Monday, May 18, 2015

The Stair Railing

Post by Mike 

Nate and Darryn finished the installation of the railing this past week. It was incredibly exciting to watch the vision and historic Federal design materialize. Here are a few images of the details from the final installation.

Because the design de-emphasizes reliance on bulky newel posts at each corner, it was necessary to supplement the wood components with a little steel to aid stability. At five key locations, steel balusters were installed to stiffen the railing system. Their dimensions match the dimensions of the wood balusters exactly, and once painted will blend right in.

One of those key locations was next to the upper newel and gooseneck where the railing turns 180 degrees to run along the landing.

Here Nate is fine-tuning the location for another of the steel balusters, near the lower joint in the hand rail.

Before the railing was actually joined, the system was dry fit to check the alignment and interaction with the steel balusters.

Here is a glimpse at the sweep of the gooseneck leading down the stairs, just before the railing was joined.

After the alignment checked out, it was time to piece it together one last time, and this time for good. Nate and Darryn used elaborate arrangements of these antique clamps to secure the joints.

Here is a glimpse of the clamping of the upper joint, just below the gooseneck.

Once the joints were set to cure, it was time to install the rest of the balusters. Here Nate and Mike are marching up the stairs with the balusters, cutting each one to fit perfectly.

Here Darryn mortises the base of the volute for the balusters that wrap around the newel.

With the majority of the balusters in, it was time to remove the clamps and finish the railing.

After the joints were secure and clamps removed, the joints were trimmed to blend uniformly. Here Darryn concentrates on fine trimming the upper joint.

They have an incredible variety of fine hand tools for this delicate work.

Once the balusters were installed, the end nosings were added to the treads and the detail on side of the stairs was complete.

Next up was the railing on the upper landing. Nate is chiseling out the termination for the railing while Darryn readies the location for another of the steel balusters.

As with the railing down the stairs, the upper railing was dry fit for the alignment.

Next, the upper railing was joined in place, clamped to steady the installation while the glue cured.

As the glue cured on the railing joints, it was time to install balusters on the landing.

Here Nate installs the last few balusters prior to finishing the joints in the rail.

The system as a whole is nearing completion.

This perspective up the stairs shows nicely how the railing doubles back on the landing.

With the railing installation complete, all that was left was final sanding and cleaning of the railing.

The gooseneck is incredibly elegant and handsome with the balusters installed.

Here's a bird's eye view of the finished volute.

Altogether, the finished railing is exactly what we were hoping for.

It makes for such a wonderful detail, and we'll cherish it through time.


  1. Hello Catherine:It is beautiful to watch professionals work The organization of the worker's tools tell much about the work being done.
    A great post

  2. Wonderful post, Mike. It's fascinating to see all the craftsmanship that goes into each bit of a house. I have a greater appreciation for the work that goes into the beauty.

  3. So exciting to see it all come together! I really appreciate the time you put into recording all the steps. It is wonderful to see the skill & time that goes into making a unique and historically appropriate architectural detail. Such a lovely and elegant finished project - the railing transforms the the hall!

  4. A true piece of art. What talented craftsmen!

  5. It's stunning! It really makes a statement I'm sure when you walk in the door. We're renovating a 134 year old down in Georgia and it's taking awhile since there's very few craftsmen around who can replicate the old work. But when you find one, they are definitely worth the investment. It's been so interesting and a lot of fun watching your new dream unfold.

  6. Wow! It's always surprising how complicated it is to create simple beauty. These posts have really helped me appreciate craftspeople. Thanks. Now, who will be sliding down first?

  7. Wow! Absolutely stunning. The organization of the craftsman's tools is impressive. Truly an art on it's own. ~Holly L.

  8. The new railing is so graceful and beautiful. I love the view where you see both the volute and gooseneck. I went back and looked at the old railing. What a difference on entering the house!


  9. How exquisite! I've found this whole process of creating a period-accurate stairway to be fascinating! And the addition of the steel balusters is so interesting and clever. I can just imagine your little ones reaching for the balusters as they go down, knowing exactly which ones are cooler to the touch than the rest.

  10. Nate, Darryn, Mike and Trina: STANDING OVATION!


  11. So elegant and very wise to invest in this detail. Thanks for sharing the process - it's quite impressive.

  12. It's funny how many clamps it takes to secure the railing joints! It is absolutely gorgeous and I'm excited to see what comes next!

  13. Thank you for sharing this magnificent craftsmanship with us! I love following your renovation.

  14. I just love watching someone with taste-you and your husband. Someone that puts so much attention to detail. Nothing is sadder than watching someone buy and old home or building, and then destroy it. It happen to our old public library. : - (((

  15. That staircase and railing are a wonder of old-fashioned craftsmanship and precision. So simple, graceful, and beautiful.

  16. Always want to be on the front end of historic construction, this time it's for real.

    Thank you for knowing others would share in your delight with the construction.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

  17. Could you tell me what kind of glue is used?

  18. It looks like it was always there. Great work!

  19. Such beautiful work. Not a day will pass when you don't run your hand down that handrail and think of the artistry and love that went into making it.

  20. I am really enjoying following the story of your home and I am cheering on your steady and dedicated hand to make this home of today but respectful of yesterday. Absolutely beautiful!

  21. Gorgeous and I'm sure worth the wait and patience!

  22. Wow…so worth the wait!! It really ls so beautiful and the craftsmanship is stunning…lovely work!

  23. Well done! I could look at that lovely gooseneck & volute all day:) I always learned the most hanging out at the job site watching the carpenters. Your photos are a fabulous documentation of their artistry!

  24. Hey great post Mike! I disagree the gooseneck is not handsome it's SEXY!!! Omgosh the detail and the precision of each section is mind boggling. So happy for you and Catherine. Rob and I sat reading every word and studying each photo. Incredible.
    Your home will be so blessed because everything done for it has been a process of love. God bless your new home.

  25. Wow; it turned out absolutely amazing!! I'm thinking that you could charge admission to see this work of art! linda r (phila burbs)

  26. Absolutely beautiful! I cannot imagine how many hours of work it took from the beginning to the end but it is worth every minute. Such craftsmanship! These guys are true artisans!

  27. This is a stunning visual stpry of how craftsmen create such beautiful stair bannister. In my Georgian Rectory, I have such a similar stairway bannister that it could be your one's twin.. except my one is in mahogany not pine......... so thank you again for sharing.. it is stunning as I said and you will live in happiness with it. s we love ours and its . really worth all the effort and expense.. lovely...

  28. Real craftsmanship, and a stunning result. I felt even sadder for the lovely stairs in my previous house that I did what I could to repair, but that had been so damaged with 'modernising improvements' over 100 years that it could never be the same again. How rewarding that you can start again and re-create its original beauty!

  29. We are also renovating a federal style farmhouse. (I've commented once before) I love seeing your progress. Seems much faster than ours. My husband is determined to do all the work alone. Any way quick question. The previous owners did some very bad renovations. The installed a metal front door and vinyl frame.(white) with decorative glass panels. My husband assures me this was not a cheap door and one of the last things we should improve upon because it's functioning. Our first floor is almost completed and we only have one working shower and we sleep in our 1 year olds room. I understand it's far from something we need but this door bothers me. Do you have any suggestions. What would you do? Paint the metal? Or wait it out until we can find an antique door?
    It's really a beautiful home and hopefully one day I can send in photos of the before and after. Thanks!!

    1. Waiting is hard, I agree, but we're learning that some things must wait. Functioning things often get put on the back burner - they do. Good luck! Best, Catherine

  30. Thank you! I'll be more patient. Love your new floors


Thank you for leaving your thoughts. Kind regards, Catherine

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