What native woods are suitable for building a rustic log-type stair-railing? Use downed wood from storm?

A reader asked..
Recent Ice created an abundance of branches ranging in the right size- 2″- 8″ in diameter- and I want to build a fence type handrail system for my stairway and top of stairwell with top and bottom rails with smaller vertical “sticks” between. I would prefer not having the bark on the and am prepared to draw it off. I am very handy, built the stairs myself, and patient.

Is this downed wood OK to use- do i need to wait until it is dry for shrinkage before carving off the ends? let dry first?
I have access to LOTS of ornamental silver leaf maple- is it too soft? Also sassafrass, red cedar, and limited amounts of black walnut. I could mix and match.
Please any wood workers who know their help me with selecting and preparing the right wood for my project- and also any construction tips- much to chainsaw and I dont want to cut up something I might need later. Thanks.

(Scroll down to read responses).

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Previous Post

Keeping Your Clutter To A Minimum

Next Post

An Informative Bulletin on Log Home Siding


    • aussie
    • March 19, 2010

    Pine or oak

    • Fergie
    • March 19, 2010

    pine or oak but make sure you treat it for bugs

    • Smudge- ward
    • March 19, 2010

    You need to read up on wood seasoning, it can take a year to dry out prepared planks & boards and certainly the bark has to come off any branches.
    Cedar is great for outdoors and where light wood is required, v. water/bug resistant. Black Walnut for indoors is a great timber.

    • bubbba2u
    • March 19, 2010

    The key is to find interesting pieces then it needs to be dry. Also the pros have the bark removed with a pressure washer so it is smooth for finishing.

    A cool thing to do is pin it together with screws pre-drill and countersink then plug the holes with dowel stock made from the salvaged wood. Prefinish all of the material before you install it.

    It should look like a craftsman installed it when you are finished.


    • Pastels
    • March 19, 2010

    Take the bark off the maples, cedars and walnut and any wood that you like, a good draw knife is good
    while the bark is soft and then let them dry in a covered area sounds fun I envy you

    • World Cup
    • March 19, 2010

    Any wood will work just fine and for this project it can be dry but not a big deal.Make sure the wood has no rot

    • normobrian
    • March 19, 2010

    If this is indoors, you don’t need to treat it for bugs. Any species will work for a handrail. Soft woods are just bad for structural elements, like beams, although they can be used for that, too, if they are big enough. The others gave pretty good advice about curing the wood for a long time before using, although, if you really knew what you were doing it wouldn’t matter. There are tricks to using green wood. As for plugging screw holes, use a plug cutter. It’s a bit that fits in a drill that cuts out a tapered plug. You will definitely see the plugs, though, no matter how you cut them.

    For invisible joints, use screws up under the bottom rail and mortise the spindles into the top rail. It may be a bit laborious, but for a one time project, it would look better. You just glue the spindles into the mortise and pin them through the side with finish nails (one per spindle should do). This will keep the spindles from turning if they ever do come loose.

    • breezyburgee
    • March 19, 2010

    I like the cedar. Pine works well. Strip the bark and dry the wood. While stripping, watch for any insect infestation. Especially if you are using the wood indoors. Once you have it all stripped you can pre cut rails, spindles and posts to length and stack them so they dry. Check out this site for tools etc that will help. http://www.aloghomestore.com/contents.html

    • tmarschall
    • March 19, 2010

    I have never done a stairway from locally harvested woods, but here are my concerns. I have worked with “green” lumber for many projects. The problem with using full logs or branches is that they will dry and crack/split over time. I would suggest if at all possible, that you get the larger logs sawn as soon as possible. If you want natural edge, just be sure you saw thru the pith or center of the log. Sawing the logs into quarters is even better. This will prevent the splitting of the log as it dries. Look around for someone with a portable sawmill. The logs should be sawn when as green as possible. Cut the end grain as smooth as possible and paint over to prevent excessive end checking. Same sized cut logs should be stacked together and supported with weight on top of the stack to minimize warping as they dry. Some species of wood are much worse than others. Hope this gives you some ideas.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: