This is a project for a customer who wanted to update their old, brown oak railing with modern-looking white railing. We came up with a simple solution to make such an upgrade much easier. I built new, box-style newels which fit directly over the existing newels, eliminating the need to remove the old newels and saving time. See before ( on the right) and after photos ( on the left)*.


*Not the actual project, for illustration only.

New railing update project

The project started out with a pick-up truck load of rough cut, kiln dried poplar boards from Frank’s Hardwoods in Mechanicsville, MD. I had 5/4” boards for building the box newels and 2” thick boards for the balusters. Some of these boards were up to 14” wide.

First I had to straighten the edge of the boards on the jointer, then plane the boards to correct thickness and to get all the rough cut saw blade marks off.

Once the boards were dressed, I ripped them on table saw to the desired width plus about an inch. I needed the inside of the box cavity to be about 3.25” x 3.25”, slightly larger than the existing newels. The 0.25” gap will allow for shimming. Since the planed boards were ⅞” ( 0.875”) thick, my finished outside size was 5” x 5”. So after adding the extra 1”, I had precut boards that were 6” wide. Then they were cut to the desired length, a few inches longer than the old newels.

Then I had to cut the edges of the boards at 45 degrees so I could glue them together to form square newels. First the angled edges were cut using a table saw with the blade set to 45 deg. I cut the boards about an 0.125” ( ⅛”) wider than needed, measured on the longer side between angled edges.

At this point, the 45 deg angle cuts are not smooth enough to be glued together without showing gaps in the joint. The angles have to be straightened using a jointer. I set the jointer fence to 45 deg angle and removed 0.0625” ( 1/16”) from each angled side.


Then I was ready to glue the boxed newels. I used wood scraps to make small stands, to hold the boards in place, while I aligned them.


I applied glue to all the edges; then I aligned and clamped the boards together. There was no need to fasten the boards together using nails. I used regular ratchet straps to clamp the boards together because the straps align the edges perfectly together. I used piece of cardboard under the ratchet to make sure it didn’t create indents in the wood. The straps will permanently deform the sharp edges, but since I will be making the edges slightly rounded, the strap marks will be removed. If I were concerned about the marks, I would use cardboard under the straps over the edges as well.

The top cap was next. First, the top end of the newel needed to be trimmed using a 12” miter saw. Then the cap was cut to size, slightly larger than needed. I held the material on the top of the newel and traced it from below with pencil to make the cutting easier. Once cut, the cap was glued to the top of the newel. I used a pin nailer to nail the cap down and hold it in place while I clamped it again with a ratchet strap clamp.

Then it was time to sand the newels. A belt sander will do the job. Use a pencil to mark all sides and spots that need sanding, that way you will know you’ve sanded everything when there are no more marks left.

The edges are rounded with ⅛” diameter round over router bit. The round edge helps to hide the joint and makes the edges softer. Once the edges are rounded, the joints are nearly invisible.

The next step was attaching the trim along the top of the newels. I used a standard, off the shelf trim. I glued and pin nailed the trim to the newel. Any nail holes and dents needed to be filled with wood putty and sanded. I applied a small bead of caulk in the corners between the newel and trim. Finally, the newels needed to be painted with primer. I also made a few newel fronts, which will be installed against the wall, imitating the newels.

The existing newels and bottom plate can stay in place-only the handrail and balusters will need to be removed. After the installation, a final coat of paint will be applied.


The balusters were relatively simple to make. Following the above steps. The 2” boards were first straightened on the jointer, ripped on a table saw, and then planed to the desired size. Once they were within about 0.0625” ( 1/16”) of the desired size, I used a drum sander to sand the surface to the final size. Next, the balusters were prime painted like the newels. I didn’t pre-cut these to size; they will be cut to length during the installation.

The railing is now complete.

© 2015 Oakville Shop woodworking.