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Updating Old Railings without Removing Them

See how we updated our old railing by covering them for a more modern look.

Our updated railings are done! Okay, so maybe not 100% done but somewhere around 85-90% so I am pretty happy with that progress this week.

I do still need to fill nail holes (and I am a little nail happy so there are a lot of holes to fill), sand, then stain/seal or paint the wood.

new rustic railings in living room

It’s always good to see the before of where you come from when doing an update.

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The old railings were dated and the paint was coming off use. Plus, it was so hard to vacuum between the spindles that went into the carpet. It became a horrible collection spot for dog hair.

old builder grade railings shown with blue carpet

So last weekend I let the kids help me tear out the old railings. They had a lot of fun. I may have found my new demo crew.

But as we were ripping things out, I realized how amazingly well the original posts had been installed. Good for safety, but not so good for being able to update them.

builder grade railings removed in living room

Since I couldn’t get the posts out at all, I decided to make my life a little easier. Instead of replacing the old posts with new ones, I would just wrap my old posts with new wood and they would be the nice rustic posts for my new railing.

What Wood to Use for the Railings

I knew I needed a hard wood for the railings, cheaper soft wood would not hold up to a lot of use. But hardwood can be so expensive.

There is one hard wood that I love that is much more budget friendly, knotty alder. It does have a lot of knots in it, but since I want rustic, knots are good.

And for $15 for a 1x6x8′ long board, it was going to be perfect for our new railings.

rustic railing in living room

To wrap my posts I wanted to cut my boards with 45 degree cuts on the edges so they came together beautifully. This was the first time I tried to make angled cuts on my table saw and it was more challenging than I thought.

With the saw at a 45 degree angle, it is harder to figure out exactly what the measurement you will be cutting is. Once I got the measurements figured out, it was easy to rip the 10 boards I needed really fast.

new railing post shown in living room

Once the boards were cut, it was easy to glue and nail the boards to the installed posts.

Then I needed to put a cap on the top of the posts to finish them off. I cut a piece of the scraps to fit the top and then cut all the edges on a 45 degree angle.

tools shown in living room for removing old railing

More glue and nails and it’s starting to look like I’m making progress.

The posts ended up being a bit bulkier than I imagined, my husband says it’s because we have been living without any railing for a week so the solid posts look big.

Even though they are more of a presence in the room, I am happy with them.

new post installed in living room for railing

The original railings had a small oval to secure the top of the railings to the wall, but I wanted a second post, just cut in half so it mirrored the other post.

To make this happen, I started by ripping down a 2×4 on the table saw so it was 3″ wide (the width of the already installed posts).

Then I used some beefy, 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ long bolts to secure it to the wall, making sure I went into studs. Those things are never going anywhere so I hope the next owners love them too!

railing post shown attached to wall

I wrapped these posts with my knotty alder boards too.

top of new post for railing
new railing post installed at top of stairs

It doesn’t look like much, but soon these railings will look amazing!

top of new post railing in living room

To hold the iron balusters between the posts, I used 1×4 board of knotty alder.

I ripped my 1×4 boards of knotty alder down to 2 1/4″ wide. I originally had wanted to use the 1×4 at 3 1/2″ wide, but when I put the boards up against my posts, they looked too wide. The smaller width is so much better.

wood shown on blue carpet with drill

I used the Kreg jig to add pocket holes to both ends of the boards. Then I secured the board with 2 1/4″ pocket hole screws so they went deep into the posts for a really secure hold. And it is super sturdy!

I used some scrap boards cut at the height I wanted the board to be at to help hold the boards steady while I screwed them in.

close up of new rustic railing
diy rustic railing being installed in living room

Next I cut 2 more boards the exact same size, then on these board I cut holes to hold my iron balusters.

I have been fretting about how to cut these holes for a long time. There is a fancy drill press thing out there that can make square holes, but I don’t have the budget or a real need for it. So I had to come up with another plan.

I started by making a template for me to keep the balusters equal distance apart. Since I was planning on using 4 iron balusters, I divided the total distance between the two posts by 5. This number was the amount of space I needed between the balusters (on center).

Then I made a template to match this measurement. I made my life easier and quickly cut it out on my Silhouette. Then I traced the squares on the second piece of wood I cut.

template for new DIY rustic railing measurement

I found the easiest way to get my square holes, was to drill holes in the two corners of the squares I traced on my wood. Then I used my jigsaw to cut from the drilled holes to the corners of the square.

The squares were not beautifully perfect. But I am learning that no one else ever sees these tiny details that I stress over, so I am trying to let my less then perfect be good enough.

And once the balusters were installed, you can’t even tell that the holes are not perfect.

wood supplies with clamps for new diy rustic railing

Before I drilled the holes, I wanted to make sure the holes in the two boards lined up nicely so my balusters were straight. I clamped the two boards together so that the holes I drilled went through both boards in the same place.

I did have to unclamp them while I did the jigsaw part because the blade was not long enough to go through both boards, but the final holes still lined up really nicely.

I never thought about redoing my railings, but these look so good! The new rustic railings in our living room are done. Now all we need to do is the finishing work then we are ready for new carpet. See how we remodeled our boring builder grade railings on a budget to make our living room look like a million bucks. | Housefulofhandmade.com

Once the holes in the two boards were all cut, I gave the insides of them a little sanding to make sure I didn’t have any rough edges.

Then I used wood glue to attach one of the boards on top of the board I already secured to the posts. I clamped them tight and added a few nails with my nail gun.

rustic diy railing shown with clamps

Then I added 2 pocket holes in each end of the other board I cut holes in and secured it to the posts at the height I decided on. I made sure it was level and used the 2 1/4″ pocket hole screws again.

diy wood railing shown being installed

Now it was time to insert the balusters.

I am not going to lie, I was really scared to cut the iron balusters. I don’t know why I am always so scared to cut metal because I cut wood all the time. But I put a metal blade into my jigsaw and then put on my big boy pants and just gave it a go.

It was so easy!

The metal blade cut right through the iron baluster. It did jump a little as the blade cut through the back end of the baluster but I found if I stopped just before the blade made it all the way through, I could easily break the last bit off by just bending the baluster at the cut and then there was no crazy jumping blade to worry about.

After I cut the balusters I slid them through the holes in the top board and into the holes in the bottom board. If they were a little tight I tapped them in with a hammer (I like that they were a little tight because then they will not wiggle around).

rustic balusters installed in new railing

I finished them off by adding a fourth board to the top of the last board. I again secured it with some wood glue, clamps and a few nails.

top view of wood railings with wood glue and clamps
side view of diy rustic wood railings

Ta-da! All done. Okay, the first one was done, but now that I knew the best way to do all the steps, the second one took half the time.

And then, ta-da!

I couldn’t be happier with how they turned out. I am so excited to have these beautiful railings and can imagine so many ways to decorate them at Christmas time.

I am really loving the way the knotty alder looks on the new railings. It has such a beautiful color, has really pretty knots in the wood, and is a harder wood so it will hold up to years of kids playing around the railings.

 new rustic railings in  living room

Now that the fireplace is all done, the railings and new paint in the stairway are the only things in the way of my new, neutral carpet (goodbye blue).

diy rustic wood railings in living room

And after I get them sanded and sealed, it will be about a 3 day project to completely transform the railings in our living room. They have completely transformed the look of our room from boring builder-grade to high-end.

I am even more excited to get the new carpet now because our living room is going to be amazing!

diy rustic wood railing with blue carpet
side of rustic wood railings

What do you think? Would you ever remodel your railings? My back is a little sore today and I am happy it’s done, but so glad we did it 🙂

-Kati with picture of blog author Kati
I never thought about redoing my railings, but these look so good! The new rustic railings in our living room are done. Now all we need to do is the finishing work then we are ready for new carpet. See how we remodeled our boring builder grade railings on a budget to make our living room look like a million bucks. | Housefulofhandmade.com
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