View Full Version : Tightening Loose Stair Railing

John TenEyck
07-19-2011, 4:16 PM
This is a follow-up to an earlier posting about how to undertake this project. I put in a stair balustrade a couple of years ago. I saw the owner a month or so ago and he told me that the railing was slightly loose at it's termination at the wall. Not very loose, but a little. Subsequently, he told me that it was less loose since the weather had gotten hotter which implies to me that expansion/contraction due to humidity changes was playing at least some role in the problem. After consulting here for advise I made the repair last evening.

First I measured back about 3-1/4" from the top of the rail and drilled a 1" dia. hole about 9/16" deep.
Then I drilled two holes where the corner of the side wall and bottom of the 1" hole meet. I drilled those holes at 90 deg to the wall and at a slight outboard angle so that they would miss the screw installed during installation. You can just see the old screw plug between the new 1" hole and the wall. The new screw holes exist the railing at about its horizontal centerline. Then I installed two 4" long x 1/4" Spax self threading screws. I used the Spax screws because my drill bit would only reach just through the end of the railing and not into the studs. The Spax screws drove in without problems and I snugged them tight a couple of times with my impact driver. You can see them in the bottom of the hole in the picture above. There's no play in the railing whatsoever and, hopefully, it will stay that way now that it is held with screws at 3 different angles.

Lastly, I installed a 1" diameter tapered plug that I made (and posted about how to do so a few days ago) with just a few dabs of glue - in case I ever have to go back, again - cut it off and carefully "planed" it smooth and flush with a chisel. I made sure to determine the "downhill" direction of the grain, and installed it facing the wall, so that the chisel would not cause any tearout as I planed it smooth.


Just a dab of stain and finish and it should be good to go. Thanks for looking.

Richard Wolf
07-19-2011, 9:07 PM
Good job on the fix. I don't know what it is, but people are real picky when it comes to rails. I had to send my son an hour each way to set a 18 gauge nail that came out the side of the rail 1/32". The amazing parts was the contractor was the one that felt it and he had a house full of finish carpenters on site.

We put a maple rail in for my sons friend, and because he was a friend we applied water base ploy on as a finish. The friends father showed up, (want a be carpenter) and notes that one of the balusters is stained slightly darker than the rest. I go to see him and explain that the rails weren't stained at all, only ployed. The variation in tone was what makes wood, wood. He wouldn't hear it and wants the baluster changed, and while I'm changing that one, the one next to it should be changed because it has tiger maple grain it it. Go figure!

John TenEyck
07-19-2011, 11:00 PM
Hi Richard. The owner in this case probably wasn't as concerned as I was. I sure didn't want that railing letting go, and since I had only used one screw at that location I was nervous about it. Lesson learned. The railing really wasn't very loose, but any amount is too much. The idea for the fix came about from feedback you all gave me, combined with what would be fairly straightforward to execute. I made a mock-up in my shop to make sure the geometry would work, which is what lead me to the need for the 1" dia. plug. After working it out with the mock-up, the actual fix was pretty easy, took less than an hour, and the railing seems incredibly robust now.

This was the first time I was back to see the railings since I finished installing them. The homeowner finished them himself and I have to say they were beautiful. And since he finished them himself he was as proud of them as I was. I know he's happy because he asked me to starting designing a couple of new pieces for him. So that 44 mile drive one way to do a repair is going to have a good payoff in the near future. Doesn't get much better than that.