To replace a wooden staircase balustrade we need to look at the definition of a balustrade. A balustrade is a combination of newel posts, the base rail, the handrail, balusters (the posts that support the handrail) and a set of fillets (spacers fitted between the balusters). Unless you have access to woodworking and joinery equipment, manufacturing your own components can be time consuming and costly. It is recommended, therefore, that a readily available balustrade kit be purchased from a reputable hardware outlet. If you check the baluster, you will notice it has a flat end and a peg end. The flat end goes to the top and the peg end to the bottom. (This is Part 1 of a 3 part series. To move ahead to Part 2, click here.)
Step 1 – Order a Balustrade Kit
Ensure your choice of kit contains the correct amount of balusters. The base rails and hand rails should be the correct length, although these may be cut to size. The fillets are a standard cut ensuring that balusters will be a maximum of 4 inches (100 mm) apart. The fillets should be measured to determine the spacing between the balusters and how many will be needed. If there is no existing handrail to measure for calculating the new handrail length, measure 3 feet (900 mm) from the front of every tread up the wall using a spirit level. Tie a piece of string between the points, which will give you a straight line which can be measured. Ensure your kit contains enough supporting brackets for the handrail to be placed at 3 foot 3inch (1 m) intervals. The measurements above are government building regulations and should be adhered to.
Step 2 – Removing the Balustrade
Lever out the base rail and handrail fillets with a nail bar. Pull the balusters out, or saw through them and then pull them out. Remove the fixtures that attach both rails to the newel posts. If the newel post is made up of multiple sections only remove the top section and leave the base. If you have a one piece newel post it must be sawed off. To cut it at the correct height, draw a line vertically up the newel posts center. Draw a line diagonally on the newel post while holding a spirit level against the stairs. This gives you the pitch. Measure the distance up the post specified by the kit manufacturer from where your two lines cross. This is usually about 4 inches (100 mm) with a closed string staircase. Using the square, make a mark all the way around the newel post. The post needs to be sawed on this line to ensure that the handrail will be at the correct height once the replacement post has been attached. Carefully saw through the newel post with a panel saw.
Step 3 – Preparation
If you intend to varnish, stain or prime sections of the balustrade, it is be advisable to do this before they are fixed in place.