Renovating Stairs

Learn how to renovate a worn out staircase by updating the look of wrought iron handrails with more contemporary wooden railing.

A staircase is one of the most dramatic focal points in the home. Hosts Pat Simpson and Jodi Marks demonstrate how to renovate a worn out staircase by updating the look of wrought iron handrails with more contemporary wooden railing. The total project cost $400 and required two days.

Materials and Tools:

Reciprocating saw
Utility knife
Utility scissors
Pry bar
Tape measure
3 wooden railing posts
Coordinating wooden balusters
Miter saw
Paddle bit
Plastic toggle bit
Post anchoring kit
Lag screws
Decorative end cap
Finishing nails
Wood glue
Brad nailer
1" x 2" trim
Doweling jig
Wood putty
Fine-grain sandpaper
Light sanding block
Sanding sealer
Polyurethane sealer, or stain sealer


1. Research and follow your local building codes. Check out the foundation before removing anything.
2. Use a reciprocating saw to cut the existing railing into smaller more manageable pieces for removal.
3. Unscrew the railing from the foundation, and remove the all the sections.
4. Use a utility knife to score along the caulking beneath the cap. Loosen the cap with a pry bar. Remove the top plate beneath the cap, as well.
5. Measure and mark the handrail end along the post. Tip: Handrails are usually mounted 36" high. Measure from the top mark of the handrail down 36" along the post to determine the location to cut the post base.
7. Measure and mark the second post.
8. Use a miter saw to cut the post to length. When installing a post against a wall, remove the base molding first.
9. Use a utility knife to score along the caulk between the baseboard and the wall. Remove the baseboard with a pry bar.
10. Cutaway a section of carpet to install the second post at the top of the stairs. At the marked locations, use utility scissors to cut out the post area.
11. Pre-drill two holes into the post, one at the top and one at the bottom centered. Use a paddle bit to pre-drill the counter sinkhole.
12. Insert a plastic toggle bit to secure the top of the post. Screw the base of the post directly into the sill plate.
13. To attach the second post, use a post anchoring kit. 15. Pre-drill holes in the bottom of the post, and attach the brackets in place with supplied screws.
14. For the third post at the bottom of the stairs, anchor the post to the inside edge of the wall stud section with two lag bolts.
15. Measure the length needed for the handrail by checking the distance between the posts.
16. Measure and cut a square into the decorative end cap to slide over the post and into position. Pre-drill holes at the top of the end cap and secure it in place with finishing nails.
17. Cut the handrail to length and test fit it and the bottom rail in place. Make sure that when you check your building codes, you know the correct height of the handrail as well as the correct distance apart the spindles need to be positioned.
18. Pre-drill holes along the bottom rail for the screws to secure the balusters. Use the holes along the bottom rail to mark the locations for the holes along the handrail. Use a paddle bit to drill ½" holes 1" deep in the bottom of the rail to mark the locations for the top of the balusters. Test fit the balusters to check the alignment and plumb.
19. Screw the bottom of the baluster in place along the base rail.
20. Apply glue to the holes along the top handrail, and secure the balusters place. Wipe away any excess glue with a damp rag.
21. Use a brad nailer to secure nails through the side of the railing and into the balusters for extra support.
22. Place a bead of glue along the bottom base of the 1" x 2" trim, and secure with a clamp to dry.
23. Attach the 1" x 2" to the railing with the brad nailer.
24. Measure and cut trim pieces for between the balusters along the bottom rail.
25. Apply wood glue underneath the trim and secure in place with a brad nailer.
26. Toenail the rails in place to the post along the top and bottom rails, and cover the screw heads with a piece of trim cut to size.
27. Pre-drill holes into the handrail at an angle using a doweling jig to drill the holes. Attach the handrail to the posts using screws through pre-drilled holes.
28. Apply wood glue to the top tips of the balusters and slip them into position along the top handrail.
29. Secure the balusters in place with a brad nailer. Repeat this process for all the balusters, and fill all the nail holes with wood putty. Be sure to use stainable and paint able wood putty if you plan on staining or painting. If you plan on simply sealing the wood, make sure to match the putty to the color of the wood.
30. Use a light-sanding block to sand and smooth the wood surfaces. Follow the grain of the wood, and avoid over sanding. Wipe down the wood with a damp cloth to remove any debris.
31. Apply a coat of sanding sealer, and allow the sealer to dry thoroughly.
32. Re-sand lightly with fine grain sandpaper. Remove any sanding debris with a cloth, and apply the polyurethane sealer. Use a water-based sealer for easy clean up.

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