Thursday, April 30, 2015

Staircase Progress

Post by Mike and Catherine  

Nate and Darryn began the onsite restoration of the staircase and railing last week. We've been taking photos along the way and thought we'd share some images from the installation.

The first steps included disassembling the existing staircase to make way for the new. This included adding a third (middle) stringer to add stability to the staircase. Next, the new risers and treads were installed. The bottom riser and tread that define the volute were installed first, providing an enticing visual early in the process.

In the first photo above, you can see the profile of the old filigree in the old crusty paint below the treads. The filigree had to be removed from the side of the staircase to enable the installation. 

Mike used the silent paint remover to get rid of the crusty old (lead) paint left after the filigree was removed, which helped clear the slate for the new detail.

Here is Darryn putting back the filigree with new pieces that match the original. They had traced the profile before taking off the old, and recreated it in their workshop.

The profile matches the old exactly, as the fit within line of the old paint shows. 

The vertical notches shown above in the end of the treads are part of the mortise and tenon system used to secure the base of the balusters (the notches are the mortises). After the balusters are installed, these joints will be concealed by a nosing that is attached to the end of the tread, using the horizontal slots for joinery, and fitted to the mitre at the corner.

The composition started to materialize, with more enticing visuals each day.

Next, attention was turned to readying the landing for the balusters and railing. Here, Darryn has removed the old apron and is fitting the new apron that the balusters will land in.

Darryn and Nate working out the details of the corner after the newel was installed at the top of the stairs.

The new newels are much more slender, elegant and of course, historic. Here Nate and Darryn work out the transition of the top stair tread to the tapered original floor board on the landing. 

Many of the fine adjustments that are required can only be made with original tools that offer the control needed for the delicate work.

Much of the work is also accomplished with modern tools, but antiques such as these (not the chalkline of course) are in equal usage and are irreplaceable for the work.

The detail railing elements sat by patiently awaiting their turn to shine. Here is the finished railing turn for the volute.

Here is the joined gooseneck and upper railing turn, along with the newel that rests in the center of the volute.

At the end of the week, Nate and Darryn were ready to test how the railing elements would go together after the extended planning and milling of the system. Here, Nate is eyeing a mockup of the railing that will extend from the volute up to the gooseneck.

The pieces were fit in place just for a test. But here is a first glimpse of the installed volute, minus the balusters.

And here is a first visual of the gooseneck and the upper turn dry fit onto the upper newel. 

So beautiful. The gooseneck allows the railing to continue to travel over the top of the newels and balusters.

It was a satisfying end to the week when the mock up of the railing showed the that planning paid off, and everything was destined to fit together exactly as planned. Temporarily installed in place, the elegance and beauty of the gooseneck and upper turn was truly something to behold. Because there had been so much attention on the complexity of the volute, it was really only at this point that the upper end of the handrail shone on its own.

There are still a few steps to complete before the final installation of the railing, so these special handcrafted pieces wait patiently again.


  1. It's like restoring an old painting. The slow painstaking work , done by hand, no rushing it, the beauty of the details showing through, good for a hundred more years ..

  2. It's like restoring an old painting. The slow painstaking work , done by hand, no rushing it, the beauty of the details showing through, good for a hundred more years ..

  3. Absolutely incredible!!! What a work of art. Just wondering if you have an estimated move-in date yet? linda r (phila burbs)

    1. We ask ourselves the same question! The answer is, hopefully, soon.

  4. If there is such a thing as a sexy volute, this one is it! Such a beautiful restoration and how wonderful for you to have found these amazing craftsman to bring it back to life!

  5. Reading this post was a bit like being engrossed in serial tv or reading a page turner.
    I thought of your home the other day when I came across some little corner pieces for stairs. I think they are not period for your home, but the history was interesting. They keep dust out of the corners and cut down on "housework". ~Cassandra E

  6. I was so excited to see your post, love watching this process! I love it!

  7. Mike's posts are as good as an episode of This Old House. I enjoy learning about the details of your restoration, so thank you for sharing them.

  8. Great to see the work….you just want to touch the wood! I am recently enthralled with BBC's Restoration Home episodes on You Tube. We are heading into a big dormer remodel of our mid century. Seeing these really old homes in UK being remodeled makes me feel less daunted. …You might enjoy show also?! Lisa in Bellingham. WA

  9. Wowwwww. If your sitemeter is showing unreasonable demand from North Florida today, it is I! I keep coming back again and again. One minute your entry staircase seems to hold the kind of hushed awe only reserved for high sculptural art, the next it seems to scream with the thunder of 4 tiny feet, roaring around that hairpin turn for the zillionth time, racing through the rooms. Cheers to both extremes and everything in between!


  10. It's going to be stunning. I m really interested in the process as my staircase is so similar with identical components even though we are in the UK

  11. I have never seen a gooseneck turning railing system. The work is beautiful!

  12. Everything looks beautiful!
    xo, lissy

  13. How I appreciate seeing craftsmen at work. What a labor of love. Beautiful!

  14. Hi Mike and Catherine, each post is a reflection of much thought out, research and true craftmanship. I'm amazed at the process as well as the result. It is astounding to think how we take things for granted and then you read this and see each and every step of the process and realize beauty and perfection come at a great cost and those that are willing and eager to create it are true visionaries and artists. Love the post. Love your stairs. So happy for you both.

  15. What can I say? Wooden poetry!

  16. Beautiful. I take it you will be keeping the wood natural and not painting it? What will you use to seal it? Oil or? That staircase is going to make the entrance so elegant. I can already imagine it wound with a garland for Christmas. xo -c

    1. Hi Catherine! We are not painting anything but the balusters. The newel post and railing and treads will be coated with a clear coat of probably Vermont Natural Coatings. Hugs to the boys xoxo

  17. I'm enjoying following your progress. I'm also enjoying your research!
    I'm wondering if you have done a post on what to do about original windows?
    We have a 100 year old home with original windows. The wavy glass is beautiful,and the weighted pulls are fun, but the cold in the winter ( and this in GA!) is getting old. I'm just beginning the research process for alternatives.

    1. We have another local craftsman who is building some single-paned windows to match the old ones. He makes amazing storm windows so they are just as energy efficient as double-paned modern versions. You can call your local Historic Preservation Commission for a list of craftsman in your area. Best, Catherine


Thank you for leaving your thoughts. Kind regards, Catherine

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