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Pete Brown - 28 May 2006

Last weekend I stained, painted, and finished the stairs. Melissa asked that I move the stairs ahead of the cabinets because Ben is going to get mobile sometime soon here, and we need to be able to put a safety gate up. Makes sense to me.

The stain is General Finishes Early American water based stain. The topcoat is five coats of Varathane Satin water-based floor finish, sanded before the final coat. That finish got on the white paint in several places, so I have some touch-up to do there.

This week I'm installing the newels and balusters. Some folks like to finish after everything is in place, but that has its own complications. I'll finish the newel posts (Coffman C-4091 Box Newels) in-place since they will have to be plugged, but I'll do most of the sanding and prep for them while they are free. The balusters are pre-primed, but I likely will paint them before installation as I don't want to slop paint around everywhere, and really don't feel like masking off that many balusters. Then I'll only need to touch up where I nail them down.


The starter newel will be installed so the centerline allows the outside edges of the 1 1/4" balusters to line up with the outside stringer. Since the base of the newel post is pretty large (5 1/2"), that means I had to cut away a good chunk of the bottom stair. In the photo above, the cutout isn't quite true yet, but will be before the final fitting. That tile flooring is going to be replaced, just not yet.

Since I'm not a stair guy, I used my CAD program to help me figure out the angles and heights. Given what I figured out from that process, it would have been much better if the stair guy who measured and specified the parts had given me 42" balusters instead of 36", so I could have had a higher balcony rail, as is generally recommended. As it is, I had to have a higher rake height in order to get a code-acceptable height to the balcony railing. Given the price of those balusters, though, I'm not about to scrap them and order the longer ones, so I'll work with what I have :)

Our stairs don't meet current code in the tread depth, but they'll have to be grandfathered in, as there is no realistic way to increase all the treads to 10" deep and still have room to open the door.

The hard part will be notching out that newel post. It is solid at the bottom, but may be hollow in the middle. If it is hollow, no problem. If it is solid, cutting it will be a trick, as it is too thick for my tablesaw to cut through. Even crosscutting those posts will be interesting as you want them to be absolutely square (or as square as the floor), but you can't lay them flat due to the applied molding. I may use my circular saw or my bandsaw to cut them.

Installing the newels on the main floor (balcony) will be interesting, as the floor is definitely not level (I found that out when laying that floor). I'll need to figure out the angle and then cut the newel appropriately. If I can't get that right, I'll need to shim it and then run some molding around the base. I'd prefer not to go that route, but it's a possibility. Newels and balusters must be plumb.

posted by Pete Brown on Sunday, May 28, 2006
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