Making 'Open' Newel Posts & Baluster Assembly

The main stair newels were site-built from 1 3/4-inch-square pre-primed poplar balusters.

The balusters are connected together top and bottom with solid 5/4 poplar infills and 3/4-inch cleats.

Three of the four corner pieces were glued and screwed through the edge of the infills to minimize the number of visible fasteners; the fourth was installed by applying yellow glue to the backers, sliding the corner piece into place from the top down, and clamping it.

Shown in progress is a modified method of attaching the newels, made necessary after the client changed their location from the first tread to the floor. The original plan for mounting the newels is detailed in the illustration on the opposite page.

The newel post caps were made on site from cherry handrail stock ripped in half lengthwise and mitered together.

The cover, fashioned from a scrap of cherry, has a rabetted edge that ensures a tight fit with the interior of the cap.

Matching molding profiles complete the finished newels.

The three-piece baluster assemblies fabricated on site required two half-laps in the middle baluster. To ensure consistency, two 1-by stops positioned on the radial arm table were used to cut 1 1/4-inch-wide plows.

On the first pass, the stop closest to the fence located the left edge of the cut.

For the second pass, a spacer moved the workpiece out and against the second stop to locate the right edge. (Also shown in photo 11.)

Repeating the process using removable spacers held against the fixed stops located the two cuts needed to plow the second half-lap. (Also see photo 13.)

To assemble the three-piece balusters into single units, the two cross blocks were first glued into the center baluster.

Next, the two outside balusters were positioned alongside using temporary spacers at the other end to keep them parallel.

Once the baluster ends were aligned, the cross blocks were clamped in position while screws were countersunk into the balusters and driven into the end grain of the blocks. After the balusters were installed on the treads, the screw holes were plugged, sanded flush, and painted.

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