Newel posts are used as a support for the handrail and balusters. Newels may be placed only at the beginning of a staircase or several posts may be used in longer runs to support the handrails through landings and at turns in the balustrade. The newel posts set the style for the entire balustrade and are quite often the most noticed architectural element of a staircase.
Begin by choosing between a Post to Post and an Over the Post stair design. In a Post to Post system the handrail runs between the newel posts. This system features a newel post with a “block” top. An Over the Post newel system features a "pin-top" style newel and uses handrail fittings to join the handrail pieces together running over the newel post. The over-the-post system gives the staircase a clean, uninterrupted look from top to bottom. In an over-the-post newel system, there are smaller (usually 5" to 6") block tops often called starting newels and larger block (10" to 13") tops often called landing newels or transition newels. The landing newels or transition newels allow the handrail to enter at one height and exit the newel post at another height. You can find an example of a Post to Post style railing here and an Over the Post style here.
Box newels are often used to make a statement. They are a decorative accent for your stairway. Box newel posts are used in a Post to Post stairway system. You can find box newel posts available in a variety of styles and wood types like Red Oak, White Oak, Brazilian Cherry, Maple, Hickory, and American Cherry. Other wood types are available as well, such as Walnut, Western Cedar, Sapele Mahogany, and Genuine Mahogany.
Turned newels can be carved into soft and elegant curves or into simple more box-like posts with rounded details. The stairway entry newel or starting newel can be larger and more decorative than the other supporting newels providing a significant and regal feeling to the entry. For a more contemporary look, you may prefer iron newels.
Half Newels help to keep the visual and structural integrity of the balustrade because with handrails often ending at a wall, it leaves little room for a full newel to be installed.
Whether you decide on a more simple approach or an extravagant design, your staircase will be the most striking and beautiful quality piece of furniture that you own.
Article by Amber Burkhart
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