The Staircase Situation: Craftsman-Style Newel Post Construction

Kenny astutely noted that I should have titled this entry: “A Post About Posts.”

I married that man for a reason.

Anyway, before I reveal our half-bathroom remodel (COMING ON WEDNESDAY, PROMISE!), I want to tell you about the next project we’ve embarked upon: our stairway railing. Here’s what it looked like until last week Thursday at about 9pm (before and after we painted):

stairs before

Nice, sturdy, but not our style. So we got to work and began knocking things down.

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We left the newel posts standing, because I had a plan: to build out new newel posts around them. I’m pretty bold when it comes to attempting new DIY projects and acquiring skills along the way, but you want stairway railings to be sturdy, and the old newel posts were definitely that. I was not as confident that I could reinstall my own newel posts to be as sturdy as the originals.

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At this point, I headed to Pinterest to search for inspiration. The only problem? Most of the stairways on Pinterest look like this or this, which are beautiful, to be sure, but not at all helpful for this situation. I finally zeroed in on craftsman-style newel posts, scribbled a hasty plan on the back of an envelope, and got to work on Saturday morning.

I began from the bottom and worked my way up.

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I decided to build these posts to be paint grade and not stain grade, which was easier for an amateur builder like me, and cheaper, since I could use MDF instead of hardwood. I began with 3/4″ MDF that I had in my scrap pile.

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I then used 1/4″ MDF for the middle part…

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…and then I added 1/4″ MDF “trim” to create an inset look. 1/2″ MDF finished off the top. We cut off the knobby ball things on the old newel posts with our Dremel and a handsaw.

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Then I added trim, which really helped take things to the next level. At this point, I had mitered every single piece of wood that went on these…and each post is composed of 32 different pieces of wood (not counting the top!). SAWDUST WAS EVERYWHERE.

You can see I haven’t added the front piece on either post yet, because I want to reinstall the railing (using that hole for the screw) before I add that piece.

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Next I had to figure out what to do for the top (I definitely was figuring things out as I went along…it works for me, though!). Initially, I was going to use a pre-fabricated fence post cap like this one, but when I  propped in on the posts I had built, it was too large and bulky looking.

Most craftsman-style posts had some version of two flat pieces on the top of the newel posts, so that’s what I tried, along with a piece of trim:

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I think that’s what we’ll end up doing, unless I have another idea between now and when I nail it in.

Kenny’s a good hand model, don’tcha think? :)

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I was initially planning on painting the post but staining the top (like this), but now I’m torn–how weird would it look if I stained the trim pieces as well and painted only the MDF? I guess I could try it, and then if it looked terrible I could just paint over it…

These are the things that keep me awake at night.

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