How to Open up a Closed-Stringer Set of Stairs

A close up shot of stairs

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Some homes have stairs that are a closed stringer design on one or both sides. Is it possible to open up closed stringer stairs? Surprisingly it's not as hard as you think. This article will walk you through how it's done.

New Type of Railing

You will be shifting the entire railing leftward so that the spindles (or balusters) rest on each stair tread. 

This means losing some stair width. But if you already have generously sized stairs, you can afford to shave some space off in the service of this project.  

A brief invoice of items you may need: 

  • Balusters (spindles): Your current spindles are too short to reach the height of the tread. You will need to install new, longer ones.
  • Shoerail: Shoerail is that long, flat board at the bottom of the balusters/spindles. Since the removal of this is the reason behind the project, this must go.
  • Railing: You might be able to reuse the railing. This is one of those projects where you start out with good intentions of reworking your current materials, yet in the end, you practically build an all-new railing.
  • Box newel post: You can keep this in place or you can get more creative and replace it. See more details below.

​If you do need to remove the entire railing system, keep in mind that this is good hardwood that you could easily give away, sell, or reuse in other parts of your house.

What to Do With the Newel?

One option would be to keep the box newel post in place, as it is already securely fastened in that spot. But how do you make the railing, which is being moved, hit a newel post that isn't being moved? 

Or you can get creative with handrail fittings from L.J. Smith Stair Systems. L.J. Smith does not sell directly, so you will need to find a distributor, such as Home Depot.

You can try to bring that railing into the side of your box newel with a quarter-turn railing. Or you could refashion that box newel so that it will accept a right-hand volute on top of it (a volute is one of these curled fittings that look a bit like the letter "G").

Unfortunately, the "box" part of box newels are hollow, so it's not like you can cut into them. Placing a volute on top of a box likely would not be visually appealing.

Replacing the Newel Post

You could remove that newel post and replace with one that is more volute-friendly. 

The box at the base of your current newel post should be a false one, put there for aesthetic reasons. Once you remove that quarter-round from the top of the box and knock the box down, you will see how the post is connected to the floor. 

If yours is a newer house, the newel likely is connected by means of a KeyLock or similar fastener. With this, a metal plate is screwed to the floor. A lag bolt at the very bottom of your newel post inserts in the plate and slides a few inches along a slot until it is secured. We're guessing that's what you have. If it's an older house, the newel post might be connected from below.

Moving the Newel Post

If you examine the newel post connection and determine that the post is easy to remove, then you would position it at the front of the lowest step. 

Connect to the floor with a KeyLock or similar fastening device. This would eliminate all of that business mentioned above, about how to curl the ends of the railing to meet up with the newel post.

The Top of the Stairs

If you move the newel post, your connection point at the top of the stairs will need to move, too. 

By moving the stairs left, you'll need to come into that wall from the side instead of the front. There are numerous solid attachment points on a wall for this. 

Removing the Dummy Wall

From there, it's just a simple matter of removing the drywall (or plaster, if an older house) from that wall covering up the triangle below the stairs. The stairs are not structurally-dependent on anything related to that wall; they rest entirely independent on their own stringers. 

Voila, you're finished! You can also add a second set of rails if you desire.