I was a building contractor for many years, but now I work
as a stair builder for Cooper Stairworks in Somerset, Mass.
After many years of installing stairs in the field, I'm now one
of the leaders of the production team in the shop. I was part
of the team of stairbuilders on the project described in the
" (9/00). A couple of weeks later, after
the drywall was in, I went back to the site to install the
railing system. This article describes that process.
Like many other stair builders, we will send people to your
site to install the stairs and railings if you need that.
However, the packages we send out are complete enough that any
carpenter can do the on-site work. In fact, even some skilled
homeowners have installed their own packages.
We do most of the measuring and fitting in the shop, so the
site installation usually takes a day or less, depending on the
complexity of the stair system.
Pre-Cut Pieces Simplify
Many of the pieces in the railing package are premeasured,
pre-cut, and prenotched in the shop, based on the field
measurements taken by our site rep. We cut each railing package
at the same time as we build the stairs, using the actual
stairs to guide us (see Figure 1).
1. The stair shop prefits each railing system to
the actual stairs as the stairs are built, so that no
complicated layout is needed on site. Here, a shop
carpenter test-fits a post to a stair set (left), then
checks the plumb cut on a railing (right).
The posts are cut to the appropriate height, and notched at
the bottom to fit snugly in place.Likewise, the treads on the
stair itself are prenotched at the appropriate location to
accept the posts. This means it's hard to install the posts
anywhere but exactly at the right spot. As long as you've
positioned the stairs correctly and are careful to fasten the
posts perfectly plumb, everything else should drop nicely into
Step by Step
The job shown here was a straightforward post-to-post design.
We had to run posts and rails all the way up the steps, which
are open on one side, and also around the landing at the top,
which is open to below. As always, I took the installation in
phases: first the posts, then the landing treads and fascia
under them, then the rails and balusters, then the baseboard at
the mid-landing, and finally the necessary cove and cap
In order to be efficient, I complete each phase before
moving on: When I'm setting posts, I set all the posts. When I
start to install rails, I do all the rails, and so on. That way
I'm not running back and forth between different tools and
Posts. The first task is to set the posts. As
I mentioned, the posts come prenotched and pre-cut to height,
with the caps and any other trimwork already applied. But we
drill the posts in the field because different builders use
different methods of attachment (Figure 2).
2. Posts and stair treads are prenotched at the
shop to ensure the proper post location and height, but
the posts are drilled on site.