When I ran through the Before pictures of the stairway I mentioned that the railing was in need of some tender love and repair. In general it’s a mighty fine looking staircase, but the finish is a little worn and most of the newel post are missing chunks of trim. Sure, it’s actually not all that noticeable if you’re not really paying attention, but this staircase deserves better.
I started by ripping off the existing caps on the newel posts. I left the one on the large post at the base of the stairs and the one up by the attic door since it was that one would need some more complicated cuts if I tried to replace it.
If your house has standard sizes, you can order Newel Cap kits which would be super easy. Nothing in our house is standard though (the kits are designed for 3.5″x3.5″ or 5.5″.x5.5″ and our posts are 4.5″x4.5″) so I had to go custom. Because I want to keep (most of) the stairs natural wood, I picked some red oak to make my replacement caps.
I was lucky enough to find a small crown molding that was reasonably similar to the existing trim. I started by staining the whole piece as close to the existing wood finish as I could. No worries, that it’s not perfect, there will be another layer coming later on.
If you need a lot of pieces cut to the same size, the easiest thing to do is to create a jig of sorts. Once I figured out the size I needed for the trim, I cut a bunch of pieces about 2 inches longer than I needed (I just eyeballed it). Then I flipped my saw around so I could cut the opposite angle, and using my already-perfect piece as guide, clamped a piece of scrap wood into place.
Now I just have to butt the short pieces up the block and cut off the excess. Voila, perfect sized cuts every time! I did still double check each post before cutting the trim pieces because I’m neurotic and the slightly variation in size could make this fail miserably.
I was a little worried about what to do for the top piece. I only have the tools to cut a square block. Laaaaame. It would have looked sadly out of place. While idly wandering through the hardware store* I started checking out router bits. There was one that was super similar to our existing caps that I started eyeing. Twenty bucks for a router bit? Yeah, I’d spend that…. but another $200 for the router itself? That I may never use again?** Umm, not so much. Then I remembered a conversation I had with my dad several years back.
Dad: I got a new router!
Me: Computer or power tool?
Dad: Both actually!
Yup, dad’s tool hoard to the rescue! Matt and I were even making a Milwaukee trip to celebrate his sister’s college graduation. After the party Matt hung out with his family and my dad and I Got Shit Done.
Like most projects, the bulk of the time is spent on prep. I brought a set of trim pieces with me so we’d have the exact sizing but then there was math. The router bit we bought didn’t tell you how much it took off from the bottom, which was the measurement we really needed. We measured a piece of scrap wood, ran one side through the router, and measured it again. Our chosen bit took off a 1/2″ so we needed to cut blanks 1″ larger on all sides so the bottom would line up with the trim pieces.
When cutting the test piece we also learned that the way the router sat in the router table left a super skinny edge on the top of our finished piece. Stairs are high traffic areas and take plenty of abuse. Skinny edges will break easily. Baaad combo. We couldn’t really lower the router, so we decided to raise the table surface. Dad’s scrap wood hoard the rescue! He had some left over pegboard that was perfect size, so we cut out a notch to go around the bit and then clamped it onto the table.
Alright! We had all our blanks cut! We had the router set up! We were ready to Do This Thing! Aaaand it’s time to leave for dinner. Matt and I were planning on leaving the next day right after lunch so he was a little concerned when he learned we still had to route about 90% of the pieces and we had already put in about 3 hours worth of work.
But everything was set up for the easy stuff now!
Now we just had to zip everything through the router. Easy peasy!
After everything was cut (and transported back home) I took my palm sander and rounded down the edges and corners so they would look a little worn. Then I hit them with a couple coats of the stain I used on the other trim so they’d be in the ballpark of the existing railing color.
Now we just have to attach and the new caps and wait for the humidity to come down so I can stain the entire thing.
*Yeah, I do that. Anyone surprised?
**According to my sister though, once you have a router, you will find things to route.