View Full Version : continuous handrail

09-24-2003, 01:38 AM
I am a cabinet maker who needs to learn to say no. I asked about mitering a handrail earlier, and was not very clear. I need a continuos handrail on an L shaped stair case that has wedge shaped treads, and no landing. there doesn't seem to be any kind of transition, goose neck, whatever to go around the 90 deg. corner. Any Ideas? I really appreciate the help. (by the way the hand rail isn't round)


Gary Wiese
09-24-2003, 04:35 PM
You will have to miter the rail to fit and make your own transitions. I get all my rail brackets up and then start from the bottom and work my way up.

Gary W.

09-24-2003, 07:26 PM
Kevin; I did a similar layout not long ago; had to mount the rail on one leg of the L at a different height than the other in order to make a decent transition around the winders. Winders present a unique problem because they "climb" so quickly at the inside corner where the handrail must follow.

If you can, fiddle around with some scraps of cheap stock that approximate the size of your rail, and make your test cuts and experiments with the scrap stock (and any blocking, if one rail has to be height-adjusted) laying directly on the tread nosings. It may take a bit of study time, but the answer is there.

Once you get past this one, don't say no. Try it again, but charge accordingly. Stair and handrail work is pretty high up there on the skill level of finish carpentry, some say the highest.

Jerrald Hayes
09-24-2003, 07:41 PM
Kevin if continuous is the key operative word here and I'm understanding your question(s) correctly what you really want is what's called a Wreath turn and there aren't any stock manufactured parts that make those turns. I know because we happen to make wreath turns and it gets us projects that other companies just don't have the capability to do. This ain't easy stuff at all to fabricate and it's also hard to teach.

This is an example of a 180 degree handrail wreath turn and a parapet cap wreath turn but I think it what your talking about an looking for?

ParadigmProjects Brookfield Handrail Wreath Turn (http://paradigmprojects.com/taunton/images/P7310015.jpg)

Jerrald Hayes
09-24-2003, 08:00 PM
Here's a link to another example of a wreath turn we've fabricated. There are a couple of views of it there so click around.

The Kitchen Hall Stair Railing/MidgKRail (http://paradigmprojects.com/AtWork/Chilmark-Midg/pages/MidgKRail-01_jpg.htm)

Jerrald Hayes
09-24-2003, 08:10 PM
If the "continuous" specification is something you just can't get around now then I would suggest looking for a shop or craftsperson that has the capability to make you this kind of piece and that in an of itself is not an easy task either since it's such a rarity. And you can expect it to be extraordinarily expensive too. We charge well in excess of $2000 just for the wreath turn pieces I illustrated in those URLs. It all depends on the turn but that's something you should be ready for. We make our by hand but there are shops out there with 5-axis CNC machines that can make these parts that way but you have to have some real precise geometry to give them for them to make them or have them come to template your project.

You may not want to hear this but interestingly we got in to making these when I said yes to a job that required wreath turns and then couldn't find anybody that could make the parts for us. Necessity became the father of invention. I just plain figured out how to do it as far a laying out the wood and glueing up the blank to be shaped but I have something of a background in sculpture.

Other than that making L or even U shaped turns are more often typically done by easing a descending rail and then making the turn on the level with mitered rail connections and then goosenecking down to an easing that then continues as a descending rail again.

This photos on this page show a post-to-post installation but if you can imagine a level mitered 90 degree turn where the newel posts are you can see how that type of turn is usually done.

Pine Office Stair & Wainscoting (http://paradigmprojects.com/Guides/The_Things_We_Do/stairs_off.html)

John Cusick
09-24-2003, 09:21 PM
Nice shots Jerrald. The Brookfield work is mighty fine.


Jerrald Hayes
09-24-2003, 10:09 PM
Thanks John I wish I had more to post but I haven't been keeping up with the photos (or the pages for that matter) for that site this past year so that's all I have of wreath turns online right now.

I liked that Brookfiled project particualry because it was cherry and as it turned out other people liked that balustrades look (brass, iron and cherry) so much we've done it three more times elsewhere,

The Brookfield Lane Project (http://paradigmprojects.com/The_Projects/brookfield/brookfield.html)

Paul Paradis
09-24-2003, 10:57 PM

Beautiful rail work.


I layout all my rails on the stairs in place then raise them in place after I put in the posts. This gives an accurate layout without messing around with alot of clamps. I have never needed to do what you are doing but I would try to do at stated above: Put the rail on the treads then work with them to see if any fittings can help it work out right. I was sketching on paper ans was wondering if a over easing,90 turn, over easing, up easing might work. Probably not because paper sketching does not work well for that type of layout so maybe get a few fittings and work with it in place on the stairs. Looking at Jerralds work I also wonder if a couple short blocks of oak carved to transition the stock fittings might work.

09-24-2003, 11:43 PM

Great looking work, wonderful details. Who did do the cabinetry and mantels? Was that you also?


09-25-2003, 12:41 AM
Jerrald Nice work!
Thanks for the advice. I had hoped there was something a little easier, but Guess not.
I used to be a pattern maker if you know what that is. This type of wreath turn is pretty similar to building an impeller. I know I can figure it out. Know all I have to do is figure out how to charge for such work.
Again really nice work Jerrald. Stand Proud.
Thanks All.

Jerrald Hayes
09-25-2003, 08:38 AM
Kevin, pattern making certainly does help. You're not "just a cabinetmaker" then. I think figuring out how to price that kind of work was a seminal moment in my career. I'll reprint the story as I first told it in another forum 14 months ago with just a few edits.
I just sort of accidentally and clumsily stumbled on to "selling by perceived value". A few years ago I got a call to look at a difficult stair railing project. I found out from the project manager when I got there that several other stair shops had been there to look at the job and said it couldn't be done. The builder told his project manager to give me a call even though at the time I might not have been really considered a genuine stair and railing shop because he said that I would at least figure out a way it could be done.

Looking at the job I said yeah sure it could be but it wasn't going to be easy. The railing they wanted was iron and brass balusters with a solid cherry cap rail (does that sound familar?) Right there I knew they were talking about getting a specific look and not shopping for a railing that would "meet their budget". The "impossibility" that the other stair shops saw that I just saw as a "difficulty" was two helical wreath turns that would have to turn 180° and drop 28" on a 4-7/8"radius. I knew it could be done because I had seen it in books although I had never seen it done in actuality.

Driving back home from looking at the job I was going over the wreath turns in my mind thinking about how I would do them and how long it would take. Thinking back to a sculpture I did in college, carving a chain out of a solid block of wood I figured it would take me a full day to shape each wreath from a glued up blank. So I began to think...$55 dollars an hour times 8 or 9 hours...works out to between $440 and $495 labor ... the cost of the cherry for that piece...wide thick stock at $6.5 to $8.50 a board foot... lots of waste...that would be about $60 to $100... for each wreath I should charge something like $540 to $600...when all of a sudden... a little voice in my head said "HEY WAIT A MINUTE! These two pieces are the only obstacle keeping all those other stair shops from being able to execute the project the way the end-user-homeowner wanted it....What are those two pieces really worth then? ...What are they worth to the builder who has promised the owner that he could get the job done for them just the way they really wanted it?... Arbitrarily off the top of my head I then decided to price the project based on something like a $2400 price for one wreath and $2700 for the other.

It was right then in the midst of all that visionary thinking and figuring that I got pulled over for speeding. C'est la vie.

Well, altogether with all of the other railing work to be done that only amounted to a 5% or 6% increase in my total project price but those two pieces were earning my company money at the rate of around $240 per hour (they ended up taking just a few hours longer than the 8 or 9 hours I guestimated). My price was accepted no problem and the builder had his markup on top of that when he presented it to the client.

So I learned a lot from that one project that forever changed the way I have priced projects since then. After working up a basic estimate for a project I look at the whole project again and try an break it down into smaller component parts that I can rightfully charge a premium for. That also got us genuinely into the stair and railing business since we can fabricate stuff that other shops can't or wont.

I'm not sure I have a real valid formula yet for determining that pricing premium yet. Right now since it's usually me and not one of the troops that has to fabricate those parts personally I think what would it take to get me off of my butt and make that part for a client when I could be doing something else I really enjoy like watching a Yankee game. Seriously that's how I think about approaching and determining a perceived value and ultimatly a price.

That makes me think that there are really two part to the equation. What's it worth to the client and what's it worth for your company to take the risk in attempting to produce the piece? You also really have to know your client's preferences and values (in this case a builder) and the their clients expectations and tastes too (the homeowners).

There’s a great story about Picasso that apropos here too that I read about in the book Selling The Invisible:
A woman was strolling along a street in Paris when she spotted Picasso sketching at a sidewalk café. Not so thrilled that she could not be slightly presumptuous, the woman asked Picasso if he might sketch her, and charge accordingly.

Picasso obliged. In just minutes, there she was: an original Picasso.

And what do I owe you?" she asked.

Five thousand francs," he answered.

But it only took you three minute," she politely reminded him.¿No Picasso said, "It took me all my life"

Don’t charge by the hour, charge by the years.

I actually paraphrase and use that nowadays when people wonder about the price of the work we do. Sometimes they're not necessarily paying us to do the work, they're paying us BECAUSE WE CAN.

You might want to follow this link to that discussion where I first wrote that passage above. There a lot of good discussion there on pricing and there's a link there to another article Pushing the Limits - Doing the unusual jobs ‘that nobody else wants to do’ that appeared in CWB (Custom Woodworking Business)

The Pricing for ‘perceived value’  Discussion (http://forums.taunton.com/tp-breaktime/messages?msg=21655.1)

09-25-2003, 10:23 AM

It looks just as nice now as it did the first time I saw it. Wasn’t this the rail that you duplicated from an existing rail or am I mistaken?

Jerrald Hayes
09-25-2003, 01:35 PM
Thanks Joe, the link to the "Brookfield" railing (and the other links as well) show original first time efforts however the "Brookfield" look is now a "style" in our "catalog" and we've done that particular style of balustrade (rail and balusters) three more times since then. As for the Brookfield railing profile alone I'm not at all sure how many times we've use that now but it's been a lot now. It's really popular . I guess it turned out to be just the right size and mass that people really like it. 9 times out of 10 though it's used with 1/2" metal balusters or other light metal work since it is so "light" looking itself. With wooden balusters which are generally have a heavier looking appearance that profile at that size starts to look wimpy.

In one sense however the "Brookfield" railing on that project was duplicated in that the level serpentine curves were formed or templated first in I think it was MDF and then those patterns were placed on top of these huge blocks of 3" thick cherry and we cut them from that. In fact what we did instead of pushing those huge blocks of cherry which if I recall correctly sometimes were 14" wide by 13 or 14 feet long through the band saw following the curves, we supported the cherry and put the band saw on wheels and moved it through the timber. Turned out to be a great idea for a technique that we've used again and again on other heavy timber too. It's a great technique for cutting ogees on the ends of pergola beams and stuff like that

We do have a few rails we've duplicated and or copied from existing rails but none of the ones in this batch of links are that kind of project. My website is such a disorganized mess right now while I think I may know what project your referring to but I just can't find it. I can't remember the client's name which sure would help a lot.

I do however have one project that I know is not on the website at all yet where we took out sections of an existing rail and duplicated the railing pattern with different sweeps and turns on the easing and stuff and I think that may have been one of the tougher projects we've done in that you're not using the existing patterns for the new parts but the start points and end points of the sections you're replacing still have to be exactly nuts-dead-on-perfect with the correct angles cut on them otherwise the rest of the existing railing gets thrown off and out of plumb. An it wasn't an easy profile to duplicate either! I really should get that one on the web site sometime soon.

09-26-2003, 10:00 AM

Very kind of you to share so much with the rest of us. Ive only been in buisiness for about four years now. I just can't seem to find people who are looking for the level of work your doing. I find it encouraging to see some one out there is able find, or be found by these types of people.
We are getting ready to build a small show room, I hope it will help draw in some higher end customers, and give us more credibility.