So you want to know a few things about installing your own stair railing? You have questions like “how hard is it to install a stair railing?”, “how do you install a newel post and handrail?” and “how much does it cost to install a stair railing”. The answers are: not that bad, it’s not that hard and I did my own DIY banisters for $500!
Finishing those stair railings has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done. It required me to figure out angles and problem-solve. And I am sharing all my tips to make it easier for YOU to do your own!
It requires finding something other than a 90-degree angle. I was never really good at geometry and this task required my protractor skills to be sharp. (Check out my formula below.)
When we built the house we didn’t finish the basement. I knew that I would eventually want to have wood railings with iron balusters so I had them finish half walls (or pony walls).
“I will do it later”. That always sounds really awesome in the moment. But then the actual moment comes when you have to do the work and you regret ever saying it.
How to finish a basement without a general contractor?
If you don’t know my basement journey, I have taken my basement from abhorrent to amazing. I can’t wait for you to check it out! I even built a GIGANTIC entertainment center on a blank 19′ wall.
I have finished two basements without a general contractor now and have learned so much!
If you want to get a checklist of all the things to do when finishing a basement and see my best advice, then you will want to check out my most popular post 30 Things to Know When Finishing your Basement!
What is the anatomy of a staircase?
How to remove the existing wall for a stair railing?
I started by taking the half walls down with my reciprocating saw. That was the easy part. They were made of studs and drywall.
You can use the one saw to do it all. Cut the drywall and the studs.
Tearing things apart is always the easiest part of any renovation. I took my walls from a pony wall to a knee wall (just the stair skirting that the treads run in to) and I was left with a gaping hole in one of them.
I added a temporary board on top to get through the holidays when everyone was home and our family was in town so nobody would break their leg by accidentally falling into the hole.
How do you add boards on top of a skirt board?
Once the holidays were over and the kids went back to school I replaced the temporary piece of wood with a solid piece of oak on top of the stair skirt which can also be referred to as a knee wall.
The cost was about $80 for the two pieces of oak I needed for each rail section. This would anchor the iron balusters.
I could have used a less expensive wood but our stairs on the main floor are oak so I wanted to carry the same color and theme into the basement so they didn’t look like an afterthought.
Want to do this project yourself?
I had to use my track saw to cut down the boards to the right width. You could use a table saw, circular saw or a jig saw, too.
Then I took my router and created a nice, decorative edge on them. By making them myself I saved a lot of money. If you don’t have a router or don’t want a decorative edge, you can just leave them straight! OR spend the extra money to buy them with a decorative edge if you want to do that.
How do you find an angle on a stair railing?
I then had to find the angles of the two ends of the board on the knee walls.
One angle to connect it to the wall at the top and one angle to connect it to the vertical piece of wood that the newel post would be screwed into at the bottom of the knee wall on the landing.
So let’s talk about how I got the angles just right!
As a tip, you should have an angle finder in your toolbox and they come in handy when you least expect it. I used this one.
Lay one side of your angle finder on your knee wall (stair skirt) and the other on the short, vertical wall going to the floor or landing.
It is obviously going to be more than a 90 degree angle so it will be an obtuse angle.
How to find an angle ~ THE FORMULA:
The number on the angle finder ÷ 2 = ? (whatever your number ends up after dividing by 2)
90° – ? (your number) = the angle you will cut both pieces to fit together
EXAMPLE: So let’s say it’s 135 degrees.
135° ÷ by 2 = 67.5°
90° – 67.5° = 22.5° 22.5° will be the angle you cut each piece. Set your miter saw to 22.5 and cut the pieces to fit together. You will cut one side and then flip the blade the other direction and cut the other piece of wood at that angle.
I suggest trying it on some scrap wood until you are comfortable with the process.
Those two angles of 22.5 will connect and create the angle for your two boards to come together and meet perfectly.
FILL IN ANY NUMBER FOR THIS FORMULA AND IT WILL WORK.
How to find inexpensive Box Newel Posts?
Newel posts come in many shapes and sizes, not just BOX. Be sure to order the correct ones for your project and that match your home’s interior.
I ordered some box newel posts off of eBay that cost $60 each. I am unable to find the same ones I purchased at the same price, but you can find them on several sites.
You can order them from places like Home Depot or Lowe’s as well.
How do you secure a stair railing post?
I cut them down to the size required by code. (If you are doing railings yourself, make sure that you check your state building codes. Your banister or handrail has to be a specific number of inches off the steps and balusters have to be a certain number of inches apart.)
I used REALLY long 4″ screws to attach them to the skirt. Before I installed them I stained them in the garage since I didn’t want any of the stain on my carpet.
You may need to attach the post to the floor instead. There are a few different ways to do this so do your research and make the best decision for your abilities and needs.
Next up…. handrails.
How do you cut a handrail for a stair railing?
I bought this 12′ handrail at Lowe’s for $78.00. It was enough to get me two rails out of it. One rail for the top staircase and one for the bottom.
It was an excellent deal so it was a purchase that made sense. But at 12′ it was too long for the car so we had to strap it to the roof and pray for the best as we got it home!
It took me a while to work up the courage to cut it. Again, you will want your angle finder.
I decided to try it out on something other than the actual rail. I only had one shot on this thing to get it right!
I took an extra scrap piece of 1 x 2 and cut it to the right dimensions. It allowed me to get the angle perfect and work out all the kinks before cutting the actual rail.
**TIP** Using a scrap piece of wood is a very inexpensive way to make a template and keeps you from making expensive mistakes.
Once I got it right, I transferred the angles onto the rail and then I held my breath as I cut….they turned out perfect!
**TIP** If you are installing balusters, go ahead and mark the center of the handrail on the underside with a line all the wall across the whole rail so that you don’t have to do it after it is installed.
This was harder for me once the rail was in.
How do you install a handrail to a wall?
Do you see the piece that is on the wall that the top of the rail goes into? It is called a rosette and I made it. I made two…one for each set of stairs. I could have bought them at the store, but I had some leftover oak so I cut and routed my own to whatever dimensions I wanted.
These rosettes are on Amazon and under $7 if you don’t want to make your own!
In case you’re wondering, I also built this awesome DIY entertainment center!
It was really easy and saved a little money. They were installed by using liquid nails and my nail gun.
Once I cut the handrail (for real) I used angled holes with my drill and drill bit to screw them into the rosettes and the newel posts.
**TIP: Start the angled hole with your drill bit straight up towards the ceiling on the underside of the railing with your drill bit that is slightly smaller than the screw you will use (as you would a regular hole). As you are drilling in straight up, slowly start to angle it back in the direction you want to screw into the wall or rosette. Take your time. Then add the screw to attach the railing and it will be easily angled back into the wall.**
How do you cut iron balusters?
We have simple knuckle and straight balusters upstairs so I decided to put simple, square/straight iron balusters in the basement. I also ordered them from eBay for about $120.00 for all of them plus angeled shoes.
Typically when you order iron balusters you also order angled shoes to go at the bottom of each one to cover the holes you make for the balusters to sit slightly down in the skirt board (the board on top of the knee wall).
These are added to each baluster as you are installing them one by one. You insert the baluster and then slide down the shoe to the skirt board and secure it.
If you just type in search “stair parts” or “square iron balusters” you will be able to find some that fit your needs. They come in all shapes/designs!
They are very simple to install.
The balusters came a lot longer than I needed so I got a special blade specifically made for cutting metal for my reciprocating saw and my husband cut them down to the correct length for me. He is stronger than I am and it took a little more force to cut them down.
We clamped each baluster to a folding table in the garage and cut them down individually. You could use a jig saw if you have a metal cutting blade or a multi-tool as well. You could also use your circular saw OR power miter saw with a carbide blade.
How do you install iron balusters?
Now I had to drill holes into the handrail and the oak skirt board at the bottom for the balusters to fit into. It took a lot of measuring to find exactly where they should be according to our building code in Indiana.
First, I snapped a chalk line in the center of the oak skirtboard from the top wall to the bottom box newel. Then I marked where the balusters were to be placed, 4″ apart according to Indiana code. (Remember, each state code may be different.)
I then drew a line in the center of the underside of the handrail using a tape measure and a long level to draw a straight line. It is a little tricky after it is installed and should have done this before I installed it.
From every 4″ mark I made on the oak skirt board, I took my level vertical and made a mark on the underside of the handrail.
I drilled the holes. Something I learned is that you don’t want them too deep or your baluster will wiggle around and feel loose when you install it. Add a piece of tape to your drill bit or use a stop block to indicate just how deep you want to go.
In hindsight, I wish I would have done that.
Once I dry-fit the balusters to make sure they were just right and took them all back out and then stained the handrail in place. That way I could stain it all at once and wouldn’t have to try to go around the balusters.
Once that was dry, I inserted the balusters, glued them in place, and tightened the angled shoes.
Best way to fill wood holes on a stair railing?
You will want to be able to access your screws for any reason in the future so I don’t recommend filling with wood filler.
Instead, get yourself some wood plugs.
I stained little oak plugs to glue in and cover the holes where I attached the boards, newel posts, and handrails. Any hole I made on the railings got filled with a removable plug with the same stain as everything else.
I am so proud of myself and so excited to see that it all came out exactly as I hoped and planned!!!
Total Cost for two DIY banisters:
- Oak boards and rosettes: $90
- Newel Posts: $120
- Hand Rail: $75
- Balusters: $120
- Misc. items: $20
- Total: $425
I can’t believe the cost, can you?!
If you have someone do it for you, the real cost is in the labor and it will be $$$. I could have used Poplar which would have saved me even more money as it isn’t as expensive as oak. So, there’s another tip!
I still have some touch-up work but will do all of that once the big projects are done.
I do a lot of my DIY because I want to be careful with my dollars and also because I love to learn new things and be challenged.
The knowledge we can all gain by completing any project can be applied to other projects over and over and I love that!
Do you think you would be nuts enough to attempt to build your own banister? I would love to hear about and see your most complex DIY projects!!
Leave a comment below and tell me about it. If you have questions about this install, feel free to email me. Have a great week!