Slow Days at the Shop. #6: Finally got to those stair rails

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Blog entry by fatman51 posted 12-11-2015 09:36 PM 670 reads 0 times favorited 3 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 5: Making a guide for my Makita D handled routers Part 6 of Slow Days at the Shop. series Part 7: Mr Customer's Reading Table. »

Earlier in this series I mentioned a set of stair rails I was supposed to be building for one Mrs Customer, a couple of towns away from my town of Laporte. I got distracted by any number of things and just got back to them this week.

The previous stair rails were built to match the existing porch rails. They had deteriorated sufficiently that they had become a hazard and Mrs Customer wanted them replaced in the same style, as her porch rails are in good shape.

There were a couple of reasons for the poor condition of the rails; one was just weathering, as they looked to have been painted from the start with latex paint, which does not protect as well as oil. The other problem was settling of the stairs away from the porch sufficient to damage the rail and create a 1 inch gap between the top step and porch floor, with a drop of 1/2 inch, which Mrs customer also required me to fix. An engineer in the neighborhood determined that the stairs had settled all that the were likely to settle and that there was no reason to underpin or mud jack the steps, which would get expensive. So I ground the concrete landing to meet the top step, cleaned out the gap, filled it with a piece of cedar and some mortar patching compound, and painted the cedar gray.

Interestingly, she is thinking about having the entire porch slab ground to match the landing area.

I built the new rail on the same pitch as the previous rail, about 30 degrees, and painted it to match the other rail but I made a couple of key changes with the intention of increasing the lifespan of the stair rails by a decade or two.

The previous railing was made from Douglas fir, painted with latex exterior deck paint. The pickets that served to attach the rails to the brick posts were redwood. I replaced the four redwood pickets with Ipe. I replaced the doug fir with treated. I chose treated over redwood both for economy and because, if dry when painted, it holds paint a little bit better than redwood when exposed to sun at our altitude. I should point out that redwood can last twice as long as treated lumber, but the Ipe will probably outlast the brick. Because treated lumber from the HD is pond dried, I let the material rest in the shade all summer and fall so that it was dry when I painted it.

I coated the rails with valspar exterior oil based primer for oil and latex paints. The oil based primer bonds and protects better than latex primer, especially when thinned with BLO, which I did. Prior to assembly, I gave the wood three coats of primer, sanding each coat smooth. I partially assembled the rail and painted it with the exterior latex provided by Mrs Customer, installed the rail, masked the brick, applied painters caulk where necessary, filling the screw holes, let it cure, applied caulk again where it shrank, and painted the final coat of latex.

I used led shields and no 12×2-1/2 flat head wood/sheet metal screws to anchor the Ipe pickets. I took care to be sure that the rails were level, plumb and parallel, relevant to the stairs and one another. I used 2-3/4 inch epoxy coated, finish head, self drilling deck screws waxed and installed on layout in predrilled holes to assemble the rails.

All in all, I think they turned out well.

Now that this is done, Mark can quit giving me Grief about getting after the stair rails and I can move on to the next couple of blogs in this series, Mr Customer’s reading table project which I first addressed in my posted reading table project.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

3 comments so far

View Mark Wilson's profile

Mark Wilson

1694 posts in 483 days

#1 posted 12-12-2015 06:59 AM

Marvelous work by a terrific workman, John.

-- Mark

View fatman51's profile


335 posts in 1257 days

#2 posted 12-12-2015 08:18 AM

Thanks Mark, that means a lot. She is happy with the job. Or at least I hope that she is, she waited over a year for me to get over there with them. I certainly hope her steps don’t continue to settle and mess up my work.

-- The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself. Benjamin Franklin

View Mark Wilson's profile

Mark Wilson

1694 posts in 483 days

#3 posted 12-14-2015 08:10 AM

If she experiences any sagging, I’m sure you’ll have just the thing to fix it.

-- Mark

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