Stone House Reno 4: Making a railing

June 18, 2009

Soggy, but a good day for staircase-building.  I’m putting a railing 56″ long along the hall next to the stairs.  1.3″ square plain balusters are fitting into the flooring and up into the rail at 34″.  After much thought I decided to cut 1″ dowels into the ends of the balusters, then drill and glue.  Surprisingly, the dowel-cutting went very well in the walnut stock:  a 1″ diameter plug cutter mounted in the drill press machined the stock secured in the vice so as to cut between the jaws to get the end grain without splitting it.  No problem, virtually an instant 5/8″ tenon, so little remained to do but cut the pieces to length and try the same thing on the other end of the 11 pieces.  No extras.  I missed one measurement by an inch, but caught the goof on the check before sawing.  Whew!

To clear the cuts I set up a jig on the band saw to allow only a 5/8″ cut.  Then I just sorta circumcised the ends, leaving the dowels exposed.

Then I hit the spreadsheet to calculate the distance between the posts so that I could lay out the floor for drilling.  That went well, except that after layout I had a need for 13 posts.  Hmmmm.  Better not drill yet.

Turns out for each station I had added by 1/2 the post’s width when I should have added by the whole thing.  Ready to start drilling 1″ holes in the floor now, but am feeling a bit lazy, so I checked mail instead, and then wrote this.

“So, Rod, how good is the staircase?”


“On what?”

“Depends upon how good the story about it turns out to be.”


Back at it the following day.  I had drilled the flooring for the balusters yesterday, using my trusty 6″ dial caliper to scratch arcs on the flooring to intersect a straight line down the middle of the planned railing.  This time the count worked out, so I firmed up the marks with a marker pen and transferred them to the railing to run above.  Just to be safe I did a rough set of marks with a pencil by laying the railing alongside the floor marks and roughly scribed them across.  Then I established the one most likely to be correct and measured the other marks for holes in the railing off it with the caliper.  Not surprisingly, these marks corresponded quite well with the rough measurements, but this precaution left me confident throughout the drilling that I hadn’t done the whole thing backwards.

The drill press is much steadier than my arm, but that advantage disappeared as soon as I rounded the top of the railing.  Instead I clamped the railing firmly to the bench and had at it with a hand drill and a 1″ Forstener bit.  While the hole depth isn’t critical with shouldered tenons, it’s still vital that there be adequate space for the tenon itself and any glue accumulated in the bottom of the hole.  Several of the holes needed more drilling to provide adequate clearance.  The holes, while not perfectly vertical, seemed to work adequately.  None of the posts fell out when I glued them in.

Realizing the risks of gluing above a long run of wood to be stained, I left the balusters upturned in the railing for as long as I dared before moving them to the hall for installation.  I still needed to be able to manipulate them a little bit in their sockets before they set hard.  With an assistant I nervously flopped the eleven posts and their rail onto the hall floor, grinned hopefully when the whole thing did not fall apart, and then slid the assembly into the glued holes provided for it in the upstairs hall.  In it went.  No drips, no spills, no fuss.


Next up, fabricating a hollow newel post.

For other articles in this series check:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: