View Full Version : Dan Bloomer- It's ham & eggs time!

Keith Mathewson
09-11-2010, 07:46 PM
Dan Bloomer is a handrailer in Maine who made some fitting for me. In the course of discussing custom handrail work and the tangent system for laying them out he told me that the person he learned from many times just attached a piece of material to the handrail and removed wood until it looked right. He called it the "ham & egg" approach.

After laying out the fitting a couple of times on paper and then attempting to make it I could not get the rise from 34" to 36" plus the change from rake to level and the set-back distance to come out gracefully. So Dan the ham and eggs are on! If anyone knows how to lay this out with the tangent system my copy of DiCristian's book could use a rest.

David Meiland
09-11-2010, 08:15 PM
Dan has made parts for me a couple of times. Email off a drawing and some specs.... get some nice rail parts in a UPS box a week or two later... it's like magic.

09-11-2010, 09:43 PM
Those parts look like a fun time. There are two mills in Salt Lake City that advertise fittings like that made on their CNC machines. Most of the time they don't work the way they are supposed to. They are also extremely expensive. If you are not one of the "cool kids" they may not even make them for you.

I started making some myself, the "ham & eggs way". They are allot of work, and my hands don't like me when I make them.

I would love to learn how someone else does it, it is a talent.

Nice work.

09-12-2010, 02:14 AM

I have never heard of the "Ham and egg" approach before that could get you out of a jam, great tip. As you know I like to dabble ( English for "try") to Develop geomtrical shapes. Here's some pics of the one and only time I have been called on to do Tangent Handrail.

09-12-2010, 02:18 AM
And another

09-12-2010, 02:26 AM
Last picture

Keith Mathewson
09-12-2010, 09:50 AM

Very nicely done, I hope mine turns out as well. I'm someone who does not easily learn a from the printed page, seeing a video for me makes a big difference. Have you seen any of the videos from TIC by Northern Road Stairs?

09-12-2010, 01:38 PM

Had to learn on the job,I had never done it before, they could'nt find anyone who would touch it. As i have always been interested in having a try they gave me the go ahead.
Its surprising how much you learn doing something like this. I read lots of books but found them too deep and confusing apart from one, so just focused on the one author. Do you use the template method Keith or another way. happy to show how i develop the curve if anyone is interested.

Not heard of the video's you mention is there a link.

09-12-2010, 02:38 PM
Bellchippy- I'd love to see how you developed the curve.

09-12-2010, 06:34 PM
Bellchippy- I'd love to see how you developed the curve.

Patent it. Call it the 'Bellchippy Curve'.

tom struble
09-12-2010, 06:52 PM
that has a scientific ring to it...2 thumbs up

Jim Baldwin
09-13-2010, 01:47 PM
The "ham and eggs" method can work but usually looks like "deviled eggs"
when you're through...

The original "ham and eggs" method was called the "cylinder method" or "off-the-cylinder". It involved fitting an over-sized chunk of wood against a cylinder form and then cutting away the inside of the stock until it just "fit" the form. After that, a "falling mold" was applied to the edge of the curved surface and it was squared-up and carved.

Today if you don't happen to own a 5 axis cnc, the "tangent method" (in it's various forms) is still the best way to get er done.

Like Mr. Bloomer, I have been doing this kind of work for years (it's all I do). I don't build or install stairs, I just make solid wood handrail parts. I don't use a cnc (cause I ain't got one) but I don't whittle wood either. Every part is properly laid-out using tangent geometry and then band-sawn, squared and machine shaped (sometimes I do have to whittle a little).

I am getting pretty good at this and most of the time the completed parts fall right into place. The reason the parts can be a bit expensive though is because it take a lot of time (no matter who does it) and custom tooling ain't cheap.

Anyway, I really enjoy doing this kind of work and I get to work with a few of the very best stairbuilders and companies.

JimBaldwin/18th Century Handrail

09-13-2010, 02:39 PM
Great pictures, your a lucky man getting to do what you enjoy, I am very interested in all forms of geometry deveopment, any chance you could share some of your methods for setting out some of your simpler tangent handrails.

Jim Baldwin
09-13-2010, 03:16 PM

The "tangent methods" aren't mine, they are available in old English stair books or Di Christian's book. I have quite a few volumes on the shelf and would be happy to answer a question or maybe offer some clarification or opinion?

I could also comment on your very nice handrail pictures if you like? Every time I do a fitting, I have to critique myself (or get it from the installer). This helps me improve.

And...I don't know it all even if I claim to

09-14-2010, 01:56 PM

Feel free to comment about my handrail, I am intersted in what you have to say. I wont learn if I dont know where I am going wrong.

Jim Baldwin
09-14-2010, 03:07 PM
re-do and repost

Jim Baldwin
09-14-2010, 03:30 PM

Your work looks great and it's nice to see another guy like yourself going the extra mile. The only suggestion or observation I might have is on the curved handrail segment (not the volute).

It's usually advisable to include a short, straight shank on the end of the curved/wreathed portion (beyond the springing) to allow for an easier and more graceful transition between the curved and straight rail. The only time you cut a wreathed handrail segment right on the tangent line is when it joins to another curved piece. The shank itself need only be 2 or 3 inches long and will make the "bench check" easier. You'll want to put the "squared" wreathed piece in a bench vice and check and ensure that the pitches are absolutely correct on both ends (before it's carved or sent to the job). Also, If you're doing any machine routing or shaping, you'll want to leave enough wood to allow for chips breaking off.

A few questions...
Did you have any problems making these pieces? (I would have)

Did you use a "ham and egg" approach or did you work it out on paper first? (It looks fine either way)

Did you build the stair as well?

What about the grain issues? I noticed that the lower wreath has a lot of grain showing while the upper wreath is fairly solid. Sometimes that happens but I am wondering if you may have cut one wreath from a block on edge or something?

Your stair is a real "hairpin" and a difficult case for any pro.

09-14-2010, 03:53 PM
Your comments are very welcome.

You see I have learned something already, never thought to add a straight piece too the curved section, or to do a bench test so thanks for that.

The stairs and handrail were made and fitted by me on site in the customer’s single car garage.

The handrail was drawn on paper first (from the radius of the string and developed using the pitch of the stairs) and transferred to thin ply templates, the hardest part for me was actually working the handrail as I only had a small bandsaw and hand tools, routers sanders and a portable surfacer. I would be very interested to here how you remove the waste to get to the square stage.

The handrail was all cut with the timber in the same plane and is either a consequence of the twist changing the way grain looks or just the way the flash on the camera reflected the light, it doesn’t look like that in the flesh.

And yes this work is fun, but sadly were I live there is very little call for it.

09-14-2010, 04:04 PM
Patent it. Call it the 'Bellchippy Curve'.

Patent applied for (Lol)

09-14-2010, 04:06 PM
Bellchippy- I'd love to see how you developed the curve.

Try to put something together at the weekend no time during the week.

Jim Baldwin
09-15-2010, 10:17 AM

The squaring of a handrail blank is done almost entirely on a bandsaw. I have a 24" saw but a smaller one should be fine. The traditional tool was the frame saw. I keep an old one hanging on the wall. My bandsaw often runs continuously for much of the day as I cut and square all the pieces. There is no secret to this part of the job except to "chip" away at the waste wood without twisting the blade.

After everything is roughed out, I go to the bench and the spokeshave. It helps to have a heavy workbench and a carvers vice. I don't use any power sanders or grinders because I don't like dust flying in my face all day and because nothing is really better than a razor-sharp spokeshave.

The final tool is a fine rasp to get the lumps out. I like the Japanese rasp that looks like a bundle of hacksaw blades.

A typical handrail segment can take a couple of hours to properly cut-out and square. Of course it's always nice to work in Walnut or Mahogany (since Hard Maple really is hard).

The squared pieces on the pallet here are ready to be shaped and will be an unusually large handrail.

09-15-2010, 02:15 PM

Thanks for sharing the way you work and great pictures.

Here is picture of the stairs going in the radius of the stair wreath was about five ins.

Dan Bloomer
09-16-2010, 10:35 PM
Keith, It's been a while since I checked in here. That type of fitting can be one of the easier ones to lay out with the tangent method.

SketchUp can also really illustrate the geometry. Give me a day or two, and I'll post a 3-D showing how it works.

Where you're at with that fitting now----my illustration may not be that useful. The whole idea is to develop the sides of the rail fitting and then you lay out the path of the rail on the sides. The rail guy that I worked with was very good with his method, but it didn't make sense to me to not use the tangent method. The "ham and egg" method was a term used by some stair (and tangent railer) guys I met on job site some years ago. Seemed like a good descriptive term.

Keith Mathewson
09-16-2010, 10:58 PM

I'd love to see a short video on how you bandsaw the squaring. I've turned a fair amount of walnut into firewood trying. If you are off the tangent by even a small amount one side becomes too small and the piece is ruined.

I've seen a number of old foreign films which show that fitting. It may take a few more tries to produce a satisfactory result.

09-18-2010, 12:46 PM
This is the geometry I would use for a rake to landing handrail.

please let me know if I have done something wrong.

Keith Mathewson
09-18-2010, 06:10 PM
Thanks for the drawing. There are still a couple of things I'm just not seeing.
- how is the difference in height between the rake handrail and landing handrail dealt with?
- Does the end of the wreath fall in line with the rest of the balcony run? Does the balcony run need to be set back to allow for the curve?

Jim Baldwin
09-19-2010, 01:14 AM
It's all there on bellchippy's drawing. The (floor) Plan, The Elevation of the Tangent Planes and The Face Mold including Bevel Diagram and Block Thickness. The difference in the height of the balcony rail and rake rail is the rise of the center-line of the rail in the elevation. It is determined by the length of the inclined tangent beyond the last riser.

And yes, the center-line of the balcony handrail is set back from the last riser = to the radius of the center-line of the handrail in the Plan. The ideal layout is one half the run of a straight tread.

"Set back" is really the wrong term here...The stair and balcony ideally are designed and built to accommodate a continuous wreathed handrail. If the stair wasn't build this way (and they usually aren't) then you must make your wreath conform to the "as built" stair.

A typical stair today has no practical "set back". The rim of the balcony is also the last riser (which is why we use goosenecks). It is still possible however to make a wreathed turn but usually not in a single plane. The picture shows such a part. (I made a bunch of these ten years ago).

All this is not as complicated as it sounds and this kind of wreath is usually lesson number one after the poster board cut-out of the prismatic solid (what?) If you don't understand what I just said then we should all go back.

09-19-2010, 02:46 AM
Is it normal to include the ramp part of "rake to landing" in the wreath or make as a separate piece and join it

Another important point when designing stairs is to make the radius of the wreathed string in sympathy with the spacing of the balusters so they are eqaul around the turn, I found this out on the one I made and had to fudge it.

why not draw a plan and elevation of what you need, Im sure someone on here could help.

Jim Baldwin
09-19-2010, 02:48 PM

No, it's neither normal or desirable to include a ramp or easement of any kind within a wreathed handrail segment. It is however, quite often necessary. The whole idea behind the tangent method is to develop the center-line of the rail within a single inclined plane. When this is not possible, we are forced to go with a "forced ramp" (Di Christian term).

Of course is was possible to make this part in two pieces as you've suggested but for practical and aesthetic reasons, I chose to make it in one piece. Actually this was a prototype of a standard part that was supposed to fit any stair (hence the straight easing). After several prototypes, the parts were produced on cnc with limited marketing success.

Jim Baldwin

Keith Mathewson
09-19-2010, 05:24 PM

This last couple of posts have been illuminating. Every time I laid the wreath out it would not fit existing conditions in plan view. The first riser is nearly in plane with the rim joist and for esthetic reasons I could not set the landing rail far enough back from the nosing to make the required curve. Should the landing extend past the rim joist 1/2 a tread width? What about the baluster layout, it would seem that the skirt would need to be wreathed as well.

Jim Baldwin
09-19-2010, 08:06 PM

The upper landing or balcony is not wreathed but it should have a radius corner to match the handrail. If you're building the stair, you can do this. If you don't have this option, you can still make a wreathed turn , you just need to know your handrail height and center-line requirements. Then you'll need to make your own plan.

You can see by the elevation that the height of the balcony rail is determined by the amount of horizontal run covered by the inclined tangent or handrail pitch (it's all about run and rise).

Keith Mathewson
09-19-2010, 09:04 PM
You can see by the elevation that the height of the balcony rail is determined by the amount of horizontal run covered by the inclined tangent or handrail pitch (it's all about run and rise).

Understood that balcony rail height can be met if the balcony rail is moved back from the nosing line. By the time I'm called to look at a job the opportunity to design the stair framing is rarely an option. What seems to be the most common solution would be similar to your pic and the attached pic.

If the skirt starts on the pitch, then turns 90° to level I don't see how it would not be a wreathed skirt.

I don't recognize the drawing from DiCristina or Mowat. So much to learn still.....

Jim Baldwin
09-19-2010, 11:20 PM

If you have to reduce the center-line radius of the wreath, you can still meet balcony height by raising the rake rail. The point though is to make a graceful turn and that suffers with a smaller fitting.

Yes, you're absolutely right about the skirt (or apron) string mold as it does indeed make a helical turn. You can also see that quite a lot of skill must have been required to produce those old stair details (and not just for the handrail).

That wreathed part that I came up with was designed to fit a regular rake/level transition with no radius corner or unusual set-back. I thought it was a good idea but we never sold to many of them.

The plan picture was lifted from STAIR BUILDERS GUIDE by Morris Williams (1914)

Jim Baldwin
09-19-2010, 11:25 PM
BTW, nice picture and perfect example of a "forced" wreath. Did you H&E this one too? It looks pretty darn good from here!

Keith Mathewson
09-20-2010, 12:17 AM
I quite like your fitting, I'm surprised it didn't sell well. What looks nice is a long sweeping curve and that has to be addressed before framing starts.

The pic is not my work, but lifted from a posting by Joe a couple of posts down. That was the type of fitting I was trying to draw without success, thus the H & E approach.

Funny the drawing you posted if from Morris Williams. I've just spent the last hour or so reading that book and it is finally starting to sink in. The chapter on Arrangement of Risers In and Around a Cylinder is very informative.

Reading these older books really illustrates just how far the level of design and craft has fallen...