for many of our customers.  IronPro is a patented system that was developed by one of our suppliers, LJ Smith.  It is an innovative and patented iron baluster shoe system that can be used in virtually any iron baluster installation situation.  In new installations it can reduce installation times to 1/3 of normal and even better, in renovations, it allows you to replace wood balusters with wrought iron balusters without removing the post or handrails.  So, if you have a damaged, outdated or plain ugly balustrade but don’t want to spend your hard earned money to replace the entire system, IronPro allows you to keep everything but the balusters themselves.  All of your other stair parts remain intact.  You can repaint or stain them if you would  like, to freshen them up, but you do not have to replace them.  Not only that but you don’t even have to remove and reinstall your newel posts, handrails, stair treads, etc. to install the balusters.  So whether you  are doing it yourself or hiring out  the installation you will save money on labor as well.

Iron balusters installation using LJ Smith’s IronPro system is simple virtually anyone can do it.  With everything in place (even stained or painted) except the iron balusters you simply add the IronPro shoes to the handrail and Stair Tread or Landing Tread, cut the balusters to length, insert them into the shoes and fasten them with the included set screws.  Here is a youtube video that shows the process far better than I can describe it here.  The tools required are minimal and we have no reservations recommending this system to even those with virtually no woodworking experience.

How to Install Iron Balusters: Part 2

Iron Baluster Installation

If you wondering how to install wrought iron balusters here is another option.  Of course if you’ve read Part 1 of this series of blogs you already know that the method I will describe below, the Up-And-Down method, is not my favorite method.  In almost all scenarios we recommend either of the other two approaches explained in this series, Part 1 and Part 3 before this one.  However since it is a widely described way of method for both wood baluster and iron baluster installation I would be remiss not to include it.  For the do-it-yourselfer with no experience or skill in balustrade installation this may be a good method for you.  It is quick and easy and virtually anyone can do it.  

The basic procedures are the same as the other two Methods so I am intentionally being a little vague so as not to repeat myself.  You can read detailed info in Part 1 here.  But to paraphrase, the Treads and/or Landing Treads are installed as are the Newel Posts. 

The differences begin when the Handrail is cut and permanently installed between the posts or the walls.  The layout is made on the treads or landing shoe and then plumbed up to the bottom of the handrail.  

Then the holes are drilled into the Treads or Landing Shoe, large enough that the baluster can slip freely into it and ½” deep.  In the case of ½” iron balusters this hole is 5/8” diameter.  

How to Install Iron Balusters: Part 1

Gothic Iron Balusters

Installing wrought iron balusters into a wood handrail and wood tread or landing shoe is a relatively simple process that almost anyone with a little woodworking skill can accomplish.  I will address each of these methods in articles over the next couple of days.  I do not know of any formal name for these methods so I’ll do the naming myself.  So, I’ll go with the installation descriptive titles of, Secured, Up-And-Down and Iron Pro.

Today, and in the other two cases, I will highlight the pros and cons.  All of these methods will work for a new install but today’s Secure method requires the temporary attaching then removal of the handrail.  So, if you cannot or do not wish to remove your handrail during the installation process then you will need to use one of the methods described in the subsequent blogs.  For example if you are replacing wood balusters with iron balusters and cannot remove the handrail because of the likelihood that it will be damaged.  In this case you would leave the handrail in place and use the IronPro method or as a last resort the Up-And-Down method.

So, as I mentioned today I will explain what is considered by virtually all professionals to be the best method of installing iron balusters.  I will say flat out that this method is somewhat more complicated and thus is not often recommended to the do-it-yourselfer.  I think that this is a mistake, although it does require a few more hand tools and skill, the long term results are indeed a professional installation.

I’ve called this the Secure method because the balusters are securely trapped between the handrail and the treads or the floor.  Here is how it works.

Newel Post Height

Newel_Posts

There are several methods of how to install a newel post but the first step is cutting them to the correct height.  This height depends on the standard handrail height for your balustrade which is based on the building codes for your area.  Typically floor level balustrades must be at least 36” high or 42” high, depending on local codes and stair guardrails must be between 34” and 38”.  While these are the typical requirements as established by the International Residential Code, they do vary by area so make sure you know the codes that apply to your situation before you proceed.

Calculating the newel post height is the first step in newel post installation.  The two most common scenarios are floor level posts and posts at the start of a stair.  A third scenario is posts at a winder tread but this is a little more complicated so I will address this in a future post.  So stay tuned :)

When using turned newel posts the objective in all scenarios is to have the rails terminate into the center of the top block.  If you are using box newels then there may or may not be a space that is visually defined by a molding as the “top block”.   If your post does not have this then there is no real rule, the rail simply terminates somewhere near the top of the post.  In the other scenarios, when there is some type of visual top block the calculation is fairly simple.  Using the following formula will center the rail in the top block.

Newel Post Height

Floor Level Post Heights are calculated to place the rail in the center of the Top Block using the following formula.