Newel Posts, Balusters and Handrail Install

Here is a quick look at the process of prepping the staircase for new railings, you can see in this first picture the old railings that were hardly sufficient. They were just high enough to clip me at my knees and send me tumbling over the stairs. They were very weak and could have easily been broken off with a little pressure. DSCN1072



Once the old railing was removed I ripped up the old nosing and secured a new plywood subfloor for the new nosing below to be mounted to. A new 6″ white oak nosing was installed as the base for our new balusters and posts. IMG_2754

Next we built a sub-post for each of the newel posts to slide over. These were anchored into framing of the house.


You can see is doing a test fit and marking our lines to cut and notch the posts to fit. IMG_2978

Another option of subpost that we built. IMG_2994



IMG_3235Once the posts are in place we can fit and cut our handrails. We installed these and then removed them to get our balusters in place.



I am very happy with the finished product, the only thing that we do not have finished is a base wrap that will be put on the bottom of each post. This will be the last step I add to really tie everything together. Next Up: I will document the wainscoting and raised paneling that I am building for the stairwell. DSCN2662 DSCN2663 DSCN2668 DSCN2669


Building Custom Newel Posts

I have always admired old custom built newel posts, they have always stood out to me in all of the old houses I have been in over the years. They represented craftsmanship that does not exist in todays home. A newel post in your commonly found home today comes right out of a catalog or off the shelf at Home Depot. They are typically a lathe turned 4×4 that is one piece and mass produced. If you do manage to find a box newel post for sale, it is rarely anything worth looking at and I would be surprised to fine one that is true stain grade work. This type of stuff discourages me in todays world, it says a lot about our society and I think the lack of craftsmanship in everything built in our modern world carries over to just an overall lack of pride in ones work. Materials are strictly built for speed and money, that is the bottom line. If you do find a home with these dying characteristics in them then they are usually million dollar homes. This was a project that I took great pride in and it really did give me a feeling of accomplishment by building some posts that are custom made and should be in this house for another 100 years.

The box newels I did find available to purchase cost about 400.00 a piece and I needed three of them. Not going to happen. I was able to build these for about 90.00 a piece and that was out of red oak and maple.

The design I decided to use was based of an article I found online from Fine Homebuilding, I modified the size and a few other details, but really like the way they had constructed them. Here is a run down of the process I used.

The first thing you should do is draw up some plans based on your own staircase and the size of it. The newel posts I built are 6×6, this was just big enough to make an impact on the room without being to large to fit into the narrow staircase of this house.

DSCN1588By drawing my plans out beforehand it allowed me to make a material list so that I could get the most out of the raw lumber that I bought. I cut all the pieces you see below from 1×10 and 1×8 Red Oak, this picture shows enough wood for two posts. By cutting them all at the same time you can use each piece as a jig so that all the cuts are exactly the same. This will help you in the long run when trying to  make everything square. DSCN1598After cutting all of my pieces, I like to dry fit them in the layout below to see that all of my measurements were correct before I do the joinery. This has prevented me a lot of heartache in the long run. Notice in the picture below how two sides have thicker stiles and two sides have the thinner stiles. Once these are joined in a box it creates the consistent size sides all the way around. If you look at the small part of the panel you can see that two have open panels and two have solid wood. This is preplanned and the areas that are solid will be the connection points for the handrails. DSCN1599When my pieces are laid out I like to make quick pencil marks on each piece where I want to create my pocket holes. Again this prevents mistakes with so many separate pieces. Below you can see me using the Kreg jig to start my pocket holes.DSCN1600Once you start to join the pieces to together with the pocket holes it becomes really important to clamp them tightly to a flat surface. This saves you a lot of sanding or planing in the long run because the outside face will be nice and smooth. DSCN1646Now that the face frames are built I needed to cut some panels to go behind the frames. This creates the recessed panels and also provides another 3/4 inch of material to strengthen the newel and give you a substantial amount of wood to screw the handrails into. I used a maple plywood and cut 45 degree bevels on both sides, this will make a nice strong interior box behind the panels.DSCN1647The plywood is then attached to the back of each panel by using wood glue and brad nails. DSCN1653You can now see that each panel is beginning to take shape. The back pieces are installed and the 4 panels are ready to be squared and attached to form a box.DSCN1654This gives you a look at the panels being lined up and how the 45 degree cuts will fit together on the inside of the box.IMG_2856I then glued and nailed the sides together, this takes some time to get it nice and square before you start nailing it. DSCN1656This next part is very important and must be taken into consideration with your original measurements. This step makes the difference in making a very professional looking edge that makes two pieces of oak become one. The two panels that use the wider stiles must be cut to 1/8″ or so bigger than what you want the finished sides to look like. When you assemble the box you use that 1/8 edge and allow a small lip to hang over both sides of the box. You glue and nail the box together with this lip hanging over, once it is dry we then route the lip off.

As you can see in the picture I am using a flush trim bit  to route off the lip matching it exactly to the piece of the other panel. This will make a perfectly flush edge that would be almost impossible if you tried to do this with your original cuts. DSCN1947We now have the finished boxes and they are ready to have the finish detail trim installed. You can see the newel post on the right has the finishing touches in place, the left two are still bare. IMG_2922This lets you get a look of the top of the post, it gives you an idea of how thick and substantial the post becomes which provides us with a very strong newel post once installed in the house. IMG_2545I cut and dry fit all of my pieces of finish trim, this is one of the most time consuming parts of the build to get these just right and have flawless corners that do not require filler. I attach these with an instant bond glue to hold the corners in place and then shoot small brad nails to finish the job.DSCN1957Here they are, the finished product. I built these out of oak and made them to a standard of being stain grade. Although it almost killed me, the long term goal was to actually paint these. I know, I know its almost criminal, trust me I put a lot of thought into the final product but in the end thats how it all came together. To actually make stain grade posts to match the rest of the wood in my house I would  not have been able to use these. My house has quarter-sawn white oak in it, so I would have had to buy rough cut white oak. Mill all of the boards and even worse mill all of the trim pieces. IMG_2929I still took pride in knowing that they were finished clean enough that I could have stained them. I built them out of oak because they have the deep grain which will show through the paint, it is also nice to have a hardwood that will hold up to the abuse that a newel post will take over time. DSCN1970  DSCN1973I have the newel posts installed and will get photos up of the finished railing and posts shortly. It shows you the finished product after they have been painted, and I have to say I am very pleased with the end result.

New Stairs Are Taking Shape.


Overtime I have done a little bit of everything when it comes to residential houses and construction, but stairs is something I never have really been a part of. Luckily some of the guys I work with are extremely talented in this area and were able to show me the way.

As you can see, we completely ripped out the old staircase. It was very steep and had treads that were not very large. It had its day, but it was worn out, modified numerous times and had become an after thought in this otherwise beautiful house. DSCN0376Our goal was to cut new stringers that had a less steep rise and run, allowing us to have bigger treads and a safer walk down the stairs. To do this the first thing we had to do was gain space for an extra step. The next picture shows you where we took the original large landing and made it into two different landings. The plywood area is where we lowered the stair case.

IMG_1782Next we used two LVLs to cut our new stringers. LVLs give you a strong stable material to work with when you are using lumber that is this long. It required some trial and error to make our stairs land where we wanted in the living room. Once installed, we temporarily screwed down the old treads to have a working platform. DSCN0381I then fixed the plaster and lath on both sides of the stairs where we exposed the studs. The flatter and straighter that you can get this area the better, especially if you plan on installing wainscoting and large skirt boards up the stairs later.

DSCN1065Now you can see we have installed the skirt boards up the side of the stringers, we spaced our stringer out away from the wall to allow us to slide the skirt boards down behind the stringers, this prevents you from having to cut and notch each stair to fit your skirt boards.IMG_2462We then moved on to the riser work. This is were the real technical and fine finish work begins. This involves some skill and experience to make the finished product look right. The picture below shows your outside board that is one piece, mitered to  each of the 6 risers which are also mitered and fit to the outside board with great precision. You can really spot true craftsmanship, I was impressed with my friends eye for detail when we got into this part. Those clean miters you see below are freshly cut and do not have touch up paint or caulking on them. They are perfectly cut, with each stair requiring a slightly  different angle. IMG_2488

IMG_2490The treads were then fitted and put on, these will have stained cove that finishes the transition from the tread to the riser, where you see the gaps. Now that the layout is done, it is time to make custom newel posts. IMG_2495



Carpet Changes The Whole 2nd Floor

This was exciting, granted this is not a big deal in most peoples lives, but I can’t explain how much this helped our house start to feel like it is in the home stretch of being somewhat classified as a finished home. We have been living on the subfloor for 3 years now. This leaves me very little to do on the second floor. The stair railing being the biggest job left. DSCN1601 DSCN1604 DSCN1607 DSCN1609 DSCN1616 DSCN1624 DSCN1627 DSCN1632 DSCN1636


Door Reborn

I am a big fan of original woodwork, I have a deep appreciation for the type of craftsmanship that went into every detail of old houses. We take it for granted when we pull a door off the shelf at home depot or order online with a click of a button. Much of the woodworking in old houses was done on site, I have my great  great grandfathers old Stanley No.45 trim plane, he did a large amount of carpentry and trim work around this city around the turn of the century. It is a good reminder for me as I remodel to not only preserve things like original woodwork, but to try and put everything I have into the attention to detail of my own work.

So here is the poor excuse for a finish that had been placed on this bathroom door, most of the doors in the house still have their original Shellac finish, not in very good condition, but still there. This one had just been stained and had no type of finish applied.IMG_1898 IMG_1899 IMG_1903 IMG_1904

Sanding doors down is not the easiest thing in the world, you have to be very careful not to sand to much on the panels or you will begin to lose the bevels. I sanded the face with an orbital and almost all of the panels were sanded by hand with very little pieces of sandpaper. Needless to say, my finger tips were also removed in the process!!IMG_2233

Once I was down to clean wood, I reapplied an Amber Shellac, I am a big fan of the amber and reds it brings out in old growth Pine. You can see the original door knobs are still in the house as well, I cleaned them up but did not restore the shiny brass finish. This was on my wife’s request, as she likes the tarnished brass look. IMG_2347 IMG_2350DSCN1282

The door is truly my favorite part of the entire bathroom remodel. DSCN1269


Upstairs Bathroom


Here is a look at the process of redoing the upstairs bathroom. It is a small bathroom that was not original to the house, it was added sometime in the 80’s I believe. It is a very small space that is cut into the knee walls of the top floor, all the angles present some unique challenges when trying to do your finish work. I went pretty traditional with the subway tile and the octagon tile floors. I had to custom make a medicine cabinet because my wife liked the mirror so much in the old outdated one. How she explained it to me was the old mirror is a “skinny mirror” and that not all mirrors are like that. So instead of buying a new medicine cabinet I had to take the mirror out to the wood shop and build one to ensure that the skinny mirror remained in the house! If that is the only request from a pregnant wife that is living in this mess than I got away pretty easy, that does not mean I understand the mirror concept. Ha!
I refinished the original door and put three coats of amber shellac to bring out that original beauty like the other doors in the house. I think the door is my favorite part and really sets off the traditional look of the room. It was very time consuming but worth it.
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2nd Floor Update

As I said before, the second floor is in all out construction mode, I have multiple projects going on at once and I move from one to the other as projects dry, wait for help, etc. The timer is still ticking so when most people are worrying about a nursery (and whining about it) I have three rooms, a bathroom, a hallway, and a complete staircase redo to accomplish. Im not complaining, I got into this knowing I had a huge mess on my hands, I’m actually pretty motivated and don’t mind working with the pressure on me. I tend to work better with pressure and stress than I do if there is no real goal or time constraint. As you can see below, this shows the bathroom that was gutted. It is pretty much done, besides some decorations that my wife needs to finish. I will do a separate piece on it in a couple of days. The staircase will be taken on in the next week or two, and the hallways and plaster repair is completely done. I will show the finish product pictures of this later.

You ever seen a pregnant wife have to use temporary stairs or ladders to get around the house? Ill tell you what, she’s a champ!DSCN0366 DSCN0376 IMG_1783 IMG_1790 DSCN1000 DSCN1011 IMG_2033