♪♪ Kevin: On "Ask This Old House," our experts travel across the country to answer questions about your house.
♪♪ Today, Tom is put to the test with a project a little outside his comfort zone.
Tom: I love a good challenge.
Kevin: He'll brainstorm the best way to replicate an original 1900s hand-carved stair baluster first by turning on the lathe, then cutting the intricate rope detail by hand, and finally restoring the finished creation to the original railing.
Coming up next on "Ask This Old House."
♪♪ Tom: Hello?
Shannon: Hi, Tom.
Tom: Are you Shannon?
Shannon: Yes, nice to meet you.
Tom: Nice to meet you.
Shannon: We're so happy to have you.
Tom: Well, thank you.
Beautiful stairway you got.
Shannon: This is it.
This is what I needed to show you.
This is what you wrote me about, stairway.
I see one missing right there.
Shannon: Yes, that one actually my daughter leaned on when she was six or so and fell right through.
Tom: Oh, really?
Tom: Hope she didn't get hurt.
Well, now you've got a space that's too wide for building code.
But these are beautiful rope-turned balusters.
It's got a nice spindle detail down here that transitions off to the square base.
And I like the way that it follows the angle of the stairway, which is nice.
So long, medium and short, all the way up.
A lot of handwork and a lot of time went into making that.
Well, I have to say that I have never turned a rope baluster before.
I love a good challenge.
I'd be willing to try it Can't guarantee that I'm going to be able to do it.
But like I say, I'd be willing to try.
Shannon: That's what I was hoping for.
But have you got one I can take as a sample?
Because I need something to go by to copy.
Well, there's a loose one upstairs.
Tom: There is?
Shannon: I can show you where it is.
Oh, I see one missing right here.
This is the spot I was telling you about.
Shannon: And I think the one there on the end is really loose.
You might be able to get it out.
Tom: Oh, yeah.
Shannon: [ Laughs ] See?
Tom: Yes, it's definitely loose.
Alright, so I can take this for my sample, see what I can turn.
Shannon: See what you can do.
Tom: Hopefully I'll be back soon.
♪♪ Tom: Okay, so I have the homeowners' baluster right here, which is pretty unique.
I love the detail of it.
To get started, I need to scribe this pattern right here and the top on a manila envelope so I can use that as a story pole or a template.
And then I'll do the rope pattern by hand later.
Going to hold the manila envelope tight to the square part of the baluster because that's my reference.
Then I'm going to just set my scribes at the depth of the distance between the edge, plus a little of the deepest part of the baluster here.
So now I just follow the edge.
Alright, now I'll just cut that out, and that'll be my pattern.
So now you can see that that pattern lines up with the detail on the spindle.
And this will give me a guide to turn to.
So I have my baluster mounted between the two centers.
So what I'm going to do is I'm going to take the baluster that we want to copy.
I'm going to place it on top and mark my key locations for the length of the turning.
So I'll mark right here at the bottom where the square meets the round and at the top where the round meets the square.
And I'm just going to mark that there and there and make a little mark with the skew.
Put my safety glasses on.
And the skew -- I'm going to start with the skew the long point down.
I'm going to make a cut in slightly and I want to work my way to the line from the round side to the square side slowly.
I'm going to round this section here a little bit using the skew on a slight angle.
Reason I cut that with the skew, if you look at the grain, you can see how the grain lifts.
It would have split that corners off and that wouldn't have been good.
So this section here is round now.
So what I want to do is I take the baluster.
I'm going to lay it on here, line up my marks that I've made my cut with my skew and this will be my low point for the beaded detail here.
The transition from the bead to the straight.
Low point of here to the top of that.
High point of this cove right -- this bead right here.
High point of that bead right there.
Low point of this.
And then the rope pattern will start right here.
So now I'm just going to take an...
Turn that a little bit.
I got two more up here.
So now when I was turning that, I was getting harmonics moving it up and down.
So I want to steady that.
I made a steady rest jig that will sit right on my lathe right here, take the other half of the circle and I'm just going to put it on here.
And attach it to the lathe.
Okay, so now that'll lessen the chance of getting a grab and snapping this baluster in half.
So this is going to go deep right here.
So I'll just put a little mark.
This will be deep here.
Now I want to get the depth of my cut.
So I'll take my caliper and I'll measure the depth right here.
I'm going to make it just a hair wider to allow for sanding.
So now that will slide right through.
And that's that.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Alright.
Bottom section is done.
Now we need to do the top section, so we'll move on from there.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Alright.
So the spindle is all turned.
The design is good on the bottom and the top.
Now we're going to work on the rope detail.
And to do that, I have to do my layout.
So what I need to do is I have to divide the circumference of the center section into three.
I'm going to draw a straight line right across.
Draw another line.
Draw my last line.
Okay, so now I have the three lines equally divided up.
Next, I want to match the rope detail here.
So I'll take the spindle and I'm going to make a location point.
And I'm looking at the V's right here on each one.
So I'm going to line that one up on the line.
Okay, so now I'm going to take and spin this around so all my locations line up with my marks.
So now what I need to do is I need to get a line from this center point up to the next one to the next one to the next one.
And I think the easiest way to do that is with a string line.
So now I'm going to take the string and I'm going to put it on the first intersecting line here, and I'm going to carry it over to the second intersecting line right there.
Bring it over to the third and so on down the line, just keep going up the spindle to the next one.
The next one.
Just like that.
Keep it nice and tight.
Now I'm going to take my pencil and use the string as a straight edge.
This doesn't have to be really accurate because I'm going to eyeball it when it comes time to cut it.
Let's make sure I've got all my marks.
Looks like it.
So now I'm going to take the string off.
Position it to the second location.
Now I got to hold that tight.
And mark this one.
I'm going to turn it and do it one more time.
Now that it's all marked, I can remove the string.
Okay, so now I need to cut those lines because I need to create a little slot along that line.
And to do that, I'm going to use a handsaw.
And this handsaw is a backsaw.
It has a very stiff back so the saw doesn't wobble.
And I also put a depth stop on it right here that'll bring me down to a particular depth and it'll all be consistent.
There's one, and we'll do it again.
You notice that the handsaw is grabbing every now and then.
I'm actually twisting it in the cut.
So that's why it binds up.
And I don't want to put too much pressure on it because I don't want to break the baluster.
Our groove is cut.
Okay, so now to cut the profile for the rope, I'm going to use a coarse rasp, and I'm just going to follow the groove that I made and start grinding away with the rasp.
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Alright, so our balustrade is made and now we're ready to stain it to match the other ones.
But before I put a stain on, I have to seal the wood.
The reason is because of the different textures of the grain that will take the stain different.
So I want it to be as even as possible.
So I'm going to put on a light coat of shellac, let it sit for about 10 minutes and then we'll start with the stain.
Shellac is a good sealer, but you want to make sure there's no wax in it because if you do, when you put the stain on, it won't stick well.
Our shellac is dry.
I sanded it lightly with some 220-grit paper.
And now we're ready to put our first coat of stain on.
And this is a gel stain.
And what I'm going to do is I'm going to put it on, let it set for a few seconds and wipe it off.
Now, the shellac is also stopping the stain from penetrating deep in the wood.
Because it's not penetrating so deep in the wood, it's not going to dry as fast.
And because I used a rasp on the rope detail, you can actually see how it's rougher-looking.
And that's actually what I'm looking for.
If you ever looked at a piece of rope, like a piece of jute or something like that, it's got a little texture to it.
It's always tricky when you're trying to match stains.
It could be the same species of wood, but it could still stain different.
I'm wiping it off very lightly.
I still want it to lay on there and dry.
Going to give you a little tip.
Make sure you don't throw these rags in a pile in the corner because you could cause a fire.
Alright, here we go.
We got our stain on there.
Now it's got to dry for a bit, but let's see how it looks.
I think it looks pretty good.
That'll dry for a while, and then we'll put a coat on it and it'll be all done.
♪♪ Shannon: Oh, hey.
How are you?
Shannon: I'm good.
What do you got there?
Tom: I got some new balusters for you.
This is your baluster right there.
Shannon: Okay, so this is the original one.
Tom: That's the original one.
And this is one of the ones that I turned.
Shannon: Oh, my gosh!
This looks amazing!
So I did my best.
And there you go.
Shannon: Oh, these are so beautiful.
I can't believe it.
Tom: A little bit of time, a little bit of effort, but it was a fun project.
Tom: So now we've got to install them.
Shannon: I'm ready.
Alright, Shannon, we're going to put this baluster in first.
Now, the problem with this is we want to make sure that the the tops, the length of the top all match all the way around.
So I'm going to mark the length that matches the other balusters.
In this case, it's 5 1/4.
Now put a line, straight line.
That gives me the height that I need.
So if I bring that down to my line, where is it?
And I hold it in a position right there.
So you can see how it steps and everything lines up.
So now I can take and I can go... You have to make sure my spacing is right.
So I'm going to eyeball the shadow line of the old baluster and I'm going to mark that just like that.
Okay, so that's an idea of what I have.
Make a cut and fine-tune it after it's done.
So now what I'm going to do is I'm just going to follow that line with my coping saw.
And I want to use a coping saw because it's got a little bit of a curve to it.
So I'm going to cut it following the curve and then we'll dry-fit it and see how we did.
Here we go.
Tom: Okay, so now what I want to do is I want to measure for the length of the baluster.
So I'm just going to -- I have a shadow line right here from where the baluster goes, and that's an inch and three quarters for the spacing in between.
I'm going to mark inch and three quarters up here.
And I'm going to measure down to the step and to my mark.
And I have 30 inches.
Now we'll cut the baluster.
Okay, now we'll cut it the old-fashioned way.
Shannon: Elbow grease?
Tom: Elbow grease.
You got it.
Now, to install it, I want to drill a hole in the bottom to put a dowel so it will sit in the hole that's on the step and that will hold the bottom into position.
Now, lots of times when you install balusters, the dowel is sticking out and if you have room, you can simply tilt them into the opening.
But there are situations where it's hard to get it in.
So what I do is I would drill a hole, push the dowel up, tilt it, the dowel then falls out into the hole.
I have to find it like that.
It falls in.
Now the bottom is locked in nice and firm.
At the top, I'll drill a couple of holes and attach a couple of screws.
There you go.
That baluster is in.
Tom: It looks good.
Shannon: It looks great!
Tom: It's not going to go anywhere.
I'll just touch it up a little bit with some stain and you'll never notice it.
Okay, now we can replace the balusters the same way we did downstairs.
We'll take the old one and we'll put it in the hole.
Slide it over and I'll get a screw in the top there.
Okay, now all I'm going to do is just touch up those holes with some stain.
[ Grunts ] Make them disappear.
There you go.
Good as new.
Well, there you go.
The balusters are all in.
What do you think?
Shannon: They look beautiful.
Thank you again.
Tom: Well, thanks for putting me through that challenge of turning the rope turns.
Turned out well.
Shannon: And now we get to enjoy it for a long time.
So thanks so much.
Tom: I'm glad I could help.
And if you've got a problem with your old house and you need some help, let us know.
Until next time, I'm Tom Silva for "Ask This Old House."
♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪ Kevin: Next time on "Ask This Old House"... Heath will investigate why a breaker trips whenever a homeowner turns on a humidifier.
Then Tom will demonstrate the safety features on a table saw to help keep you and your fingers intact.
And Richard will explain how an insert like this can keep the temperature up and your heating bills down.
All that on "Ask This Old House."