Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Building Hand Railings; The DIY Trap

Finish carpentry and building hand railings has given me some interesting and some times humorous experiences. I call this the DIY trap. With my experience the trap usually occurs with more advanced trimming projects like a hand railing. I have rescued a few homeowners out of this trap and here is one experience of the DIY trap.

I received a phone call one afternoon. It was a friend of mine he was very persistently asking me if I could help him out this week-end. We traded favors back and forth all the time so I agreed. The story goes; his dad who is retired and is a modest DIY’er that had pretty much built his own house from the Finish carpentry and building hand railings has given me some interesting and some ground up actually needed the help. One of the last projects in this house which never got completed for years was the hand railing going up to the upper level.

One day his dad spotted a picture in a magazine portraying a beautiful elegant hand railing and decided that this was the one to build in his house. Being the DIY’er he was he promptly started ordering all the materials with out doing any research or asking for help or advice. The materials for this hand railing came at a hefty price, as this was going to be a higher end railing but his mind was made up.

Soon the materials started arriving. He was extremely anxious to get started and had two weeks to finish this project before leaving on a vacation. What happened in the next two weeks is typical of a homeowner relying on common sense to carry him through a project that requires research and knowledge that goes beyond common sense.

Now I know this man fairly well and he is the type of person who rarely loses his temper over anything. Needless to say my friend explained the atmosphere around him over the past two weeks went from one extreme of being happy and determined to a more tense and apparent aggravated state to a quiet period and finally to utter misery, uncertainty and just pure disgust.

The DIY trap got him. He didn’t know what to do. He did not know how or even if he could move forward with the project yet he would not go back and redo what he did. He was extremely upset and disappointed by the time he and his wife left on vacation with expensive hand railing parts laying all over and worse yet an unfinished hand railing without knowing how to proceed.

My folks are gone and I want this to be a surprise my friend explained. I was actually pretty excited to do this project. I could save his dad from a lot of anxiety and I knew I could build exactly what he had pictured in his mind provided he had the same and right materials according to the picture.

I arrived on site, walked in the door to meet my friend and take an assessment of the situation. It was instantly apparent to me that his dad had struggled quite hard with what was done with the railing. String lines were put up apparently where the top rail would go, papers were laying around with math figures scribbled on them which I believe was him trying to figure out the angle of the stair way. Two newel posts were mounted that were not sufficiently solid and sturdy yet had as many as 10 screws in each one. Other obvious evidence told me of the anxiety he must have gone through.

Unfortunately everything had to be undone and starting over was essential. Obviously he had no prior knowledge of this type of project nor did any research before or during the process. Let me see the picture I said.

Next we did an assessment of all the hand railing parts. Everything seemed to be there and match the picture also we were able to reuse almost all the materials. Almost is the key word. Unfortunately a critical error was made when he was measuring for the top rail and he cut it too short for the span we needed to cover. No wonder he was upset. Off to the lumber yard we go to see if we could match this certain style of hand railing as I don’t believe a wood stretcher is invented yet.

Yes, we were able to get a close match but it was a costly mistake. This particular piece of top rail was $85 for the length we would need. This was at the time a style that I had never built before. It had a variety of different decorative iron balusters with a wood top rail and of course wood newel posts. We went back and built this hand railing and it turned out extraordinarily nice. It was almost a mirror image of the railing in the picture.

My friend and I were extremely happy with our work when we were finished. I had to stand and look at it for a while as it never ceases to amaze me the feelings of pride and accomplishment every time I build one of these. More importantly was the feelings I got when I ran into his dad shortly after. He could not say thank you enough and I had earned a type of respect and friendship with him that is indescribable. All in a days work helping people out of the DIY trap.

Pat Fisher is a professional carpenter and woodworking craftsman. For more information on finish carpentry and household carpentry projects, visit www.finishcarpentryhelp.com - Also available is a comprehensive eBook for building hand railings

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent story!! It holds true to do your research and read read read. If someone does not have the skill level to finish a project like this, a Professional is worth the time and money!