Wood Newel Posts are available in two main categories, each with virtually unlimited designs. These categories are Turned Newel Posts and Box Newel Posts. While there are countless designs there are also a couple of variations for each style, specific to their intended use. These variations are most important with Turned Newel Posts and it is my intention today to help you understand the reason for the variation in newel post types and how each is used in a balustrade.
There are two types of railing systems, continuous and post to post. Continuous railing systems are those in which the handrail is continuous over the top of each post in the system, achieved with specific types of posts and handrail fittings. The second type of balustrade system, post-to-post, is one in which the handrail terminates into the top block of each post. Systems using Box Newel Posts are always post-to-post while you have the option of either railing system when using turned newel posts; you simply need the right turned newel post for the job.
Continuous systems are fairly simple, they use dowel top posts which require a tandem style fitting that allows the rail to “balloon” over the top of the post uninterrupted. While these are available in different lengths for different applications the style remains consistent. The complexity in a continuous system is in the handrail fittings. Fittings such as goosenecks, easings and tandem or capped fittings are used to transition between different handrail heights over the top of the post. However, for a particular style of posts, the dowel top version simply does not have a top block, otherwise they are the same.
Post-to-post systems are a little more complicated as far as the type of post is concerned. While one type of post can be used (a standard short block for example) and the transitions also made with fittings, often areas with handrails of differing heights use a medium or long block post to accommodate them. There are basically three types of post-to-post newel posts. These are Standard (or Small) Block, Medium Block and Long Block.
Standard Block posts are used in three possible scenarios. The first is whenever a single rail terminates at the post, such as at the bottom of a stair. The second is when two handrails of the same height terminate in to the post, such as at floor level corners. The third scenario is when transitions between to handrails of differing heights are made with fittings such as a goose neck at the intermediate landing in an “L” shaped stairway.
The Medium and Long Block Turned Newel Posts serve the same function, the only difference being that the Long Block allows for a larger distance between two handrails of differing height.
Medium and Long Block Newel posts are used in two scenarios, both in situations where handrail fittings are not being used to make transitions in height. The first situation is at the top of the stairs if the handrail heights vary more than a Standard Top Block will accommodate. Usually this occurs when the floor level balustrade height is taller than the stair balustrade height. For example if you have a 36” tall stair balustrade and a 42” tall floor level balustrade. The second and more common situation is at intermediate landings or winder treads. Here the handrail from the lower flight is lower than the handrail from the upper flight. The distance between the heights of these two handrails is used to determine which type you will need, Medium or Long. Typically on an intermediate landing, the handrail height difference is such that a Medium Block post will do the job.
However, when there is a section of winder treads between two flights there are multiple risers involved and this distance often requires a Long Block newel and occasionally even a Medium or Long Block with a Gooseneck. The way you determine which post you will require is to place a straight edge (such as a 2×4) on each flight and measure the distance in height between the two straight edges where they intersect at the post location. Then you need to add the thickness of your handrail to this measurement which will give you the approximate distance that you will eventually have between your handrails. Don’t forget that your handrail will be a little thicker when measured plumb as it sits on the stair, but this is usually not more than an inch or so. When you figure out the distance you will need a top block that is slightly larger than this measurement. This is so the bottom of the lower handrail will fit on the bottom of the Post Block and the top of the upper handrail will fit on the top of the Post Block.
If this is a little confusing to you, don’t worry. It really isn’t as difficult to do as I’ve found it to describe.