As is the case with most items we buy there are occasional steals but in general, when making comparisons a dramatic difference in price reflects something about the products themselves. This is to say that you get what you pay for, so although two items may appear to be the same, there are often cleverly concealed discrepancies in the quality of the materials or manufacturing or even the services or warranties offered by the manufacturer. This is true for most stair parts and today I hope to shed some light on the variations in Box Newel Posts that often make an inferior version appears to be a steal, when in fact you may be comparing “apples and oranges.”
Newel posts are the most important structural support member of a railing system. This is due in part to their relatively large size and to the fact that they are the strongest method of securing the handrail to the floor and offering additional support to the balusters. In addition, they are one of the most prominent and architecturally stunning pieces of any banister and, in fact, the home.
Box Newel Posts are available in a wide variety of styles and designs and there are several material types and methods used to manufacture them. While most methods are acceptable, it is important to know the differences so that you can determine whether or not your selection is a good deal or a “bait and switch.” I understand that not every situation demands the best and highest quality product. Appearance may be the most important factor and if you can find an inexpensive version that meets your needs it is probably a good deal. The problem that we at WoodStairs.com encounter on a weekly basis is that people believe that they are comparing two identical products (either on our site or between our site and another) that differ drastically in price. WoodStairs.com offers a low price guarantee on every product we sell so frequently we are explaining why one of our newel posts is more expensive than competitors’. Occasionally a customer has simply found a good deal and we simply beat our competitors’ price, but as one of the oldest and most respected online retailers of stair parts our products, pricing and value have long withstood the test of time.
In the vast majority of cases where there is a significant difference in the price of two seemingly identical products, the lower of the two is inferior in one of three factors: Material Thickness, Corner Assembly or the Material themselves. This is assuming that the craftsmanship itself is comparable which is something that is difficult to determine from a nice picture on a website. Poor craftsmanship is usually only seen close up or if you’re lucky maybe through a bad review online if someone took the time. Anyway, one important detail before we look at each of these issues is the fact that companies that use solid wood sides of ¾” or greater with mitered or miter-locked corners are proud of their quality products and will state this straight out. I will do so now, WoodStairs.com uses ¾” or thicker solid wood posts with mitered, miter-locked or solid cornered box newel post. 🙂 If a company is vague in their description or omitting these details, you can be virtually assured that they are lacking in one or all of these areas. This is still not to say that the product may not work for your situation but simply that you shouldn’t compare it with another that is specific in its materials and construction. Just call the company or if possible stop by and verify the product before making a comparison. This is especially easy at the big box stores and a glance will tell you all you need to know. They have the prices and the products to match 🙂
So now, let’s first look at the wall thickness of box posts. Since box posts are hollow their strength is on the four sides from which they are constructed. This is why the wall thickness is so important and it is our professional opinion that anything less than ¾” solid wood is unacceptable. Thinner walls do not provide enough “meat” to which the rail
can safely attach the corners (whether mitered, miter-locked, or butt-jointed) do not have enough surface material to be glued securely. Finally, thinner materials are more prone to warping, cracking, etc. Unfortunately, this is one aspect that you cannot see until the product is on your doorstep and since ours are always 3/4″ or greater I don’t’ have a comparison picture. Just be aware that this is a common practice and ask first if the only sizes displayed in the product description are the width of the post and its height.
The next aspect of box newel construction to be aware of is the Corner Assembly. Again, none of these methods should be discounted in themselves, but simple one should not be compared with another. The best, highest quality and most secure method of corner assembly is miter-locked. The corners are basically tongue and grooved which “locks” the corners in place and provides a larger surface area to glue.
The next best method is mitered corners which does not show the end grain of a butt joint and provides more surface area. Finally, the butt joint method is the lowest grade of the three because of the visible end grain.
This method of construction is simpler and less expensive but again it may be just what you are looking for to save money with a newel post that “appears” the same as another. Any of these options may be acceptable for your situation the important detail is to know what you are getting or comparing before you make your decision.
The final feature that causes differences in price are the materials which box newel posts are made from. These may be large pieces of solid wood reducing the number of joints; smaller pieces assembled to make the sides, and finally veneered plywood, or other manufactured wood such as MDF or particle board. Each of these material types has different associated costs and produce different a different level of quality for the box newel.
To summarize, I cannot tell you what is best for your situation but I would strongly suggest that you buy only products that are specific in their materials and construction unless of course quality or the lack of is not at all important. Once you’ve determined the level of quality you expect to make sure that you are comparing “apples to apples” before you look at the price. Only then will you know that you are looking at two Rolex’s versus a Rolex and a Timex. At WoodStairs.com we always strive to ensure our customers know exactly what they are getting, whether it is one of our high-end Raised Panel Box Newel Posts with a Pedestal Base or a simple yet functional standard box newel.