Replacing banister and balusters

sapphire6917December 22, 2012


I will apologize in advance for the number of questions as well as my complete ignorance in this matter!

I need to replace the banister and balusters on my staircase and I have no idea where to start. The previous owner said they were stolen shortly after he closed on the house and he put up basic lumber, just to have something there. Now, I am getting the stairs stripped and would like to replace the banister with something a little more period appropriate since the house was built in 1881. Here are some pictures of what it looks like now:

I have been to salvage places and no one has a banister that would fit. A couple of places had balusters but I didn't know if I needed to find the banister first.

So, I've accepted the fact that I will have to purchase new pieces but do I need to pick the balusters before the banister or the other way around?

What information do I need to gather to make sure I buy the right type of balusters?

Is there any way I can tie a new banister in with my old newel post? I can't imagine having to lose that. The top comes off so I could replace that, if I absolutely have to.

What features of the banister and balusters would make them more period appropriate?

Any idea of the approximate cost of a job like this? I'm sure the type of wood used would factor into that and I know nothing about wood species so I have no idea what considerations I need to make on that front.

The recurring theme here is that I know nothing so any and all feedback will be very much appreciated! :-)

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You have a typical mid-19th century staircase. It falls mainly within the mid-Victorian Italianate/Second Empire period of popularity, but that would pertain to the exterior style. The stair rail would have had turned, tapered ballusters and wide, flat moulded handrail.
Finally found some pics;in link.

Here is a link that might be useful: Blog link for similar style railing

    Bookmark   December 23, 2012 at 3:29PM
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Thanks for the info, Casey! And the pictures! I found these pictures also and now I'm on the hunt for some balusters. I'm thinking the railing will be harder to duplicate. At least now, I have photos to start to get quotes.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2012 at 7:36PM
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Yes, those magnificent curved railings give me a headache to think of the math involved. I know there was a secret to doing them, because they were fairly ubiquitous.

    Bookmark   December 23, 2012 at 7:40PM
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Well, I'm hoping someone is still around that knows the secret. Although, I get a headache thinking of the math involved in the pricing to recreate something like that today!

    Bookmark   December 23, 2012 at 9:25PM
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The handrail in the pictures above is based on the tangent system (Geometry), to obtain the wreath sections (Curved and twisted sections). This is a specialist area of stair construction that is not easy to master.

Take a look at this link

The above link is to an article about handrails and you may find it informative. There are many ways to overcome what you want to do but this system is the one to use if you want to replicate the original handrails as in the above pictures. If you are going to attempt this yourself I'd do a bit of practice on cheap wood before using expensive stock. There are several books around on the subject. Try this link it should give you access to a FREE PDF of an old book on the subject.

Keep us informed on how things are going.


    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 3:43AM
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Hi again I forgot to paste the link to the PDF Book so here it is:

Good luck.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 3:44AM
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Holy cow, looks more like a job for autocad and a CNC machine.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2013 at 3:26PM
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Mecarp, I cannot thank you enough for this information!!! I had been doing a very bad job of trying to describe to people what the railing should look like and now I can just show them this article! I can barely nail a picture to the wall so there's no way I would even attempt it. My eyes glazed over at the first drawing!! However, this will have meaning to someone who does this on a regular basis and I just might be able to get my original style back!


    Bookmark   January 14, 2013 at 2:29PM
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Nice joint effort I'd say.

Good luck with the handrail.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2013 at 9:29AM
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Hi all,

I have been very inspired by various posts on this website regarding staircases. I have helped renovate most of my parents house, so excuse the mess in the picture, but the one area we seem to disagree on is the staircase which you see as soon as you walk in the front door. I would really like other peoples opinions on this staircase, I personally think its terrible and I am looking to redo the handrails and spindles in the more conventional design finshed in oak as well as clad over the existing stairs in oak to make it a solid staircase and not open tread anymore. My dad is going to need some convincing that this staircase is going to put off potential buyers as soon as they walk in the door.

Please give me your honest thoughts?

Thank you :)

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 12:49PM
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view from the front entrance

    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 12:50PM
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    Bookmark   January 24, 2013 at 2:02PM
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The Flight looks to be made from a hardwood such as mahogany and is an open tread style with NO RISERS. The balusters enclosing the open side of the flight in the room is a bit unusual and maybe off putting to some.

The main problem with covering the flight is that when you put a covering on the top tread it will be higher than the finished floor level.

It looks like the person who made these put a rake cut in the string where the treads sits. This was probably to keep the strength in the side stringers. This area will also give you a slight problem because it will make it more difficult to enclose the flight with risers.

For the amount of work that is involved in altering the strings, replacing the balusters and cladding the treads and strings I'd look at another option. It would be just as quick to make a new set of stairs in a timber that is cost effective. You could get a Carpenter to make a straight flight in an affordable timber then add the balusters and handrail yourself. A simple straight flight in a home grown timber should not break the bank and finishing with a nice spindle set and handrail could look quite nice.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 4:24AM
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Sorry i probably should have said that my dad made the staircase himself 26 years ago so we know what its made of and the design. I guess the fact he designed and cut every tread and spindle by hand is the reason he likes the staircase and doesn't agree with me that it might be a very strong design but its certainly not an ashetically pleasing one. I also think it would put many people off the house as soon as they see it when they walk in the front door. I was hoping to get peoples 'like it or hate it' opinions so i can convince him to change it.

This picture below is what i now have planned, we will make strings either side of the treads to make it appear like a normal staircase and on top of these have the baserail, spindles and handrail, like conventional staircases. The treads we are now thinking of fully carpeting.

Unfortunately ripping the existing staircase out and replacing completely is where my dad is currently drawing the line.

Does everyone think changing the stairs would make a big improvement or a waste of time and money?

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 5:39AM
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We do like the idea of a glass banister, although i guess this would be more expensive and again, is it worth the time and money?

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 5:42AM
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If you and your father do the work it will be worth doing. If you follow the first picture as an example you could use plywood for the flight, softwood spindles and just sit a hardwood handrail. The spindles could be made fro square wood and chamfered using a router. All quite easy and look easy on the eye.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2013 at 1:13PM
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If this is a MCM home, then leave well enough alone! It's very suited to that home style and it would devalue a MCM to have something "traditional" in it. Now, if it's a traditional style home, that might be another story. Even so, that would mean taking down what's there and rebuilding. To modern code standards. Which may mean that it would need to be longer because the run/rise standards have changed.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2013 at 12:43PM
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Excuse my ignorance, but what's a MCM home? I think it was built in the late 60s or early 70s.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 5:32AM
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MCM = Mid Century Modern

When I saw all of these new responses to my thread, just for one brief second, I thought someone was trying to contact me to tell me they knew of the perfect person to build my banister and he's waiting for my call!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 5:41AM
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