Stair Rail

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Project by spunwood posted 11-01-2010 04:23 AM 3084 views 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The Project

This is a stair rail I built for my mother-in-law. It is 13’ Maple tree supported by a pine board, two screws, and a maple branch.

Ths is was my first “installation” piece, and it was quite an experience. I will try to write about it.

I will include pictures at the end.

I told Judy that if she came across any projects that didn’t need to be perfect, I would jump at the chance to practice and learn. My mother-in-law faithfully found me something. Her basement, where she does her laundry, has been without a handrail for years. She cut down a maple tree and suggested I might make it into the rail.

She thought she had a draw knife, but couldn’t find it. So I jumped at the chance to buy one at Retool, a local used tool shop.

The German Ox-head draw knife is now one of my favorite tools. It is sharp, sturdy, and peeled the maple without breaking a sweat (I know that tools do not sweat. It is useful for all kinds of fine and heacy work. Truly it is more versatile than one might imagine. In the third picture you can see it, and the fine job it did cleaning off the tree.

I asked judy for a ‘y’ shaped support branch. After cleaning the support branch, I gave them a few polyurethane coats. I never finished anything before, so I accidently sanded off the first coat entirely. Thus, due to the irregular shape of the piece and drip issues, I ended up giving it about four coats and a few touch ups after installation. I love the way the clear coat looks on the knots and bumps.

The Installation
I went over Saturday morning to hang the rail, and this is where the trouble began. I got there about 7:30 and expected to be done by 10 or 11 am. I finished Sunday morning.

The minor bumps in the road were problematic drill bits, and miscalculating the size of a countersunk hole (forgetting that I need to get a socket in there to tighten the bolt). The hole was too shallow, too narrow, and gouged.

The major bump in the road occured when it was discovered that there was no existing stud in the walll anywhere near where I had expected to mount the top. Without a good handsaw or powertool, we used an overly agressive jig saw to make a mounting peice for the doorjamb and for some crazy reason I thout that I needed to shape it with my drill powered barrell sander to make it look nice. AND, then I tried to hide the mess on the wall, on the board and on the rail with some wood putty.

The maple rail was a mess, the board and wall were a mess, and there was wood putty everywhere.

Stepping Back
Baffeling to me was that everyone seemed happy with the job (maybe because of the location…an unfinished basement) and maybe because I take my ‘fine’ woodworking WAY to seriously.

But the bottom line was that I was not satisfied. I ended the day with some pre-trick-or-treating with my children, and working on another project that evening in peace and tranquility.

Sunday, I woke up excited about working on the job and fixing what I could.

We would have gone to church, but a stomach virus had strock my wife that night.

I brought a tree stencil and some sanding exquiptment.

I sawed off the sanded part of the board and added some stenciling.



I sanded down the wood filler (or was it wood putty) “dowel”. Can you see that slightly off color circle? How could I have blended it better? (notice the huge wood rafters 4” thick)

And I admired the rustic dowel on the bottom support branch I made with a bench grinder (the bump on the outer edge of the support branches right arm.

I also rubbed some oil on the wood which I accidentaly scuffed on the door jamb.

I can see that I am still prone to rush (i.e. the color choice of the tree when I couldn’t find green, and the lettering), but more importantly, I am gaining confidence, pride in my work, and learning how to fix mistakes (some of which are inevitable).

I welcome your suggestions.

-- I came, I was conquered, I was born again. ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν

7 comments so far

View Skylark53's profile


2862 posts in 4110 days

#1 posted 11-01-2010 05:08 AM

Very creative. Looks nice.

-- Rick, Tennessee, John 3:16

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


20607 posts in 4725 days

#2 posted 11-01-2010 08:19 AM

Now, on to ‘finer’ woodworking :-)) we all gotta start somewhere. Good job done! Did you slide down it? :-))

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 5296 days

#3 posted 11-01-2010 01:56 PM


-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View misslolly's profile


52 posts in 3850 days

#4 posted 11-01-2010 02:38 PM

Are you happy with your project now that it is finished. I find that I am intimately acquainted with all of the flaws in my projects but others are oblivious and view the project as a whole. Stand back from the faults and enjoy the overall affect. You achieved quite a lot by tackling this project. Keep up the good work.

-- wishIstillhadaclydesdaleinmyfrontyard

View spunwood's profile


1202 posts in 3886 days

#5 posted 11-01-2010 04:35 PM

Thanks for all the encouragement folks.

-- I came, I was conquered, I was born again. ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν

View rivergirl's profile


3201 posts in 3888 days

#6 posted 11-01-2010 10:54 PM

Cool! I love rustic stuff. Nice job!

-- Homer : "Oh, and how is education supposed to make me feel smarter? Besides, every time I learn something new, it pushes some old stuff out of my brain."

View TreeBones's profile


1828 posts in 5073 days

#7 posted 01-02-2011 07:16 AM

Very cool. Looks similar to project I have done before. I like the rustic style. Something about that natural beauty when left closer to the tree.

-- Ron, Twain Harte, Ca. Portable on site Sawmill Service

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