January 12, 2023

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working to get the staircase in. I first needed to deal with the unfinished loft edge. I started by placing a trim board over the end.

I used a laser and special trim screws that do away with shims to ensure the board was perfectly straight and plumb.

I then filled the screw holes and directed my attention at the drywall that abutts it.

You can also see the plaster rings around the vents and the lighting installed upstairs.

I plastered in a special type of drywall corner-bead to make a clean and durable edge that sits flush with the trim. I also added a piece of trim atop the curved transition between the lower and upper floors.

Feathering out the mud wasn’t very hard, but keeping the dust under control when sanding was.

After some final painting of the newly installed trim boards, I was able to move the scaffolding out of the way and Ryan came by to help me get started assembling the staircase.

We determined how many spacers to use between each tread as we went by measuring the distance between the top of each tread and the floor and compared it with a computer model.

Once we got all 11 treads and the landing assembled, we attached the landing to the loft edge.

The steps at this point aren’t particularly stable as they aren’t locked in or connected to each other.

The next day I secured the base of the staircase with concrete anchors and then Adam came by and helped me attach the main balusters and set each step in their exact location.

We started at the top and locked in each tread so that the baluster that connected it to the previous one was perfectly plumb.

We decided the lower baluster, which requires trimming, should make contact with the slab, and the hardwood will go in around it.

The escutcheon will have to be slid up when the floor goes in and then secured down to the hardwood.

For added strength, I placed an anchor bolt with a stainless fender washer beneath the baluster, ensuring it doesn’t dig into the softer floor-leveler or corrode due to direct contact with the slab.

I ended up adding some epoxy to this assembly to keep it from wiggling, but most of the pressure is just downward.

The next day I managed to form and install the handrail by myself without incident, despite the instructions saying it was at least a two-man job.

The handrail is fairly slim, only 1-1/2 in. in diameter with 1/8 in. wall, so it formed easily but just as easily would bend incorrectly.

Now that I knew exactly where the landing was, I framed the curb that the balcony railings will sit atop. This ensures that both balconies begin at the same height and can thus use matching railings.

I had to cut the trim down to be flush with where the finished floor will be so the baseboards can simply wrap around the curb.

I was also finally able to order custom railings from the same company that made the staircase.

The wider trim around the balcony conceals a space where garage door tracks will be installed, allowing the wall to be solid or open at the push of a button.

Next, it was time to install the middle balusters, of which there are two-per-step. My first idea was to go buy a cutoff machine, which I was planning to buy soon anyway for another project.

I had to hang material on the wall behind this thing to catch sparks, and even so, they were still flying everywhere.

However, the results of cutting balusters with this machine were dissapointing.

Even with a reamer tool, the cut ends from this technique were too uneven and ugly.

I consulted with my brother, who is an extraordinary metal worker, and he suggested I use a pipe cutter designed to cut copper pipe. Though I did need to go slower, the tool easily made perfectly square and shockingly clean cuts without the dangerous sparks and horrible smells of a cutoff machine.

The different results between the two techniques is dramatic. I found that greasing the pipe cutter also made it glide through the material more smoothly.

We also discussed some tools that needed to be made. The first tool is designed to measure the length of each middle baluster. I cut a spare baluster short and fit a PVC pipe over it. A few notches in the PVC pipe and a host clamp made it easy to lock it in place once I’d found the right length. The other tool we came up with was a spacer to ensure balusters were in the right place when measuring them.

In a few cases where the main balusters varied in distance a bit, the tool could space everything narrower and maintain proportions by simply tilting it.

I realized that once I cut the balusters, the raw steel would be exposed and ultimately rust, so I needed to find a paint that matched the sheen of the powder coating. I tested both a semi-gloss and a satin on a spare piece of handrail, and found the satin was a much closer match.

The hard edges are the tape lines, but I found when painting a spot and letting it feather out the difference in sheen was much less noticeable. I think matte finish would actually be perfect, but I wasn’t able to find any locally.

I then measured each middle baluster using the length and spacer tools.

This telescoping measurement tool made very quick work of what would otherwise be rather difficult.

As I cut each one, I checked the fit, numbered them and set them aside.

Middle balusters have to be measured and cut individually due to slight imperfections in the shape of the aluminum handrail

I then painted the ends with satin black paint, to ensure no raw steel was exposed.

As expected, once these dried, you couldn’t tell the difference between the powder coating and the paint.

Each baluster is attached to the tread using a special nut that grips the inside of the tube, and attaches to the handrail with a self-drilling metal screw, just like the main balusters.

To get the pipe nuts inserted I had to apply a very fast and strong downward force to pop them in. I can’t imagine they will ever come loose.

After attaching every baluster and tightening everything up, the stairs felt solid under foot and look great.

The curved ledge next to the stairs finally makes sense.

I’ll attach the railings for the landing after I’ve completed the trim work on the curb.