Installation tips for bannisters & balusters?

weedyacresAugust 23, 2011

X-post from Flooring, where I haven't gotten any response, so I'm trying here.

I'm redoing my stairs to have oak treads, oak handrails, and wrought iron balusters.

This is the basic idea of my stair layout and what I want to do. First 9 steps are open on the left and last 6 steps are closed on both sides.

I've got the treads and risers installed, and it's time for the handrails and balusters. The instructions I've found on the web for installing wrought iron balusters all assume a remodel, keeping the existing railing and just swapping out the balusters. That way you've already got aligned holes and it's a relative piece of cake.

What I need help with:

1. How do I cut the handrail so it's got the right angle between the top wall and the bottom newel post? Do I lay the bannister along the front edges of the treads, use that as my angle, and then just raise it up 34-38" and attach it to the wall and newel? Easier way?

2. How do I align the holes in the treads and bannister? Can I install the bannister first, then drill the hole in the tread, use a level to make it plumb into the top, and then use a jig spacer from there? Easier way?

3. I need flat shoes to cover the holes in the treads. What about the holes in the underside of the bannister? You can buy angled shoes, but they are 45 degrees, and my bannister won't be at exactly a 45 degree angle. Do I omit shoes on the top? If so, how do I cover the ugly hole/epoxy?

4. On the upper (closed) portion of the stairs, the PO never installed a handrail. The easiest fix would be to add a wall portion with returns on top and bottom. But in reading the stair code, I think I am supposed to make the whole thing continuous, i.e., jog the handrail in when it hits the wall, then continue it on up to the top. Can I get away with a discontinuous one? I'm having a hard time envisioning how the balusters would work if I did the bendy one (i.e., can I maintain the

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I'm pretty rusty on volute turnouts, but the component they send you will have a sweeping arc at the top to accommodate any rise/run up to 45 degrees. You need to super carefully measure your stair angle and cut the sweep of the volute tangentially 90* so that it's exactly at that angle. It connects to the straight rail with a rail bolt; the joint is 90*; a butt cut. Expect to pare away portions of both abutting members to get a smooth transition. IOW if both profiles of both were identical out of the box, that would be a miracle.
You want to lay out the ballusters evenly on the treads first, then plumb them up to the rail. On the underside of the rail,mark the first regular balluster, then mark the last; the neat trick is to then use a set of dividers precisely adjusted to lay out tick marks on the rail in exactly even increments. Takes a few tries to get the setting just so, but it really looks well to have them spot-on. By "regular" I mean not part of the turnout of the volute below; those are "special". I usually use a figure of 2.25" from the face of the riser to the center of the first balluster; just allow 3/4" Min. between the nosing and the balluster. The intermediate ballusters are centered exactly between those closest to the risers.
Not familiar with the shoes (I work in wood) but if they fit an angle up to 45* you'll be fine, as most rails are by code far less than 45*, more typical to be in the 40* to 42* range. I would take it that these trim covers are adjustable within a logical range of angles.
I have never (yet) had an inspector hassle over a semi-enclosed stair railing not being continuous. We always make sure they are at the exact same height, and that the proper returns are placed to not catch on sleeves, etc.
I bet there are good online instruction manuals for ascertaining and cutting the appropriate angles for the volute/sweep.

I'm sure I have confused things further, so my work here is done.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2011 at 8:11PM
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Sorry for the misleading photo randomly pulled off the web. I'm not doing a volute at the base of the stairs, just a plain vanilla newel post that the railing will butt into. So for cutting the bannister angle, will the "lay it along the tread noses" method work?

Thanks for the guidance on baluster placement. I need to do some pencil-and-paper calcs and layout.

The shoes are fixed at 45 degrees (see below). It would seem logical that they'd make adjustable ones, but I haven't managed to find any.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 8:10AM
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If those are a softer metal, they could be "adjusted" with a belt sander or other abrasive technique to remove some metal for a scribed fit. But not a job I'd envy.
If you lay the rail on the nosings, you can scribe a plumb angle along a side (with difficulty, following the profile. a compass point works well here) Once you either match this angle on the chop saw or with an angle-finder tool, you will have ascertained the plumb angle. The complement of this angle is the incline angle; find it by subtracting from 90. Ends up being a pair like 43/47; 42/48; 41/49. The total will equal 90.
The volute end of the rail is going to be a 90 degree cut, because that will butt up against the upsweep of the component. But finding where to cut the component is very mindraking task. I would mount the volute on the newel (if you have one) or otherwise mock it up in its exact, true, final position. Then line it up visually with the straight rail sighting across the theoretical meetup point from the side. At the point where you see a perfect transition ( a sweet spot with neither hump nor dip) mark the sweep at the top edge. Then when you cut, make a perfect 90 to that tangent and you'll have your cut. And slight oops could be fine-tuned out by slightly adjusting the butt cut of the straight rail a tiny amount (89.5; 90.5, etc).
Then attach with a rail bolt.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 9:49AM
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I did my stairs last summer and to be honest with you, I've blocked the whole experience out of my mind. They were curved and I did the handrails and everything else. Anyways, the guy I purchased my stair parts from sent me the liink below which at the time was actually accessible without permissions. The guide is very helpful and discusses pretty much everything. I suggest you purchase it if you need some questions answered. Or, at least look for it elsewhere online. There is also a section in there that talks about iron ballusters.

Here is a link that might be useful: Coffman Stair Guide

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 1:39PM
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Hey Casey, sorry you wasted your breath twice on volutes. No volutes on my stairs, just a standard newel post.

I did find a photo on the Coffman site (thanks advertguy) that looks like they don't use shoes on the top of the balusters, just the bottom. So I guess I don't need to worry about the angled shoes.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2011 at 9:20AM
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If you have the curved upsweep/easement on your cap terminus, the same cutting principle applies; cutting the volute is just harder since it's so bulky. I'd still mock up the terminus and see where to place the cut mark be aligning and eyeballing the smooth transition point.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2011 at 7:04PM
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Casey: NO VOLUTES! Here's a more representative photo:

Ok, I measured everything at home last weekend and the exposed tread is 10 1/2" with a 1 1/2" overhang. So my plan is to put 1/2" iron balusters on each tread at 3" and 7 1/2" from the face of the riser. That will space them at 4 1/2" OC all the way down, which gives the required 4" max opening.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 8:29AM
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Ok, I see now, the rail abuts the newel. You can just lay it in place on to of the nosings and mark carefully.
4.5" sounds right to me if your riser to riser run is 9"

    Bookmark   August 30, 2011 at 4:47PM
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