Rebuilding Stairs And Railing Home Improvement
With the skylight finished, it was time to get the stairs and railing rebuilt. I did some planning in SketchUp, to work out the details.
The basic structure of the stairs is reused and new treads and railing components are fabricated and installed. The treads will be 1/2″ plywood (like the floor above) and have solid wood nosing, with the nosing dadoed to receive the rabbeted edge of the tread:
The posts are built up, using many parts. A piece of solid wood makes up the core that is 2-1/2″ x 2-1/2″ x 39″ high. This is then wrapped on all four sides with 1/2″ plywood to increase the size to 3-1/2″ square. The trim parts are solid wood:
There are “L” shaped pieces that cap the corners and blocks of the same thickness that go between them, to create the ‘frame and panel’ look. The moldings that wrap the top and bottom are solid wood and were cut using the router table and table saw.
The post in place, before it was painted:
At this point, the treads are all made, fitted and put in place. These are fastened with construction adhesive.
My plan called for twenty balusters, and I cut these with a simple taper. I used a taper jig on the table saw and sanded each baluster smooth with the belt sander. The square tenons on the end of each baluster were cut on the table saw:
To bolt the lower post securely in place, I left the outside panel off the bottom section. The post is glued with PL Premium construction adhesive, dowelled to the floor with 3/8″ threaded rod and bolted to the bottom riser. After the bolts are tightened, the panel is put back on.
The upper post is doweled to the floor with four pieces of 3/8″ threaded rod:
These protrude about 1-1/4″ and are glued into the post. This post gets lateral support from two other directions and these dowels will be quite adequate to secure it.
The upper post in place. Getting the posts painted before installing is a good idea. I used oil based flat and sprayed on several thin coats. I made a plywood layout jig to accurately mark the mortises for the balusters:
A 3/4″ drill and wood chisel are used to cut the mortises:
There is some simple math involved in spacing the balusters, and this space should be consistent. At the landing I reduced the distance between the newel post and the first baluster, to better match the situation on the stair treads. This leaves me with a spacing that is nearly the same as on the treads, and this difference is not detectable by eye.
The balusters are fully finished before I install them – stained and clear coated with semigloss polyurethane. It is much easier to do this now, before they are in place. Each baluster is cut to length and glued in place.
The balusters are attached at the top to a wood strip:
Also visible in this photo is the half post against the wall. This is screwed through to wood blocking inside the wall and glued with construction adhesive.
This strip is mortised into the post at each end:
This method eliminates a lot of the more complicated aspects of building a railing, since there are only the mortises at the treads and landing to deal with. The balusters are fastened to the strips with glue, screws and finish nails.
The hand rail is then carefully cut to length and installed. This is fastened to the strip with glue and screws.
The last step in finishing the stairs is to trim under the treads and the hand rail with 1/2″ x 1/2″ cove molding. It is cut to size and machined on the router table. Here I’m sanding the pieces smooth using my sanding block:
The molding is then stained and given three coats of polyurethane:
The trim is held in place with pin nails and glue. A thin bead of polyurethane construction adhesive is applied to the corner of the joint. It doesn’t take much – the advantage of using construction adhesive is that it doesn’t drip off all over the place. And, unlike PVA based glue, it adheres to finished wood as well.
The trim installed:
For nearly all small trim jobs, I use a shop made mitre box and a hack saw. I don’t have any difficulty cutting very accurate joints with this combination.
The trim below the tread:
It is returned on the end and the small piece is just glued in.
A better look at the trim under the treads:
Trim like this is used to dress up the project and also cover gaps. It can easily conform to variations in the surfaces, giving a much neater appearance and more of a ‘built in’ look that seems to be lacking in a lot of modern carpentry. Having the various parts of the railing separate, allows for each piece to be cut and fitted individually, making for a tighter fit. It takes a bit longer, but I feel the results are worth the effort.
The hand rail from below:
The stairs and railing completed.