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Home > Layout of Stair Sections

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Layout of Stair Balustrade Sections

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Safety First
Typically, a Balustrade section is installed on one or both sides of all porch steps. Safety considerations are obvious, but stair balustrades are also visually pleasing.

Sloped-top Bottom Rails
Sloped-Top Bottom Rails are even more important on stair balustrades because water is being directed by gravity along the top of the Bottom Rails into the back of each Baluster. If the top of your Bottom Rail is flat this moisture will tend to accummulate at the back of and under the Balusters. Slope-top Bottom Rails will divert much of this moisture away from the Balusters.

Baluster Notching
Sloped-top Bottom Rails should be installed at the angle as the stairs (more on that below). Each Baluster must be notched to fit over the top of the Bottom Rail AND these notches must also slope at the same angle as the stairs and Bottom Rails.

This will require compound cuts (2 angles at once) to create a sloped notch in the bottom of each stair Balusters. We can cut these notches for you or you can follow the instructions below to cut them on the job site.

If We Cut the Notches
We can cut sloped notches in the bottoms of our Balusters for installation over our Sloped-top Bottom Rails. The fee for this bottom notch is $2.00 per Baluster. At the same time, and with no additional charge, we can cut the proper slope on the top of each Baluster.

We Will Need to Know Four Things:
1. Slope of Your Stairs?
There are two fairly easy ways to determine this:
    A. Rise and Run of Steps
As you may know, stairs are typically described by their 'rise' and 'run'. Rise is the vertical height from the TOP of one stair tread to the TOP of the next one. Run is the horizontal distance from the FRONT of one riser to the FRONT of the next riser, NOT including the overhanging portion of the tread, if any. If all steps in one set of stairs are of equal run and rise then the rise and run of one step is all we need to know to calculate the slope of your stairs and you can skip Step B immediately below.

    B. Pitch (angle) of Your Stairs
If rise and run vary from one step to the next within a given set of steps then we will need to know the average slope of the stairs from top to bottom. We can determine this angle for you if you first position your Bottom Rail (or a dummy Rail) at the slope you want and then take two measurements for us.

        (1) Position Posts (or Dummy Posts)
If the Newel Post you will need at the bottom of the steps and the Porch or Newel Posts at the top of the steps are not already installed you can use scrap wood to simulate the position of these. Be sure your Posts (or dummy Posts) are plumb (straight up and down). Position dummy Posts, if needed, so that one edge of each simulates the CLOSEST point your final Posts will be to one another. In other words, the width of these boards does not need to equal the actual width of the final Posts but you will need to know the distance between the actual Posts once they are installed.

        (2) Position Bottom Rail (or Dummy Rail)
Bottom Rail (if available) or straight scrap wood can be nailed or screwed to the side of the real or dummy Posts. This Rail (or dummy Rail) should be positioned several inches above the front edge of the steps and set to mimic the average slope of the steps. In other words, position it so that it looks appropriate from top to bottom.

        (3) String Line or Board
With this Rail temporarily in place, run a horizontal string line or straight board, Rail, etc. from the front edge of the Porch Post or Newel at TOP of your steps over to the Newel Post (or dummy Newel Post) at the BOTTOM of your steps. Use a carpenter's level to insure this string line or board is level.

        (4) Two Measurements
Using a steel tape, measure the horizontal distance BETWEEN these two Posts (or dummy Posts) along the string line or board. Record this as the horizontal run of the stairs. Next measure the distance from the TOP of the simulated Bottom Rail to the bottom of the horizontal string or board and record this and the rise of the steps. Provide us with both of these measurements and we can determine the average slope of your steps.

2. Overall Baluster Length After We Cut BOTH Ends?
    A. Establish Top and Bottom Final Stair Post Positions
If your Porch Posts (or Newel Posts) at the top of the stairs and the Newel Posts at the bottom of the stairs are not yet installed you can use scrap wood to simulate these Posts on one side of the steps, as described in Step 1 above.

    B. Determine Final Rail Position
Rails (or dummy Rails) can be nailed or screwed to the side of the Posts (or dummy Posts). If using dummy Rails, position them so that the position of the BOTTOM of the top Rail (or Subrail if using that, which you should for ease of installation) and the TOP of the Bottom Rail are correctly simulated.

    C. Measure Distance Along One Post
On one of your Post (or dummy Post), measure the distance between the simulated BOTTOM of the top Rail (or Subrail) and the simulated TOP of the Bottom Rail. Add the following amount to this length to allow for the extra Baluster length needed to fit down over the sloped top of the Sloped-top Bottom Rail. The total of these two is the net Baluster length, after cutting, you need us to provide. *** Need 'extra for notch' chart here. ***

3. Which Baluster?
Please let us know which style and size Balusters you want for your stairs.

4. Which Size Sloped-top Bottom Rail?
The top angle varies slightly by size for our Sloped-top Bottom Rails so we need to know which size Bottom Rail you will using.

One for Approval
After we receive your information on the above four things we will send one cut Baluster for your approval.

If You Cut the Notches
You can use the techniques described above to determine the length your stair Balusters will need to be. Keep in mind that equal amounts are normally removed from both tops and bottoms of Turned Balusters to keep the turned portion centered on the length.

It is always a good idea to make test cuts in a scrap of wood and test fit everything prior to final cutting of Balusters. The final test piece should be saved as a pattern. -------------

Example: if the angle of slope on your stairs is 45 degrees, and since our Sloped-top Bottom Rail is beveled to 30 degrees per side (our Large Sloped-top Bottom Rail is beveled to 22 degrees per side), a properly sloped notch can be cut as follows:

Using a radial arm saw, set the blade to a 30 degree bevel to match the slope of either side of our Sloped-top Bottom Rail. Swing the arm of the saw to match the slope of your stairs (45 degrees in this example). Set the height of the blade to cut halfway through the Baluster.

With one edge of the Baluster along the fence of the saw and the bottom of the Baluster closest to the saw blade, crosscut to the center of the Baluster.

Swing the arm to the other side of the saw table and reset at the same 45 degrees. (Blade bevel remains unchanged at 30 degrees.) Flip the Baluster over and complete the notch with another crosscut.

If your angle settings are correct and the depth of each cut is to the center of the Baluster, the two cuts should meet cleanly at the bottom of the notch.

Frequently compare your cuts to the previously prepared pattern to be sure the saw is staying properly set.


It is very difficult at long distance to advise on the Baluster length your particular application needs. We suggest using scrap wood to simulate the Newels and top and bottom rails on one side of the steps. Rails can be nailed or screwed to the side of the dummy Newels for ease of assembly and both dummy Rails and Newels can be left long.

What you want to simulate is the top of both the Handrail and the Bottom Rail. Once you have this temporarily in place, and with the actual height of both permanent Rail assemblies marked onto the temporary Rails, it should be a simple matter to determine the overall length your Balusters need to be prior to cutting.

Obviously, you will want to order all Railings for stair balustrade sections long enough to cut the ends on-site to the proper angle.

We are available by phone or email for free personalized consultation.

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