This Softwood Mopstick handrail with black brackets fitted to an elderly gentleman’s staircase in Southampton. As I have said in past posts none of us are getting younger. The customer gratefully informed me that having this handrail will enable him to remain in his home of 55years.He was finding it increasingly difficult to manage the stairs. The handrail will be finished off in white by his wife – a mere 91 years old!
This crown cap handrail was left unpainted so that the grain and beauty of the wood can be seen, with this in mind I took my time selecting the wood for a clean straight grain without any knots.
The sweep from the bottom of the stairs to the top is unbroken therefore there are no breaks in the handrail on the corner or where the pitch changes. This is important for less mobile people who need the reassurance of something to get hold of for support whilst going down or up the stairs.
The wall that the handrail is fitted to is a stud wall, made up of plasterboard tacked to a timber frame so in effect a hollow wall. I used a specialist fixing to fix the brackets one which ‘balloons’ out behind the plasterboard and into the cavity. All in all a neat and tidy job.
Crown Cap is not used so much these days I have only one supplier who stocks it, and only in soft wood. I do have cutters to machine crown cap myself although such a small run would not warrant the time it would take. I think crown cap is easier to use as a handrail particularly if ones grip is not what it used to be. Also it can be screwed directly to the wall rather that hung on brackets, that’s useful if you are restricted on space.
The above is a boarded stair, as opposed to using spindle’s, this was popular in the 1970s and 80s. It is no longer allowed unless the gap between each board or boards and hand/base rail is less than 100mm (4”) . This regulation applies to spindles as well. The regulation prevents the potential for young children and babies getting their head wedged in the gap. There has been truly tragic cases although thankfully few, of very young children accidentally hanging themselves as a result of there being a greater than 100mm opening between spindles or boards.
I removed the boards along with the handrail. The Newel posts were left insitu. Replacement stair components were fitted. Not only does this bring the stair case up to date with current regulation the new stair components also lighten up the hall and landing. A painter and decorator was on site at the same time as me so he was then able to sand down the apron and other areas of the stairs that would be inaccessible before the new components were fitted.
My understanding is that the customer wishes to have the whole lot brought back to wood and then finished in a varnish.
When I removed the boards I realised they are Parana Pine, this is a timber that is no longer obtainable in the u.k or any where else for that matter as the species is now endangered and there is a ban on its use. I am going to make some small boxes with this wood and will add some images once I have made them. I kike the idea of making good use of old wood, I can not think of any other material that can be transformed from one object or use to another, that is carbon neutral, and benefits the soul whilst being grown, gives pleasure to the eye and has shaped our lives in so many ways. Yep you got it—I Like wood.
Stiffening a stair case in lords wood Southampton.
This stair case in a property in lordswood, Southampton had become springy and was creaking, the glue originally used had degraded and the wedges were loose, the joining of the treads to the risers could have been done better, only three screws used. Most customers assume that a new stair case is required, this is not the case. Comprehensive use of blocks glued and screwed from underneath solves the problem. The lordwood area of Southampton seems to have a lot of creaking stair cases, this is the fifth stair case I have silenced on that particular estate. Considering that the properties are circa 1970s I can only assume that the stair cases were factory made as cheaply as possible and the glues used of inferior grade.
Above are two examples of decking projects I have recently completed. Decking still continues to be popular and since its popularity in the early 1990s, when the basic deck for many was a simple single level surface comprising timber boards covering an outside area, normally tannalised decking boards, a great many new products have come onto the market. However a deck is only as good as the sub frame. I have seen decks that had sagged either in one corner or in the middle, which meant taking up the deck to get to the posts. The reason for this failure is usually at ground level; the posts have rotted, or sunk as in one case because the post was simply sunk into the ground without any concrete. Generally best practice is to avoid putting sub frame posts into the ground and to lay down concrete foundations, or slabs for smaller decks, and onto this sit your posts in metal feet.
Another factor to take into consideration is plant growth under the deck. Plant growth holds moisture around the sub frame leading to eventual failure. Plants need light so the obvious remedy is to lay a black damp proof membrane down at ground level to eliminate this hazard. This needs to be cut to size with cut-outs around posts and secured using stainless steel staples. Then small holes need to be introduced to avoid the pooling of water, a dank pool of water below a deck is heaven for mosquitos.
So what is tannalised timber?
Tanalised timber is hydraulically pressure treated with copper, which prevents insect attack, and biocides, namely propiconazole and tebuconazole, which act against the formation of brown rot (a type of wet rot). There are colour compounds added as well. The proceed is known as Tanalith E, and has been around since the 1940s. Tanalised timber comes in many grades. uc1-3 is for above ground and uc4 is suitable for below ground. Also strength grades are usually stamped on the wood with a ‘C’ followed by a number, C16 or C24 for instance. This is important for the bearers of elevated decks.
How do I prevent the end grain, that is the end of the post, in or at ground level, from soaking up the water from below?
The question of sealing the end grain is an important one. If left untreated, particularly if it’s a cut end, it becomes the weakest link in the armoury against insect attack and rot. Many years ago I was taught a trick by a boat builder who had been in the trade all of his working life; he simply boiled down candles and dipped the end of the timber into the melted wax, then with the wax still pliable he rubbed a piece of wood over the wax, working it into the end grain, thus filling in any potential route that water could penetrate.
Now the boards.
As I stated earlier, the range of decking boards has grown to include recycled plastics, composite of plastic polymers and wood, hardwoods and softwoods. Softwood is usually pine if purchased from one of the large retail sheds, or redwood if from independent suppliers – still a member of the pine family but certainly a superior product.
As a matter of course I do not lay a timber deck unless it has an anti slip surface, in the form of a grit impregnated plastic strip rebated into the top side of the board. It is more expensive for sure, say 50% more or so per meter run over ordinary timber decking, but the argument over the cost is a no brainer if you unfortunately find yourself on your back unable to get up because you have broken/twisted something! It has happened.
There are clear anti slip products on the market but I don’t like them. I have found them to be OK for a couple of years at most and then there’s the job of removing the old stuff before you can reapply it. It’s not too dissimilar to anti slip paint on boat decks but the difference is that with a boat deck you can change the colour or simply paint over it again. I have found that with the clear anti slip products once water gets under it you can end up with a mosaic of blotches where the wood has discoloured.
With regards hardwoods, sure, there are plenty about, but my conscience prevents me from entertaining this. Most hardwoods are from tropical climates which is typically where rain forests are, and with the global demand for such products ever increasing, and the remaining resource ever decreasing, I do not want to be a party to the eventual collapse of these forests. For sure hardwood has its place in the carpenter’s or furniture maker’s itinerary of materials, but not for a deck. I ask you to think long and hard about the future and the environmental impact of stripping out rain forests around the world so that we can have hardwood decking . If after this thought you simply must have hardwood, please ask someone else to do the job.
It goes without saying that the fixings used in laying a deck need to have a comparable life span. It’s no good having a deck board that’s going to last 15/20 years or longer and fastenings that degrade in 5 years, so I use stainless steel in coastal areas and propriety deck screws inland. All in all, given that a deck will be exposed to UV light, rain, frost, and anything else our changing climate wants to throw at it, it has to be pretty well bullet proof to the elements.
Please use the contact form on this website if you wish me to price a decking project that you have.
The previous owner of this property had removed the handrail and spindles, the new owner wanted them put back.Because the newel post had been completely removed I had to machine one from 100mmx100mm stock to fit into the stud wall cavity with an angled mortice to cover the stair string, then a wider than usual base rail needed to be machined to cover the stud wall. The handrail was a stock item from a supplier, the spindles were machined on site with a stopped chamfer.
A crown cap hand rail fitted above a previously fitted dado rail, the customer wanted it to be a continuous run from the bottom to the top of the stairs with no breaks in-between, and did not want an institutional look to it.
Using Brass brackets and finished in white gloss.
The customer wanted to have a work station as well as some storage cupboards, they wanted a knotty pine finish to match their interior doors so laminated board was used with pine veneer MDF panels for the doors. At a later date some shelves above the table may well come in useful.
The original Newel Post was cut off many years ago, a common practice, often to make it easier to get large items of furniture upstairs. The problem with this particular ‘stub’ was that it had been cut at 45 degrees so the standard procedure of inserting a dowel would not have been sufficiently strong enough. I was reluctant to take the Newel out and start again as this would have required the bottom of the stair case to be opened up,so as well as two dowels, two splines were let in to enable the replacement newel to be fitted with confidence. Then the bottom cap and handrail were fitted once the glues were completly dry. The spindles are then cut to length and installed. All the components i machined from stock timber using a spindle moulder and router. It is important to have a solid newel as everything else depends on that, also it gets alot of stress put on it, If you have children, watch as they swing around the post using it as a fulcrum when comming down the stairs.