Who’s got an outdated staircase? So many of us. I know…because in the last ten years, I’ve had four! The first one, we opted to paint, replacing the carpet and handrail for a whole new look. The second was an unfinished wooden basement staircase that we ripped the bottom of the walls off, created knee walls, and carpeted. Now that we’ve moved, we have the next two. (I won’t even get started on the basement for awhile!) The week after we moved into this house, I started the staircase makeover. Ten weeks later, and the space is completely transformed. Some of the products used in this project are sponsored by LJ Smith Stair Systems, but the products were chosen by my husband and I to complete the design that we wanted in this post. All opinions I share are my own.
As an Amazon Affiliate, I could be compensated if you follow my links to make purchases. I add the links to help identify the products used, but thank you in advance for supporting my little blogger habit 🙂
The Outdated Wooden Staircase
Many of us have the “orange” stained wood in our homes. I’m not sure where the trend of nineties bright orange stain came from, but I sure am glad that we are toning things down a bit. Wood is so pretty, but the stain is the finishing touch, and I’d argue that the nineties stain ruined it.
I was determined to return the wood in this staircase to its original beauty, along with some modern updates to the shape, accents and configuration.
Goodbye Nineties Staircase
You can see more details in previous posts about the project, including some installation photos from the second story staircase portion of the project in the reveal.
I absolutely could NOT have done this project without the help of my husband, Scott. He tends to stay out of my way when I’m in my groove, but always lends a hand–or even steers the ship–when I need it most. We also have to give a huge shoutout to our buddy, Joel, who happens to be a carpentry mastermind, and probably is the only reason we did not end up hiring this installation out. He *might even be* responsible for some marriage mediation that was necessary during the first phase of this installation.
The basic process I went through–as grueling as it was–shows me ripping the carpet off, along with the removal of a thousand staples. I disassembled the bottom portion of the staircase and railings, cutting off the rounded edges of the bottom tread/step. Then, I scraped. I sanded, sanded and sanded some more. I bleached the wood, conditioned the wood, and whitewashed the wood. I stained the wood and painted the risers and the stringers. All of the treads got sealed with polyurethane. Are we ready to see the final portion of this massive project???
Installing the LJ Smith Stair Systems Iron Balusters & Box Newels
For this project, I used the following tools and materials:
- 4 Box Newels
- 37 Iron Balusters
- 37 Flat Baluster Shoes
- E6100 Industrial Adhesive
- 4 Wooden Blocks for Box Newel Installation (included with Box Newels)
- Chop Saw/Miter Saw
- Tape Measure
- Circular Saw
- Bora Straight Cut Guide
- Bora Saw Plate
- Forstner Bits
- Structural Screws
- Trim Head Screws
- Metal Cut Off Wheel (for miter saw)
- Protective Eyewear
- This is absolutely a two person gig. There’s no way to hold things in place and measure and cut and glue, etc, without an extra set of hands–believe me, I tried.
These are often called “spindles” when people talk about staircases. The proper name is balusters, so that’s how you’ll see it named here.
If you’re replacing wooden balusters with iron balusters, and you need to cut the iron balusters to make them the correct size, don’t get rid of the wooden ones! They will be a huge help in ensuring everything fits together properly, and that the sizing is correct.
Prepping the Baluster Holes
We were lucky to be using the same holes as the wooden balusters–thank goodness, one less measurement to figure out! The bottom holes needed to be cleaned up of old glue and wood particles. This was done with a 3/4″ Forstner Bit. (This was the original size of the hole, which is bigger than the iron balusters we ordered, so that’s why we ended up adding the flat baluster shoes, to cover any open space that showed after install.)
The top holes in our handrail also needed to be drilled a bit–the size of the hole matched the new balusters, but we wanted to have a snug, but adjustable amount of space. We planned to add construction adhesive into the holes to secure them in place. This was done with a 5/8″ Forstner Bit.
Measuring the Balusters
Because we wanted to ensure there would be no slipping of the balusters out of the holes, we made the bottom hole slightly deeper and the top a little deeper, as well. When we held the iron balusters up to the wooden ones, we decided to cut them 1/2 inch longer than the originals.
Cutting the Balusters
We used our chop saw by swapping out the regular blade with a Metal Cut Off wheel.
Lots of sparks flying–so take caution to wear protective eyewear.
The bottom portion of the staircase features open tread stairs, meaning the balusters needed to be different heights depending on which position they were in. This is where it was especially helpful to use the wooden balusters as a guide. As I mentioned, we cut the iron balusters 1/2 inch longer than the wooden ones.
Important Notes on Balusters
- Decide which end you’re cutting, and make sure the same end is cut each time. We ended up numbering the ones at the bottom of the staircase to make it easier for quick placement, (since there were two different sizes), but that also meant we knew which end was the top without having to look at it–super helpful!
- The cut ends of the balusters will need to be sanded slightly. (We used 220 grit.) The cuts can create rough edges, which can cut your hands–I know this from personal experience–and they can also make it difficult to insert into the holes.
- The balusters on our second floor landing were all the same height, so we were able to set up a stop block, making cuts quick and easy. The bottom of the staircase had two different measurements, depending which position they were in on the tread, so it’s helpful to know how many you’ll need at the first height, and how many you’ll need for the other. We made it easier by setting a stop block on one side of the saw for the long length and the other side of the saw for the short length. This Miter Saw Stand has been an amazing addition to our workshop!
- Don’t forget to add the shoes before you install everything! I unwrapped ours and left them sitting right next to the holes so I didn’t forget.
The Box Newels
When you order box newels, they are huge. This is because everyone’s staircases can be different, and it can also depend whether you are going to cut them into your stairs, so they rest on the floor, or set them on top of the bottom stair. (We chose to place them on the bottom step.)
Cutting the Box Newels
When it came to cutting down the box newels to size, we tried a few different options. The box newels are hollow, and the walls are approximately 3/4″ thick. If you’re cutting them down just slightly, that’s what you’re cutting. However, we cut them quite a bit for our staircase makeover, and the higher up into the box newel, the wood gets much thicker–about 1 & 3/4″ thick. This was our challenge.
Our friend Joel had come over to help us do the second story landing. He brought a larger version of a miter saw, which could open enough to make the cuts.
When cut this way, he added the painter’s tape to reduce the chipping at the bottom. And, when it was time for the final cut that would separate the two pieces, he used the circular saw, with someone else holding steady to the top piece so it would not crack or hit the floor.
When left to our own devices, a week later to finish the bottom ones, we couldn’t use our miter saw. At one point, we considered the table saw, but the blade settings we have wouldn’t have gone through deep enough. We tried using the circular saw with a simple guide in place, and that wasn’t enough to keep it steady or straight.
Placing the Box Newels
The newel posts we are using came with a wooden box for securing them into place. This wooden box has four holes. These are used to insert screws and attach it to the floor. But, first, it has to be placed properly. You insert the wooden box inside of the bottom of the box newel. Make sure that the screw holes are set properly–the larger holes are facing up inside the newel post, with the smaller sized screw holes facing out. Use construction adhesive on the base of the wooden box only. We made this mistake once, and it’s easy to fix, but I think our method changed to adding glue before inserting so we knew it was facing the proper way.
You have to place the box newel right where you need it. You can see that I have placeholders set so the edge of the newel post is lined up exactly right where it needs to be.
Once in place, we checked all of our measurements. We checked level, and we made sure everything fit properly together. You can see that the balusters are just dry fit in place.
We waited a couple minutes for the adhesive to set. The adhesive was only on the bottom of the wooden box. Then, we carefully lifted it straight up so as not to bump it out of position.
Then, it was time to attach it to the tread. (Or, to the floor when we did our second floor.)
We attached the wooden box with 3 & 1/8″ Rugged Structural Screws–4 for each newel post.
Assembling the Stair System
Once the wooden box is secured, then it’s time to officially put everything together! All the prep work HAS TO BE done prior to this in order for this to go smoothly.
- Put the flat shoes onto the balusters.
- Add construction adhesive to the bottom and top holes for the balusters–in the stair treads and handrail.
- Insert the first baluster (we did the one closest to the newel post first) into the correct tread hole, as well as the correct handrail hole. Don’t fit it tight together–you’ll want everything a little losse for installing the next ones.
- Do the same for each of the balusters until you reach the top.
- Then press firmly to secure everything in the right position.
- Add construction adhesive to the bottom of the box newel–and the sides of the wooden box if you want to glue them together.
- Place the box newel in position on the “now attached” wooden box.
- Attach the top of the handrail to the wall block, (officially named a rosette.) We used these trim head screws to attach in two places. We used the original nail holes that previously attached this handrail.
- On the bottom of the staircase for the handrail, we used the same type of screws, but longer, to attach the handrail to the box newel–one on each side, entering at an angle. (I couldn’t get a good photo of the first one, so I had to find one on this other side!)
- Attach the box newels to the inner wooden block with the longer 3.5″ trim head screws in two places–we did 4 screws for each new post, two on the inside, two on the outside. It’s important to measure close enough to the center to drill into the center wooden box, but down close enough to the bottom so it’s less noticeable.
What do you think of our contemporary transformation of this staircase? I hope that if you’ve been considering doing a project like this that you reach out with questions! DIY is more fun when we do it together!