Last Updated: March 16, 2020
A strong staircase is composed of several different parts, and you’ll need to understand those various parts if you’re building your own railing for a staircase. After all, you certainly don’t want to mix up one piece for another and risk building a shoddy, unsupportive handrail. One such component is the newel post. What is a newel post? It is the supportive post in a staircase railing. In this post, we’re going to explore what purpose newel posts serve in a railing, how to differentiate them from balusters, and where to source reliable newel posts.
What Is a Newel Post?
A newel post is the supporting post in a staircase’s railing. In a spiral staircase, it is the central post the staircase winds itself around. In a standard, non-spiral railing, there are multiple newel posts: at the top and bottom of the railing, and at each landing on the staircase. For the sake of our products, we’ll use the latter definition (newel posts for non-spiral staircases), as spiral staircase newel posts are much rarer.
Etymology and Terminology
Newel originates from the Latin word for knot or knob, nodus. That word evolved through the years – becoming nodellus in Medieval Latin, then nouel in Old French – until it became the word we see today. It makes sense that “newel” would originate from the word for “knob,” as many residential railings feature a spherical knob on top of the newel post.
Purpose of Newel Posts
Newel posts are taller and thicker than spindles or balusters, serving as a support system for the rail. Newel posts ensure that the handrail is straight and stable instead of frail and shaky. You should also install newel posts where the stairway changes directions – whether it’s a new flight of stairs or a full 90-degree turn.
While newel posts’ foremost purpose is structural, they have a decorative function too. Because they sit at the beginning, end, and often the corners of the railing, newel posts can serve as attractive accents. When installing your staircase, you can opt for a more traditional newel post for a timeless look or a modern shape to create a contemporary aesthetic.
Newel Posts in History
Newel posts serve an important function, but they are also standout architectural elements with their own distinctive charm. According to Architectural Observer, many old buildings have lost their original newel posts and balustrades in the name of modernization; however, if you keep an eye out, you can often spot historic newel posts and balustrades in older buildings. For example, homes built in the 1850s will often sport Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Italianate accents – think of big Southern plantation homes, or ornate newel posts that punctuate sweeping staircases at historic theaters. Once you start to notice ornate newel posts, it’s impossible to ignore their distinct appeal.
How Do Newels Differ from Balusters?
Newels are often confused with balusters, but the two are not interchangeable. First, more balusters are required in a railing because they are typically placed closer together – usually within a few inches of each other – to prevent gaps that would compromise users’ safety. While balusters also provide some structural support, they serve to fill gaps between the newels to make your stairway even safer. Ultimately, both stairway components are essential – they just have different functions.
Choosing Newel Posts for Your Project
Step One: Choose Your Material
So you’re ready to install a new stairway in your home or business. You’ll want to start by shopping for different newel materials. You can find newel posts made from many materials including stone, wood, plaster, plastics, iron, and other metals. At MMC Fencing & Railing, we offer newel posts constructed from two materials: aluminum and vinyl. Aluminum and vinyl are both popular options because they are durable and long-lasting while requiring virtually no maintenance. That makes them perfect for indoor or outdoor applications.
Step Two: Check Local Building Codes
As we mentioned above, your newel posts should be slightly taller and thicker than your balusters. When in doubt, make sure to check your local building codes for both newel and baluster height restrictions. Building codes are the best resource to make sure your stairway is safe and compliant for anyone visiting your home or business.
Installing Newel Posts
There are several ways to install newel posts depending on the type of stair installation hardware with which you’re most comfortable. Whichever method you choose, installing newel posts is an easy weekend project for the confident do-it-yourself homeowner.
Newel mounting plates are the most popular method for installing newel posts. To use a newel mounting plate, you’ll screw a steel plate to the bottom of the post, then screw the plate into the floor with the post attached. Of course, you’ll need to make sure that you have appropriate backing on the floor while making sure to avoid any electrical wires or plumbing. Finally, you’ll cover the mounting plate with molding, which is typically included when you purchase newel posts. You can also mount the post without molding if desired. Ultimately, while there are several ways of installing newel posts, your best bet is to work with the instructions that are included with your newel posts when they arrive.
If you want to successfully build your own railing, understanding the different parts of a railing is crucial. Newel posts are one of the most important parts of a railing system and not to be confused with balusters. These posts serve a crucial support function; however, they can also add a major aesthetic touch to your railing.
Now that you know what a newel post is, are you ready to get started? If you’re interested in purchasing a new railing, do yourself a favor and check out MMC Fencing & Railing. In our online shop, we sell aluminum and vinyl railing in a variety of styles and colors. So no matter what you’re looking for and no matter how large or small your budget, you’re sure to find something beautiful. Give us a call at 1-866-931-5002 to get started. We look forward to hearing from you!