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Cutting out stairway wall to put balusters in

    We want to cut out the lower outside wall of our stairway and replace it with

a bottom rail,balusters and then a hand rail. The outside wall does not go to

the ceiling until the 6th stair. We were hoping the hand rail we have now 

could be used along the bottom part of what would be the remaining wall

and to use as the anchor so to speak for the balusters. I am hoping someone

can tell us how to go about doing this.

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Posted 2011-07-08T18:55:31+0000  by daydreamer daydreamer

Hey daydreamer.


I have a pretty good idea what you are talking about but to give you the best guidance I would like for you to post me some pictures of the wall in question. Take pictures of both sides of the wall and lets make sure there are no outlets or electrical in this wall.

Posted 2011-07-10T12:33:39+0000  by Ingar_HD_ATL

My husband and I are about to start a similar project.  The existing stairway does not have any skirtings.  It is my intention to remove the existing treads and risers, add skirtings on each side, and replace treads and risers with hardwoods.  Sounds easy enough, but there are 17 steps and a bathroom and storage area built under the stairway.  I can't seem to get my head around how we are going to be able to measure the cuts we need to make for the skirting with out putting a foot through the bathroom ceiling.   I think I have to measure the cuts after removing the existing treads and risers, but how do we work in the area once we remove them? a big ladder?

Posted 2011-10-02T13:16:27+0000  by lbenner

Welcome to the How-To-Community.


My name is George and I’ve been asked to chime in with some "suggestions" here:smileyvery-happy:.


So let’s start and let’s start with what I’ve pictured in my head reading your post.:smileywink:

 Staris daydremaer.JPGA staircase with a half wall instead of typical rail and baluster setup. And my understating is that you want to open up this staircase and replace this half wall with posts, rails and balusters instead, correct?



Start off your project by inspecting the wall and assuring there is no mechanical lines on your way.

You can do this by removing strip of drywall on top of the half wall.


Once you are assured that there is no obstacles you can go ahead and start measuring and marking for demolition.


Take your time here and like i'm sure you heard before;” measure twice and cut once”.


Easiest way to measure and mark for the termination/ cut line on that half wall would be by placing a piece of straight edge (1x lumber or an aluminum level) diagonally on top of the stair nosing and marking a line on the bottom side (underside) of the straight edge.


Once all marked and measured there should be a straight line running diagonally and connecting tread points just like pictured above.

That wasn’t that bad right?


Well, now you need to transfer that same line on to the other side of the wall, accurately :smileytongue:


Easiest way to accurately measure and transfer this line on to the other side of the wall is to first transfer mark points (@ the beginning and end of the stairs) on to the ceiling and then measure from ceiling down on to the other side of the wall.

Pretty cool right? Well just for the record I learn this one by rigorously scratching my head while back on one of my jobs.:smileymad:


With this line in place you are partially ready for demolition.

Partially, because you still need some safety goggles and gloves on your hands.

Staris daydremaer REMOVE.JPG


You can cut the wall now either using a circular saw or reciprocating saw.

I’m not sure how good you are with the tools but for this cut I would use a circular saw adjusted down to 4”, which is thickness of the studs plus the drywall on one side .Also by using a circular saw you’ll get a nice and straight cut and with adjusted guide you don’t have to worry about cutting into treads and risers that are on the other side of the wall.

With reciprocating saw that is quite possible.  


Now with the wall removed you can go ahead and start “trimming “out your staircase.


First step is to nail in a top plate (2x4) and rip the cap board and notch the skirt board.






Skirt board is to the left and the right and cap board is what balusters are pinning down.


Note that it is a lot easier to cut for the skirt board now before the cap board and balusters go in the place.

Your cap board should be ripped down, with the table saw, so it caps the skirt and the moulding installed on the other side of the wall. In other words with of your cap should be thickness of the skirt board, moulding  and finished wall.

Once you have these two cut and ready to go you can go ahead and nail skirt in place (use finishing nails and construction adhesive) but leave cap tacked in place so it can be removed.


With skirt and cap temporarily installed you can go ahead and proceed on to the next step and that is installing newel posts.

Newel Posts.jpg



Newel post should be firmly installed with concealed double sided lag bolts.


In your case your ending newel should be a half newel being that is getting attached to the full wall.


Once you have both newel posts in place you can go ahead and pre-cut your hand rail.

There are two types of handrails to choose from; grooved or solid and which one to use would depend on style of the baluster you decide to go with.



I’m not sure what you have installed right now, but it most likely not going to work. With the setup you have right now they mostly install half round handrails which do not have enough flat surface for balusters to get nailed in to.


With newel posts in place now you are ready to install your balusters.


Depending on the style balusters can either get doweled in or nailed in.

In you situation tops can be doweled in but bottom have to be fastened, which is the reason I said to leave the cap board loose. You can go ahead place all of your balusters  in place mark(number ) their locations  and attach from the underside of the cap board by removing board itself for clean a neat installation Just make sure to pre-drill holed if you are using anything else but the finishing nails.


Finally once you have your balusters attached you can go ahead and drop in your handrail and attach to the newel post itself using spring bold or coarse thread double sided lag bolts.

 Staris daydremaer FINISHED.JPG


Hope this helps.

Posted 2011-10-04T21:00:50+0000  by George_HD_CHI

Greetings Ibenner ;


Once you remove your existing treads and risers there should be something called stringers left in place.

Stringers look like this;




And they can be utilized as a work platform or as a template for the skirting’s.

Depending on the width of your stairs there should be at least three stringers supporting your treads and " target="_blank"> risers, one on each side and one in the middle of the stairs.

To use stringers as a work platform you would simply cut the existing " target="_blank">treads in half or just wide enough so it can rest on, for example, two stringers leaving one side open for work.

Note that temporarily treads should be screwed down for your safety; you can simply unscrew them and move on to the other side once you’re done.


With one side open for work you can frame for skirting’s (no adjacent wall next to the stringer) or use stringers as a template for the cuts by simply placing skirt board next to the stringer and transferring the cut lines.

Once you install skirting’s on top of the stringer you will need to either sister an additional stringer right next to it or add some supports so that treads have at least 1-1/2” to rest on.

If your stairs have no adjacent walls on the side of the stringers or you have one side of your stairs open ,note that is it a lot easier to install skirtings before treads and risers on that side(s) and just butt the treads and risers up to the skirt board.

Of course this would require a new stringer to be placed over the skirting. To mark for the stringer location use existing adjacent stringers and piece of pre cut tread and riser placed on top of it.


Quick tips;

1.Don’t get yourself in situation where stringers need to be removed…your bathroom ceiling and walls are attached to them and you will open up a can of worms if you start pulling them out.

2. Use plenty of subfloor adhesive during installation and cut your new treads and risers just a hair longer, soap up the sides with ordinary hand soap, and pound them in place using a wood block. This will give you an almost a gap free installation and it will make tread/riser to skirt connection barely visible.

Subfloor Adhesive.jpg


Hope this helps and welcome to the How-to-Community.



Posted 2011-10-10T15:31:40+0000  by George_HD_CHI
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