How to Change Staircase Designs

Changing Staircase Designs

There can be a variety of reasons for wishing to alter a staircase design, and a staircase design can in fact, be altered in a variety of ways. For example, you might want to fit a balustrade for reasons of safety and appearance, or to convert the area underneath a stairway into a cupboard, or you may have decided that a cosmetic change is all that is needed and would like to paint or stain the stairs a different colour. Before any such projects can be undertaken, you must first check that the basic structure of the staircase is sound and make any necessary repairs. Once you have satisfied that requirement you may proceed on any number of projects for altering the staircase design.


Installing a handrail

Changing Staircase Designs Handrails are an essential aid for climbing and descending a stairway in safety and with ease. During the 1970s there was a trend towards doing away with handrails altogether. Whilst this is fine for the young and agile, it can be dangerous and difficult for children and the elderly.

Handrails are traditionally built on top of the balusters, but if you want to do away with tradition you can fix a handrail directly to an adjoining wall with the use of brackets. Alternatively, you may want to add another handrail to complement an exisiting balustrade, as shown here.

The instructions on this page refer to a solid wall. If you are attaching the handrail to a hollow stud wall with plasterboard cladding, then you must modify the position of the brackets so that they can be screwed into the upright studs. Alternatively, use one of the many fixing mechanisms designed especially for hollow walls. Handrails come in a variety of styles and can be purchased from most DIY stores or builder’s merchants.


Safety Advice

A handrail is more than a decorative feature and should be chosen as much for its strength and security of fixing as for its style and appearance. It should be strong enough and sturdy enough in take the weight of someone falling against ft, and should provide a secure hand hold that is easily grasped. For thinner handrails, stairs higher than average or weak walls, consider additional support brackets.


Tools for the Job:

  • tape measure & pencil
  • cordless drill/driver or hammer
  • string or chalk line
  • spirit level
  • bradawl
  • handsaw


  1. Measure up vertically 850mm (2ft 10in) from the top and bottom tread and make a pencil mark at both points on the wall. Insert a nail or screw temporarily into the wall at these marks — do not drive them all the way in, but make certain that they are secure.
  2. Stretch a string or chalk line tightly between these two fixings. Check the height at some of the intermediate treads. You may have to adjust one of the fixings up or down if the measurements are not all the same.
  3. Draw plumb lines up from the front of the second riser at the bottom of the staircase and the penultimate riser at the top of the staircase. Draw a line at both points where the level bisects the string line.
  4. Fix brackets at the points just marked. Align the top plate of the bracket flush with the underside of the string line, keeping the wall fixing plate centrally over the vertical reference line.
  5. Mark the wall through the holes on the fixing plate with a bradawl. Remove the bracket and drill the fixing holes, making sure you fit the correct size of bit for the screws. Screw the bracket to the wall, double-checking that the top plate is still in line with the string. With the top and bottom brackets fitted, divide the gap between them into three and fit two more brackets, giving four in all.
  6. Remove the string line and temporary fixings and place the handrail on top of the brackets. Get a helper to hold it in position or wind masking around each bracket to keep it in place temporarily. With the handrail secure, use a spirit level to mark plumb cuts in line with the first and last riser.
  7. Remove the handrail and cut through the pencil marks with a fine handsaw. Smooth down the cut ends using abrasive paper. Place the handrail back into position and drill pilot holes up into the underside of the handrail, before finally screwing it in place on the bracket.


Rope Handrail

Although not as sturdy as wooden or metal varieties, a rope handrail is a handy option for curved stairways. To fit, screw the brackets to the wall as described. If you are fitting it to a curved stairway, measure the vertical height from each tread to find the correct bracket location. Thread the rope through the brackets and tie a decorative knot at the top and bottom to prevent it being pulled out. Leave 5cm (2in) of slack between each bracket to avoid straining the screws.


Tips of the Trade

While the handrail is in position to mark the plumb cuts, you can also mark on the screw positions. This makes it possible to insert the screws without having to use a drill upside down, while the holes will provide reference marks to ensure the handrail is repositioned correctly.


Safety Advice

After the handrail is installed, carefully remove any sharp edges on the surface of the wood with abrasive paper, which could otherwise cause injury or give splinters. Once you have sanded any obvious nicks, put on a thick pair of gloves and run your hand up and down the rail several times to make sure nothing catches on the glove material. If it does, sand over the surface once again.

15. December 2010 by admin
Categories: DIY Home, Stairs | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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