What you are about to read is going to save many stair remodels and a fair amount of cash. This is important for anyone who is going to be involved in a stair remodel or upgrade in the near future. It addresses an issue that frequently comes up when I meet with clients about their stair project. It may be a hard one to grasp as it has become second nature to want to recycle, re-use and re-purpose the things we would have easily thrown away twenty years ago.
It is not cost-effective to re-use existing stair parts. You will not save money if you re-use the old handrail, balusters or newel posts. Now, realize that I know you are looking at your existing stair case and thinking, “These still look pretty good. I bet they would be fine if I just replaced the treads…”. Yup, when I first began doing stair remodels I, too had a problem tearing apart a perfectly good stair case and tossing it out. I tried to save parts and reuse them and wound up wasting a lot of time with a bunch of used and useless stair parts in my workshop.
When a staircase system gets built, it is a custom job. Each staircase has its own particularities and unique assemblage. When a stair guy is building a staircase he is always thinking and planning ten steps ahead. Sometimes building stairs can be a very complex task because there is more than one way to approach an installation. Each piece gets cut, assembled and sanded to the requirements each installation step demands. Sometimes you have to tweak a fitting or handrail to make it fit. One side may require a little more sanding than the other. Balusters and newel posts get cut to different lengths. A stair case is NOT a fit-and-snap together system; all parts are not created equal (even though they do try). We stair guys are dealing with curves and angles that never line up perfectly. This is where experience, skill, know-how and a wicked sharp chisel come into play.
Now imagine this, a staircase was built 20 yrs ago by somebody else doing the same thing as above, only he may or may not have had adequate experience and skill level. He may have had a different method of building all together than the way we do. With that said, take this stair system apart without breaking any parts and put it back together. Yeah…no.
Another problem faced when trying to use the old system is having different surfaces, textures and finish types sitting next to each other. Old stain with new stain will never be a perfect match. Compare it to building a house with used materials. Sure, it can be done but what will it look like? Like a house built with shabby used materials.
And here is a little known fact: The amount of time a carpenter must spend getting a used stair part to fit back into place and look decent can double or triple the time it takes to do a stair remodel with new materials. It actually ends up costing more and looking like you re-used materials to save money.
Now, I have a work shop full of used stair parts that keep me warm via the wood stove, and when we disassemble a staircase system (with care), most of it is re-usable and gets hauled off to a rebuilding center or Habitat for Humanity. And, I can sleep at night with a clean conscience.
So if you are planning to remodel or upgrade your stairs, keep in mind that the stair parts that are there now (handrail, newel posts and balusters), should not be re-used. Your budget is better spent elsewhere on the staircase.