DIY Newel Post to Makeover Your Staircase
Let me show you how to update your old turned newel posts to look like box newels without removing a thing! That’s right. We updated our own newel posts without removing the existing handrail, and we did it on a budget.
Now, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I think we did a pretty great job.
And now I’m detailing out the simple process we used so you can update your own staircase without the intimidation.
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Our staircase is the first thing you see when walking through the front door. And technically, there’s nothing really wrong with it. But honestly, I never loved these builder grade posts or the 90s lacquered honey gold oak color of them for that matter.
It was time for an upgrade. So when we took on our staircase renovation project, I knew I had to come up with an affordable way to create a more modern look.
Sure, you can purchase a new newel post for well over three hundred dollars, but with five posts on our staircase, that was going to get expensive fast.
And do you see all of those stair rails? Yeah, we’d have to remove every single one of those just to replace each old newel.
I had to come up with a plan to create a more square newel post without dismantling our staircase.
Fun fact, I discovered that they actually make newel post sleeve kits at Home Depot to cover up your existing posts. And I looked into them for a hot second until I added up the cost. Hard pass.
So we created our own newel post sleeves out of simple MDF boards and I’m so happy with how they turned out!
Building around an existing Newel post
Now I’ve got to be honest with you and tell you that this DIY project might seem a little janky, but trust the process friend. There’s a method to my madness here.
And while, I’m going to show you exactly how we tackled this project, I’m also going to suggest a few modifications so that you get that polished appearance of new study newel posts that look a little more custom and a little less DIY.
Here’s what you need to get started.
Materials needed for DIY Newel Post
- Wood filler
- ½” Thick mdf panel boards
- ¼“ Thick mdf panel boards
- Cove panel moldings
- Deck post cap
- Liquid nails (optional)
- Wood glue (optional)
Tools needed for DIY Newel Post
- Circular saw
- miter saw
- nail gun
- tape measure
- orbital sander
How do I make a simple newel post?
Once you get through creating your first newel post, repeating the process goes much quicker. So let’s dive in!
A helpful tip about the materials…
What makes this project so inexpensive is the use of cheap MDF fiberboards as opposed to solid wood. The downside is, however that you’ll have to trim all the widths down to the necessary size.
Not a big deal if you’re handy with power tools and have everything you need. But I realize that not everyone does.
And if this is your case, I would suggest writing down your width measurements, and asking the nice folks at Home Depot or Lowes to rip them down to size for you.
Trust me, they don’t mind. They even have a heavy-duty machine on hand to cut them right in front of you. Saves so much time!
And this only leaves you with needing to cut down your lengths, which is super easy with a miter saw.
Step 1: Assemble and Attach Your base Newel Post Sleeves
The first step is to measure the exact angle for your base sleeves. Now, if you’re fortunate enough to have your existing posts sitting flat on your stairs or flooring, then you don’t need to worry about this.
Ours, however, were attached at an angle to the base railings. Not a big deal, but a minor inconvenience when making cuts.
Next, you’ll measure the height for your fist base sleeve. We chose to take ours up to roughly 33 ½ inches. Sitting just below where the top rail attaches to the post.
You’ll be making 2 sets of equal sides for this sleeve wrap using your ¼” MDF boards.
Two will be the exact width of the current base of your post, and the other two will be the exact width PLUS two times the depth of your MDF boards.
Once you’ve made your cuts, you’ll attach them to the top and bottom of your existing newel post using a brad nailer.
Now, determine the height of your second base sleeve. This is completely a personal preference for that “chunky” base look. And we opted to go about 22 ½ inches high on our posts.
We repeated the exact same process for this next set of cuts, making 2 sets of equal sides for this sleeve wrap, this time using the ½” MDF boards. Followed by the exact width PLUS two times the depth of this set of MDF boards.
And finally, we attached them around the first base sleeve with the nailer.
What I would consider doing differently…
Now, I have to tell you that if I were going to do this exact type of project again, I would opt to miter the corners of all my post sleeves
I just don’t love the look of the butt joints and I think it would’ve been much easier to cut four equal mitered sides than the way we did it.
Of course, it also would’ve required the table saw to do so and I guess we just didn’t feel like getting it out or standing in the freezing garage to make those additional cuts.
Step 2: Assemble and Attach Your Upper Newel Post sleeve
After determining how tall your upper post sleeve will be, you can repeat the exact same process you used to create the base sleeves for this part.
We used the 1/4” MDF boards to create our sleeve and only extended it just below the existing post cap since we new we would be adding cove molding trim to cover any gaps.
Step 3: Attach the post cap
Remember how I warned you that some of this process might seem a little janky? Well, this is one of those steps.
While you can certainly attach your new post cap by cutting off the round top of your existing post and simply screwing or nailing it in. I chose to just install it directly over the old one.
We used a scrap piece of wood and secured it to the top of the post with a wood screw, making sure it was level.
Next, we used a brad nailer to secure the new post cap directly onto the scrap wood, as well as into the sides of the top sleeve.
Two to three nails should be more than sufficient to make sure it’s securely attached. But if you want to some extra assurance, you can always add a small amount of liquid nails prior to nailing it in.
Step 4: Attach Trim Molding
For the trim work, you’ll be attaching the cove molding on top of the ends of each base sleeve as well as the bottom of the top sleeve.
Simply measure the lengths of all four equal sides of your bases and cut your cove molding at 45-degree angles.
Next attach each strip of cove molding to the top of each sleeve to cover the wood, securing it your brad nailer.
I found that two nails per side did the trick to hold them in place.
Step 5: The Finish Work
It’s all in the details. And the final step is to patch all those little holes and seams in each new post.
Start by using wood filler to patch all nail holes and allow it to dry. You also want to use the same filler on all seams of the butt joints so that each side of the newel post is flush and seamless.
Next, using a fine 240 grit sandpaper, you’ll want to sand all sides of the post until it’s completely smooth.
Lastly, you’ll want to caulk along the base of the newel post as well as the seams around all the cove molding trim.
The final thing we did to make this project look a little more custom, was to remove all of those pesky little wooden screw covers and fill them in with wood filler as well.
Not only were they ugly, but they were obnoxious too. Constantly falling out and rolling all over the floors.
And that’s it. You’re ready for paint!
I would have loved to create a stained cap look here, but sadly the cedar material in the pressure treated deck post cap just wasn’t taking stain very nicely.
So I settled on painting them Simply White in a satin finish to match the rest of the post.
I’m so thrilled with how this DIY project turned out, not to mention how much we were able to save by keeping the old railings and posts intact.
Have any questions? Drop them in the comments below, I love hearing from you!
Can I ask what stain you used for your handrails and treads? They look beautiful.
Thank you! The handrails are red oak stained in smoke grey from varathane and the treads are laminate to match our flooring
I think this is brilliant. I agree, I would probably mitre the corners. You’ve definitely given me something to think about for my home. My spindles match my newel post, so I’d need to update them. But you’ve got my wheels a turning. Have a great one.
Thanks Michelle! Glad I can help add to your project list! 😉