Once the floors were finished, we were ready to finish our stair upgrade.
During our design, we determined that both the handrail and baserail would be exactly 2½” wide. And we wanted to place them directly over one another so that when we installed the spindles, they would be perfectly aligned. We installed the baserail based on this plan.
We took our giant chunk of oak and cut it to be exactly 2½” wide. We then planed it until the thickness felt right in our hands (around 1¼”).
Once we cut and planed the handrail, we then cut it to the require lengths. Figuring this step out was complicated since it had to be perfectly aligned with the baserail pieces which were already installed in the floor.
We also cut a trench in the bottom so that the spindles had something to catch on. We used the table saw and limited the height of the saw. The trench was perfectly in the centre and was 1″ wide, which was the exact size of the spindles so they’d fit snuggly in the trench).
We then temporarily installed the handrail so wouldn’t fall to our death while we were waiting to construct the rest of the stairs. We chose a height that was almost to code (around 32″) and that looked good against the existing handrail and spindles leading down the stairs. We pre-drilled the holes and then loosely screwed each piece in place. We didn’t want to tighten things because we eventually removed them.
The next step was to install the spindles. First we had to calculate the exact distance between each spindle and drill holes accordingly.
We started by drilling the end holes first.
Then it was just a matter of calculating the distance between the first and last spindle and figuring out exactly where the holes should be drilled.
I first used a piece of tape to place down the centre of the baserail. I then precisely marked the centre line so that each spindle would be placed exactly in the centre. Then with some trial and error, I figured out exactly where each spindle should go. I wanted a 2″ gap but because of the length, the spacing ended up being slightly more than that at around 2¼”.
Once all the centres were marked, I then used a punch and made dents at each location. We then used these dents to drill each hole. Each hole was 5/8″ to match the dowels in the bottom of each spindle.
Once all the holes were drilled, we had to cut each spindle to the right height. Because our floors aren’t level but we wanted the handrail to be, each spindle was a different height. We measured each one individually and marked them carefully so we knew their location.
Once all the spindles were cut, I sanded, primed and painted each one. It was much easier painting them before they were installed. I painted the handrail pieces at the same time.
After two agonizing coats, we were ready to install the spindles!
We had to install the handrail and spindles at the same time. It was sometimes awkward to get everything in place because the spindles would get out of alignment and we didn’t have enough hands. But eventually it worked.
For the centre spindles, we used wood dowels to add some extra support, mostly because our handrail wasn’t perfectly straight and we needed to draw it down in the centre where it bowed.
When all the spindles were in and the handrail was in place, it looked great!
The final (and very tedious) step was to secure each spindle using a filler piece under the handrail. We created the filler piece when we made the handrail so that it fit perfectly in the trench.
We wanted each spindle to be plumb, but because our house isn’t straight or level, we sometimes had to make them off-plumb. This step was particularly tedious because each filler piece was a slightly different length. So we couldn’t just measure the distance between each spindle and cut a bunch of filler pieces to that length. It was much more manual (and therefore took longer).
When each spindle was in place and secured by the filler piece, we then had to work on the finishing touches.
We filled our screw holes with wood plugs and caulked around any piece that had any gaps.
Once all the caulking was done, I did a final coat of paint to hide any imperfections. This step was tedious and time consuming.
When we installed the new baseboard down the side of the stairs and went to paint it, we decided that it might be nice to paint the stairs. The old wooden stairs were really messy looking and since I was painting everything around the stairs anyways, why not?
Painting the Stairs
The first step was to prime the stairs. This was probably the worst step (no pun intended), because the stairs are extremely marked up and getting paint into every nook and cranny wasn’t easy. I also painted every other step and allowed them to dry so we could still move up and down the stairs.
Once they were primed, it was time to paint them.
I painted them with 3 coats of our trim paint, but when I inquired with our trusty paint store, they told us that only an oil-based paint would really hold up.
Well, since it was winter and we couldn’t open the windows and I was almost 8 months pregnant, we decided that we couldn’t really do this ourselves. Luckily we were headed for a mini vacation a week later so my dad painted them while we were away.
Three coats later (so really 6 coats later), they were done!
This project took about 3 solid weekends and a few weeknights of work and really tested our patience, but we were extremely happy with the end results. We love the contrast between the original Victorian handrail and spindles and the new, modern look of the white stairs. Once we create the new stair opening to the basement, it will really tie everything together.