Building a Custom Staircase and Handrail – Woodworking – Home Improvement

Building a Custom Staircase and Handrail – Woodworking – Home Improvement

today I’m building a staircase with a
custom handrail but before we get to the build let me get you up to speed about
what needed to be done on the jobsite before we can install the stairs and
handrail here’s the before picture which the clients felt was a dated design it was not going to go well with their new Hickory flooring that they were
installing at the top of the stairs they wanted to update the style of the
staircase to an open-ended tread to do this I needed to modify the wall so I drew the rise and run of the staircase on the drywall I then took my sawzall
and carefully cut out the shape unfortunately the treads were dadod into
the skirt board so I had to demo them and cut new stringers I only demod half the staircase so I’d have something to stand on while I worked on the other
side. after the demo was done the corners of the drywall were just flapping in the
wind ready to snap off with a little pressure to solve this I reframe the
wall up in sections then I slid them in between the stringers and drywall
nailing them off to the existing studs but before I demo’d anything I
fabricated all the components back at the shop while I can order custom sized
treads the millwork shops in my area didn’t offer the customizations I needed to wrap around the existing walls so I just fabricated my own for the treads themselves it was your basic milling to thickness and gluing together operation but for the nosing I milled up some eight quarter stock and chucked a stair nose
bit in the router before I ran the stock through the router I clipped off the corners at the table saw this helped reduce the load of the router especially
using a huge stair nosing bit It also considerably reduced the chatter and
tear out on the Hickory which is prone to having a lot of tear out when routing then at the router table I used several feather boards to help keep the stock
tight to the fence and tight to the table This resulted in a perfect bullnose that needed very little sanding once all the pieces were bullnosed I cut
the miters for the open-ended treads on the table saw for most of the treads it was your basic
edge banding operation with mitered corners but for the bottom tread I had to
make a notch for the new post. I first attached the center nosing with dominoes and glue I then went back to the table saw and
for safety I cut a mitre on a longer piece of nosing and then cut the piece
to length I pre-glued the mitered corner before attaching it to the tread this made installation a bit easier so all I had to do was tac the return in place with
some brads. I milled the test block the same width as the new post and did a
quick test fit to be sure I had a nice fit it’s much easier to adjust the edge
banding before the glue fully sets now on to making the new post. I ripped down some eight quarter stock and laminated two pieces together. Once the glue is dry
I ran it through the planer until it was down to the thickness I needed to give the new post illusion that they have floating panels I milled up some stock
and ripped a miter down one edge I sent up a stop block on the table-saw
so I could quickly cut them all to the same length then I glued the miters
together to create the corners for the new post These were long and skinny, to
skinny to clamp, I used some blue tape to hold them together while the glue
dried. once the glue has set up enough to take
the tape off I used a card scraper to remove the excess glue squeeze-out
so the corners would fit tight to the post Before installing the corners I pre
finish the post themselves this would be a lot easier before the corners are installed and also help prevent any raw wood from showing along the edges if the wood shrank during seasonal movement Then as an extra precaution I ran my
block plane and down the sides chamfering the corners to be sure the
corner trim would sit tight to the post. To install the trim I used a headless
pin nailer. it was big enough to hold the trim in place but small enough not to
have to putty a bunch of holes there are three rail elements to the post. One at the bottom one two-thirds up and one at the top this design element came from
the doors in the rest of the house that had the same panel design I started out by marking and cutting each piece as I work my way around and up the post when installing the middle rail I used a
spacer block to be sure they would all be placed in the same spot and to save a
bunch of time not having to measure for each one The last detail for the new post was to
build the cap. There were a few test cuts involved and a bit of math to get all
four sides to meet in the middle at a nice clean point I didn’t record it
because at the time I thought it would make for a boring video. If there are
enough people interested maybe I’ll go back and recreate a video for the future
but the operation itself is pretty straightforward
I used my shop made vertical sled to clamp the workpiece and with the blade
raised to the correct height and angle When I made the cuts I cut the cross grain
first as it’s more likely to tear out and then I cut with the grain second
removing any tear out from the cross grain cut I reset the saw blade to 90 and then cut
the decorative shoulders on the top side the cap will be pinned in place with a
brad nailer and a little glue and the underside will be trimmed out with
quarter roun. I did the same order of operations here I cut the cross screen
first and then I cut with the grain to cut off any tear-out that may have
happened while the stain and finish was drying on
the new posts I moved on to prepping the stock for the spindles I joined it
planed and cut each spindle square there are 20 spindles in this project plus
some extra stock to create the little cross braces between each spindel so this took some time next was to cut the little angle of cross braces that were
going between the spindles since my table saw is old-school and doesn’t have
a proper riving knife I clamped a shim just so it rubbed the back side of the
blade this way as I cut the little parts they were pushed away from the blade
preventing them from becoming a little kickback bullets a stop block clamped to
the miter gauge made the cuts accurate and quickly repeatable While I had the
miter gauge set up at the right angle I cut the tops of all the spindles this
angle is going to go against the handrail then I Re-squared the miter
gauge to cut the lower cross braces that are going between the spindles I set up
a stop to make the cuts repeatable but I took it one step further
I set the red arm as the stop so the metal bar would act as a hold down this made it a little safer more comfortable to cut the little parts now it’s time to
cut the joinery I know a lot of people poopoo the Domino because they think
it’s not real woodworking or it costs too much or they just love to hate
something but for a small custom shop like mine when I need to get a job
finished before the next mortgage payment is due the Domino is the way to
go there was 72 of these little cross braces so I think the Domino paid for
itself that day to set up my jig I screwed it down to the table and set up
some angled stop blocks to hold the workpiece in place and a stop block to
my right to register the Domino against this way the mortises would all be in
the same place for the spindles themselves I reset my
jig so I’d have something to climb to then I set a stop block to the left and right
to register for both the upper and lower cross braces then for the very bottom cross braces I
reconfigured the jig one last time to cut the mortises on both sides you may
have noticed that these parts are stained and finished. I wanted to pre
finish the inside edges before assembling this as it would be really
difficult to stain and finish after they were assembled to assemble the spindle
units I screwed yet another jig to the table the stop block as the top of the
jig is cut at the same angles and rise and run up the stairs to help me quickly
align all the parts at the proper angle now all there’s left is to add Domino’s
clamps and glue I clamped it in a way so I could simply lift the assembly off the
jig set it aside and start clamping up the next set to attach the spindles to the treads I
simply doweled them so once the assembly was dry I routed
out a slot in the bottom of the spindles to receive the doubt to do this I screwed a jig to the side of my assembly table to connect the spindle assembly
upside down so I could route out an oblong hole in the bottom of each spindle
the reason for the oblong hole is it gave me a little wiggle room in case one
of the dowels in the treads was off once the glue is set all three dowels
would be solid The reason why I’m blowing out the hole there is my spiral up cut
bit was so dull it made more smoke than sawdust so I’m using a spiral down cut
just to get the job done and it is driving the chips to the bottom of the
hole I should also mention that big chunk of walnut scrap is only there to take up the extra space in the clamps this makes it easier to clamp the
workpiece without the bar sticking out in the way once everything was installed
I had one more detail to take care of and that was the cove on the backside of the
treads and risers my local millwork shop did not stock Cove and hickory and they
charged in the $200 setup fee for a custom run I only needed a few sticks so I was
back at the shop to mill some up Since Hickory is a splintery wood and a router
will often tear out a big chunk of wood instead of cut it. I did a similar
operation as the stair nose to prevent tear-out and reduce the load on the
router I used the dado blade to remove the bulk
of the material then set up feather boards on the router table to route out
the cove since thin pieces will chatter while milling
I used a wider piece of wood than I needed to make the cove. I’d then rip the
cove free at the table saw this let the router cut a cleaner Cove and is much
safer to waste a little wood than to try to route a little piece I should
mention for the handrail profile I did have my local mill workshop custom cut
it. That was large enough and complicated enough to justify a custom run over my
labor to mill it in-house so here are some shots of the Finnish
staircase and handrail if you’re going to take on a project like this I highly
recommend you pick up a code book in my 20-plus years of working in the trades
I’ve had all kinds of people tell me what the building codes are and more
often than not they’re wrong to one degree or another you’ll save yourself
all kinds of headaches if you get your information from the source

44 thoughts on “Building a Custom Staircase and Handrail – Woodworking – Home Improvement

  1. Nicely done man that is exactly how I’m going to my stairs at my house. Thank you for the tips

  2. That is one sexy staircase man! I hope you got paid well. All those small pieces would drive me nuts. Domino or no domino!!

  3. Great work-Wonderful video! I’ve said it before and still wonder why you don’t have a couple hundred thousand subscribers!!

  4. Wow. So much to say about this video. First, a beautiful Staircase. Great use of Jigs. For a commission, not only are jigs time efficient but also repeatability. I love my handmade trinket boxes as a hobby but again you can't beat a Domino when it's a paying job. My tip/ takeaway from today's video is the Incra Stop to hold the small parts. AND Great video filming and editing.

  5. Beautiful! Very well done. Would love to see a video showing a bit more an how you figure out those Cap angles…I always struggle with angles! Thanks Brian!

  6. Hi It was a lot of work but the finished items look great. It is not that I think the domino machine is not woodwork, it is just that I cannot afford it and am green with envy

  7. This is just amazing, Brian. Fantastic work, as always! Your final comments about codes is actually very funny, as I've run into this issue many times with builders who come off with such hubris, even when they're wrong. One guy tried to convince me that a 9" tread was within code, and when I told him the minimum was 10" he got defensive. Oddly, after he installed them, they were 10" inches. Huh? How about that. lol! Thanks for the video. Nice work on this one! Cheers! 🙂

  8. I don't think anyone thinks that Dominos, or any other Festool product "…aren't real woodworking". What they are is ridiculously, ludicrously, overpriced. I don't dispute the quality of the product or the results that can be achieved with them. But we can get the same results with other tools and methods for a fraction of the price.

  9. You are so right about codes; our architect designed a four-foot wide stair that had a landing mid-way, also four feet wide. But the local code required the handrail to extend to the bottom step (the landing), forcing the center newel post into the landing and cutting the landing width by almost a foot. We couldn't reframe the stairs, so the only code solution was to add a second handrail along the outer wall that extended beyond the bottom step. This kept the newel post off the landing. It would have been more attractive if we had known in time to widen the landing.

  10. I think people underestimate how much work goes into a project like this. Great video, and I really like the voice-over narration as well!

  11. Very nice. It has an arts and crafts/mission look to it. Great work and great video, thanks for posting

  12. Here is a link to the IRC residential building code book. (affiliate link) I highly recommend picking one up if you are planning on building a staircase. The code is a bit more involved than what the average internet search is going to bring up.
    You may not think you need to follow the building code if it is your own house and you are doing the work. But when you go to sell it and the potential buyers have the house inspected, violations may hold up the sale or give them ammo to ask for a price reduction to fix the issues.

  13. I have used pecan, that suppose to be a type of hickory, and the wood is so dense that when cut with sharp blades resemble more glass/plastic than wood. Never had an splint. But probably the wood consistency will not only vary withing the species of plant, but the individual tree. What finish do you use? It seems to me you use some type of oil with no stain, since the finish look true to the color of the wood I have used before. Excellent job.

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