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Continuous Spiral Handrail in Maple

Continuous Spiral Handrail in Maple

Continuous Carved Spiral Handrail in Maple – West Sussex

This is a job i was very pleased with. It took a lot of patience and frequent checks to make sure it was shaping up correctly, but the end result was extremely satisfying.

It was for a customer in West Sussex, who had bought a plot which had two separate buildings, the main house, and an annex a short distance away from the house. What he did was pretty fantastic, because he joined the two together to make one big house!

In fact, the Maple Handrail i’m describing here was for one of two staircases that would eventually be in the house, the other staircase I built from scratch, and can be seen HERE.

Original iron banisters to be removed

Original iron banisters to be removed

Original iron banisters to be removed

Original iron banisters to be removed

Original iron banisters to be removed

Original iron banisters to be removed

Above are some photos of the original iron banisters and hardwood handrail, and in my opinion, are extremely outdated and quite ugly. You might notice in the third photo that the spiral string (side of the staircase) has some awkward looking angles on it where the straight sections meet the spiral section.

Clamping pieces of timber onto the string to smooth out curve lines

Clamping pieces of timber onto the string to smooth out curve lines

Clamping pieces of timber onto the string to smooth out curve lines

Clamping pieces of timber onto the string to smooth out curve lines

Smoothed out curves ready to take baserail and handrail

Smoothed out curves ready to take baserail and handrail

After smoothing out the awkward-looking angles by sanding the convex edges and filling the concave edges, the spiral string was ready to use as a template for the new maple baserail and handrail.

Many people don’t realise that spiral baserail and handrail, although only about 30mm/60mm x 80mm in profile once finished, must be constructed from much larger lumps of timber to account for the curving. In this case, the lumps were around 120mm thick x 200mm wide x 650mm long, and the new spiral maple baserail and handrail each required 4 pieces of timber this size to be carved by hand and joined end-to-end.

Oversize lumps of timber being carved spiral, but squared profile.

Oversize lumps of timber being carved spiral, but squared profile.

Spiral carved sections being joined in square profile stage.

Spiral carved sections being joined in square profile stage.

Square profile carving now complete for baserail

Square profile carving now complete for baserail

I began with the baserail, and each section of this had to be carved into its spiral shape, but square in profile. That is to say that no moulding or grooves were yet to be applied to the timber.

This was because once i had the whole baserail carved into a square profile, it would be much easier to uniform the finished profile using a router and other power tools.

The actual carving of each section meant that i continuously had to carve away some timber from the underside of the section, try it onto the section of the string that it would eventually be fixed to, carve some away, try it on again, and repeat until the underside of the section was exactly the same shape as the string. (To ensure i had exactly the right shapes for both the baserail and the handrail, i used the string as the template for the baserail, and the baserail as the template for the handrail) Once the underside was perfect, the sides and top of the section could be carved square to the underside. I don’t mind admitting that this was a laborious process that took a lot of patience, and I lost count of the times that I had electricians, plumbers and other tradesmen all staring at what i was doing in disbelief! :)

Carving the groove for the spindles into the baserail

Carving the groove for the spindles into the baserail

Fine chiseling the groove for the spindles into the baserail after routing

Fine chiseling the groove for the spindles into the baserail after routing

Finished baserail with moulding and grooves

Finished baserail with moulding and grooves

Once I had all the sections of both the baserail and handrail carved spiral and in square profile, I was able to begin routing out the grooves for the spindles to be located into, as well as the moulded profiles.

Routing out the holes for the connectors in the handrail

Routing out the holes for the connectors in the handrail

Routing out the holes for the connectors in the handrail

Routing out the holes for the connectors in the handrail

Routing the spindle groove onto the underside of the handrail

Routing the spindle groove onto the underside of the handrail

I created a jig on my router to accurately machine the bevel on the sides of the handrail

I created a jig on my router to accurately machine the bevel on the sides of the handrail

I created a jig on my router to accurately machine the bevel on the sides of the handrail

I created a jig on my router to accurately machine the bevel on the sides of the handrail

I used an angle-grinder to shape the top of the handrail

I used an angle-grinder to shape the top of the handrail free-handedly using diminishing grits

Fine-sanding the whole handrail

Fine-sanding the whole handrail

Fine-sanding the whole handrail

Fine-sanding the whole handrail

Handrail fits perfectly onto the baserail :)

Handrail fits perfectly onto the baserail

Routing the mortice holes into the newels

Routing the mortice holes into the newels

With the spiral sections of both the baserail and handrail complete, the next thing to do was to mortice the newel posts for them to be fitted to.

These newels had a ‘spigot’, or peg on the end of them, which was to be inserted into the stub of the old newels that had been chopped down to a specific height.

These stubs had to have 50mm diameter holes drilled into the top of them to take the spigot of the new maple newel posts, and i can tell you that those old western red cedar newels were hard as rock, my poor drill could barely cope! :-D

With the newels fitted, i was able to fit the spiral handrail, as well as the straight sections upstairs

With the newels fitted, i was able to fit the spiral handrail, as well as the straight sections upstairs

Spindles can now be fitted and it really starts to take shape!

Spindles can now be fitted and it really starts to take shape!

As the spindles were fitted into the spiral section, each spacer between the spindles had to be carved to suit the spiral!

As the spindles were fitted into the spiral section, each spacer between the spindles had to be carved to suit the spiral!

The spindles really make it look special :)

The spindles really make it look special

A huge improvement on the old iron banisters

A huge improvement on the old iron banisters

Quite an impressive sight to see as you enter the house, I think!

Quite an impressive sight to see as you enter the house, I think!

Although this job was hugely time consuming and very fiddly at times, i thoroughly enjoyed it. The customer was a really nice guy, and always doing what he could to help out, and that makes a big difference on a job like this. (There was also always a lot of tea, coffee and chocolate biscuits to be had! ;) )

It’s a job that i’m extremely proud of, and i’m sure that my customer was as pleased as i was with it, and that is what it’s all about!!

Feel free to get in touch with me if you’d like something similar done for you, or even if you’d like a bit of advice. I’m always happy to help :)

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December 16th, 2009 by admin
Continuous oak handrail - Alton

Continuous oak handrail and spindles - Alton

Continuous oak handrail and spindles – Alton

This job was actually for my grandmother.

The image to the left shows the finished job, having installed the continuous oak handrail and spindles on to the staircase that before i started,  actually had no safety measures in place whatsoever! And what kind of wood-working grandson would I be if I simply allowed my grandmother to continue dicing with death up and down an unsafe staircase?!

As you can see in the picture to the left, the spindles are morticed into the cut string, and at the top eventually diminish into a rail on the ceiling.

This meant that in order to have a single handrail all the way up on the right side the staircase, there had to be an “S” bend in the handrail for it to get around the ceiling.

"S" bend in the oak handrail

"S" bend in the oak handrail

Continuous handrail is shaped around the ceiling

Continuous handrail is shaped around the ceiling

Staggered oak spindle to avoid awkward joint to handrail

Staggered oak spindle to avoid awkward joint to handrail

Up until the “S” bend, the oak spindles were slotted into a groove on the underside of the handrail. Above the “S” bend, the handrail had no groove, as the spindles were no longer underneath the handrail, since they diminished into the ceiling, and it was bracketed to the wall.

The “S” bend however presented difficulties when it came to joining it to the spindle that was underneath it. I got over this by chopping the top of the spindle at the same angle as the pitch of the staircase, and about 40mm below the handrail. I then chopped another small peice of the spare oak spindle with the same angle at either end, and glued that to the shortened spindle, before finally chopping a 3rd small peice angled at the bottom end but square at the top, and glued this to the 2nd peice, which left me with staggered spindle that missed the “S” bend of the oak handrail, and joined neatly into, and formed the first spindle of the ceiling rail.

Its funny how the smallest jobs can sound so confusing!

The end result was a good one though, and a big plus is that my grandmother is now safe :)

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Double winding staircase in softwood & MDF

Double winding staircase in softwood & MDF

Double Winding Staircase in softwood & MDF-Guildford.

This was another staircase built on site.

It leads from the first floor of a semi-detached house in Guildford up to a loft conversion on the second floor.

The strings (sides of the staircase) and the newels were in softwood, and the treads and risers were in MDF.

There were two winding sections, one three “kite” tread section as you step on to the staircase, turning right as you go up, then a six tread straight flight before arriving at the second three “kite” tread winding section turning again to the right and onto the second floor landing.

This staircase was directly above the staircase from the ground floor to the second floor, allowing the required minimum 2 metres of headroom between the two.

The Process

Setting out the staircase

Setting out the staircase

Routing the strings

Routing the strings

Gluing the risers into the treads

Gluing the risers into the treads

Sanding the strings before assembly

Sanding the strings before assembly

Assembling the straight flight section

Assembling the straight flight section

Trying the newel posts on

Trying the newel posts and winding treads

Fitting the staircase, main section first.

Fitting the staircase, main section first.

Fitting the winding treads

Fitting the winding treads

Fitting the handrail and spindles

Fitting the handrail and spindles

Installation complete, ready to be decorated and carpeted

Installation complete, ready to be decorated and carpeted

I always find staircases extremely satisfying to do.

When done well, they add a great deal of character to any house.

In this case, there wasn’t a huge amount of space to work in while making the staircase, but it is always an advantage to have the place where the stairs are going to end up close by so that any measurements that you need during the job are there to hand and progress is not hindered.

I love getting rid of the ladder that has been used upto the point of staircase installation and standing back and enjoying a newly fitted staircase. And everyone else working on the site is always pleased to not have to carry all their tools up and down ladders anymore too!

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December 13th, 2009 by admin
Newly fitted bannisters

Newly fitted banisters

Newly fitted banisters in St Johns, Woking

As a carpenter and joiner, it’s always a pleasure to bring wooden furniture and household features up to date.

What you see to the left is the newly fitted banisters that replaced some that were fairly out of date.

In this case, the square newel posts were kept as they were, and we installed new handrail, base-rail, spindles and newel caps, which were sourced by the customer from Wickes in St Johns, Woking.

Once i have met with the customer and advised them on what their options are, with replacement handrail jobs,  I usually suggest that the customer gets hold of the materials themselves, because that way, they get what they want and they know that they are paying the right price.

Currently, i am hearing from a lot people who would like to have their staircase modernized. When house were being built in the 70s and 80s, it was then fashionable to have the horizontal boarding fitted between the newel posts, but nowadays it isn’t so desirable. Another concern, particularly for this customer, is that their young toddlers could be very tempted to use the horizontal banisters as a climbing frame, which could very easily end in tears!

The Process

70s/80s horizontal bannisters to be removed

70s/80s horizontal banisters to be removed

Old bannisters being removed

Old banisters being removed

Old bannisters now removed and old holes filled

Old banisters now removed and old holes filled

The first thing to do was to put down all the dust sheets to protect the carpet from the majority of the dust.

Next was to remove the existing newel caps and cut out the handrail and balustrading using a handsaw. Once this was done, the tops of the newels needed to be prepared to fit the recess of the new newel caps.

I used angle brackets to fix the new handrail to the existing newels, which had to be rebated into both the newels and the new handrail, so that they wouldn’t be seen once the rebates were filled.

As always with old staircases, over time, the newels had shrunken out of square, so careful measurements and recording of angles had to be made in order to cut the ends of the handrails and base-rails so that they joined nicely to the newel posts.

Once the new handrails and base-rails were fitted, i used two part filler to make good the small holes and cracks around where i had filled the old holes with timber, and sanded everything flat to give a good surface to be decorated.

Spindles now installed

Spindles now installed

Next was fitting the spindles, which required calculating the equal spaces between each, and then cutting the spacers to the right size.

This is one of my favourite parts of this kind of job, because once you have the spacers and the spindles all cut to the right length and angle, fitting them is a very quick job, providing you have a nail gun (which i do!). If you only have a hammer and nails, than it will take about 6 or 7 times as long, but in comparison to the rest of the job, which can be quite strenuous and laborious, it is a real breeze, which is all the nicer when it is the last part of the job!

This job took a bit longer than a normal working day, but I stayed a bit longer in this case to get it finished, as leaving it unfinished wouldn’t be safe for the customers young children.

The customers very kindly let me work on their banisters while they were out, so as to let me get on with it as efficiently as possible. The job was finished within the timescale quoted, and all in all, everyone was happy!

A nice job :)

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