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wood railings and baulsters on porches

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  • wood railings and baulsters on porches

    I have been working for years on older homes front porches. These are usually old growth fir and are railings and baulsters that are turned and painted. I am particularly interested in the stair railings. It seems that I often find the bottom rail is rotting out at the end where it joins the lower post. While the house is maybe 90 or so years old I do not know if porch railings are as old. But I got to wondering about ways to prevent rot at this location.

    One idea was if it has lasted quite a long time should I really worry about what might happen in another 30 years or so if I have to replace it with wood.

    The other idea I had was to figure out a way to install the railing with a gap between the post and the rail so water can drain out of that area. My first thought was everyone would wonder how come the contractor cut the railing 1/4 inch short. How to fasten it to the post is the question. My other thought was how long before that gap is full of smoothz that absorbs moisture anyway.

    Was I just in the sun a little too long today or does anyone else ever think of these things and wonder if this might be something to address. Gary Katz has a system for doing the columns so they do not rot and maybe he has developed something for railings too.

  • #2
    Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

    Seems like a perfect place for a cricket, or is it a saddle?

    (I couldn't resist...)

    Good question though.

    Tom
    1) Unconsciously Incompetent: He knows not, and knows not that he knows not. He is a fool. Shun him.
    2) Consciously Incompetent: He knows not, and knows that he knows not. He is simple. Teach him.
    3) Unconsciously Competent: He knows, and knows not that he knows. He is asleep. Wake him.
    4) Consciously Competent: He knows, and knows that he knows. He is wise. Follow him.

    May we all endeavor to progress from not knowing that we know not, to knowing that we know.

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    • #3
      Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

      I don't have ideas for gaps, but I've been priming my cut ends for years now, to good effect. I also put a dab of caulk in, then screw the rail tight. I figure the screw will be a place for water intrusion, so hope the caulk prevents that.

      I have railings 15+ years old with no sign of rot, even at the bottom of stair rails.

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      • #4
        Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

        Originally posted by TSJHD1 View Post
        Seems like a perfect place for a cricket, or is it a saddle?

        (I couldn't resist...)

        Good question though.

        Tom
        That's actually a good answer, Tom. A bevel on the top of the bottom rail helps shed water, same way as a cricket. I've been told 12 degrees is the standard for bevels.

        It takes more work, since you have to V the bottoms of the spindles. But a jig cuts down on time and I think it is worth it.
        Last edited by S.Joisey; 05-22-2014, 06:01 AM.

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        • #5
          Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

          Originally posted by S.Joisey View Post
          Good answer, Tom. A bevel on the top of the bottom rail helps shed water, same way as a cricket. I've been told 12 degrees is the standard for bevels.

          It takes more work, since you have to V the bottoms of the spindles. But a jig cuts down on time and I think it is worth it.
          Use Bottom Porch Rail WM8841. It slopes to one side only.

          Tom
          1) Unconsciously Incompetent: He knows not, and knows not that he knows not. He is a fool. Shun him.
          2) Consciously Incompetent: He knows not, and knows that he knows not. He is simple. Teach him.
          3) Unconsciously Competent: He knows, and knows not that he knows. He is asleep. Wake him.
          4) Consciously Competent: He knows, and knows that he knows. He is wise. Follow him.

          May we all endeavor to progress from not knowing that we know not, to knowing that we know.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

            Tom, who makes the rail you are talking about? Wondering if it is a regional thing. Here we have a rail called a Soulard rail that has a rabit on one side only so the water can drain away. Do not remember if it is sloped also but it may be.

            The biggest issue with it for me is that you can only attach the balusters with finish nails or at least if you do the narrow 1 1/2 inch wide by 3/4 balusters. Does not take much of a hit from the soccer ball to knock the baluster out of the rail.

            I too try to prime and seal up the ends of the rails. However I have sometimes wondered how much paint is left on on some of the rails since I sometimes find myself tapping them in place. On the old ones I work on I never see the end grain showing signs of paint being applied.

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            • #7
              Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

              Originally posted by m beezo View Post

              The biggest issue with it for me is that you can only attach the balusters with finish nails or at least if you do the narrow 1 1/2 inch wide by 3/4 balusters. Does not take much of a hit from the soccer ball to knock the baluster out of the rail.

              I too try to prime and seal up the ends of the rails. However I have sometimes wondered how much paint is left on on some of the rails since I sometimes find myself tapping them in place. On the old ones I work on I never see the end grain showing signs of paint being applied.
              That's interesting. I've never seen a baluster 1 1/2 x 3/4 here. The standard here is usually 1 3/8 square. On many historic homes they are 8/4 - 1 3/4 square.

              That lets me screw in the balusters, down from the two piece top and up from the bottom.

              I know what you mean about unprimed end grain on the old railings. I figure the few that are around are because they are old growth and more rot resistant.

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              • #8
                Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                I guess the topic should me "how long do I think things should last?" It just seems to me that I kind of get it in my mind if the railing has been around this long and is just now starting to rot why should I settle for something less long lasting? I know all the talk about old growth materials does seem to have merit but we now have chemicals that are supposed to help. Just not sure how much.

                Like I said, at my age if I build something and it lasts 30 or so years it may outlast me. My mind just kind of goes into crazy thoughts when I am doing some tasks like wallpaper removal that do not require all my concentration on that tasks. Then I start to wonder if the is a better way......

                Someday when I learn how to post a picture I will show you the rails I am talking about. Soulard is an old part of St Louis right on the riverfront and they have shotgun style places, Creole style homes as well as some huge anti bellum homes. Those with porches have this particular style of railing that is quite common in that area.

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                • #9
                  Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                  Hey -doing exact same thing .Old victorian . Client wants to use a natural oil primer .All bare wood gets lots of oil . that bottom piece of the rail [just removed it ] has a groove cut on the end to drain water .it is about 1/4" wide 3/16 deep .I will make bigger if I can .This railing has been worked on in the last 20yrs and that groove filled with dirt .The railing seems to be primarily redwood though the porch surface ,treds and risers are fur .She is big on stainless steel fasters but will use the treated wood type screws also.
                  All my new treds will be oiled both sides before installing .I am hoping the oils will help the wood not split and warp .
                  the railing is in good shape and the panels [spindles sort of] sit in grooves .i will soak them up with oil .
                  haven't yet figured how to attach everything .love to use domino some way.
                  Last edited by joseph; 05-22-2014, 09:01 PM.

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                  • #10
                    Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                    Don't know how practical this is for others, but on Victorian style railings, the local mill shop will make them for me from Spanish Cedar.

                    It's supposedly rot resistant. It's also pricey - milled top and bottom rails ran me something like $35/ft last time I had them made.

                    On the other hand, I've made Meranti railings still going strong at over 15 years old.

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                    • #11
                      Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                      Originally posted by joseph View Post
                      the railing is in good shape and the panels [spindles sort of] sit in grooves .i will soak them up with oil .
                      haven't yet figured how to attach everything .love to use domino some way.
                      Are those panels similar to what's in the pic? We call them "banjo boards" here.

                      I haven't come up with a way to fasten them that makes me happy. Using a domino sounds promising.

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                      • #12
                        Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                        Beezo,
                        Whether fixing old rails or fabricating new ones, I treat all of the cut ends with a penetrating epoxy sealer like http://www.smithandcompany.org/CPES/. Then prime with a good oil based primer and topcoat with a latex paint. I like to paint all my parts all 6 side before assembly. The epoxy seals the end grain far better than just paint and primer, I have several pine door surrounds going on almost 15 years now that were sealed this way and they don't show any signs of aging.
                        I personally think that work in wood such as this should be installed with care to last generations. Unlike the plastic and most composite products, wood can last forever with basic maintenance, but only if it is designed, fabricated and installed with care.

                        -Steve
                        Last edited by steve demetrick; 05-24-2014, 07:35 AM. Reason: typo

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                        • #13
                          Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                          Originally posted by steve demetrick View Post
                          Beezo,
                          Whether fixing old rails or fabricating new ones, I treat all of the cut ends with a penetrating epoxy sealer like http://www.smithandcompany.org/CPES/. Then prime with a good oil based primer and topcoat with a latex paint. I like to paint all my parts all 6 side before assembly. The epoxy seals the end grain far better than just paint and primer, I have several pine door surrounds going on almost 15 years now that were sealed this way and they don't show any signs of aging.
                          I personally think that work in wood such as this should be installed with care to last generations. Unlike the plastic and most composite products, wood can last forever with basic maintenance, but only if it is designed, fabricated and installed with care.

                          -Steve
                          Steve, thanks for posting that info. for others. I have used the same product for 8 or 9 years as well as a few others and have had good results. It is important to follow directions and you need to inform the customer of the extra steps....and time it will take to complete their project.

                          I met with the owner of the company a few years ago to review some procedures and products and there is a lot of discussion online, especially in boating forums that deal with his, as well as other products.

                          I might add that I sometimes use a product for sealing intersects between wood columns and bases and also hand railing to column joints known as "Dolfinite" which is an elastic bedding compound used in the boating world to seal deck fittings and a variety of other applications.
                          "ALS IK KAN" - Stickley

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                          • #14
                            Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                            Originally posted by steve demetrick View Post
                            Beezo,
                            Whether fixing old rails or fabricating new ones, I treat all of the cut ends with a penetrating epoxy sealer like http://www.smithandcompany.org/CPES/. Then prime with a good oil based primer and topcoat with a latex paint.
                            -Steve
                            Steve, does this mean you cut your railings to length in the shop so you can seal the ends?

                            Doesn't always seem practical, esp for stair guard rails.

                            I've always assembled railings long, and cut to length on site.

                            Many of the surfaces I attach to are out of plumb, or dissimilar. For instance, a stair railing may go from a 10x 10" newel to a column what is 12" sq at the bottom and pyramid shaped.

                            For that one, I cut my rails in place, then shoot in my balusters so I am sure of plumb and spacing.

                            I prime the rail cut ends and caulk, but don't see how it is practical to epoxy, etc as you suggest.
                            Last edited by S.Joisey; 05-26-2014, 12:45 PM.

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                            • #15
                              Re: wood railings and baulsters on porches

                              I seal the ends after I cut them, whether in the shop or on site. Most of the time I seal end cuts on site because even with the best framing in new construction I always anticipate some level of scribing or dealing with slightly out of square conditions.
                              In my experience, primer (even a good oil based primer) and caulk, in high risk areas (railings, cornice returns, window trim/sill connections, etc.) buys some time for the life of the wood but does not provide substantial long-term protection. Caulk joints always fail and usually lead to trapping in moisture which speeds up the failure, and primer does not seal out water.
                              Whether or not this step is practical or not is only relevant to the life expectancy you have the work overall, the materials you are using or the expectation that the customer is looking/paying for. I don't go this extra step on every rail, but in the case of what Beezo is referring to - historic/older home, replacing 110+ yr. old railings, using materials that would last another 100 years if installed well - I believe it is beyond practical.

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