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Custom Hand Carved Stair Railing

craftsman carving custom stair railingWhile renovating a historic uptown New Orleans house, a local construction company asked us for help with a historic stair they were restoring. Their trim carpenter tried to miter a stair handrail to replace a missing section of handrail but could not get the shape right. He had tried to tackle probably the most challenging of stair rail parts to fabricate: an interior curved winder-stair continuous handrail where there is no newel post at the turn. Such a piece must fit perfectly to the center line of the spindle base center line. Since this dramatic up-easing stair rail part is structural, relying on the continuous railing and the triangulation of support from two railings, it is critical that it be built to close tolerances and fit perfectly.

Max Mendoza, Central City Millwork’s Operations Manager, has a big job overseeing all field installations of CCM’s millwork, making sure that the same level of craftsmanship that goes into the fabrication of our finished products goes into the installation as well. However, having worked with us for over 30 years, he has become an incredible carpentry craftsman in his own right. With his wealth of experience, Max is the best freehand wood carver we have working for us. To get this stair part fabricated, we needed him to take a day or two off from field operation management tasks to craft this historic stair rail.

checking stair railing fit before carving

Checking fit before carving the blank

As you can see from the photos, Max hand carved the stair rail. The 6 foot section has over 5 feet of up easing in less than three feet of flat radius. To build a template for this piece Max bent a solid half-inch copper rod on-site to fit and follow the leading edge of the spindle center line at the curved winder stair treads.

With this rigid template, Max had the CCM custom fabrication shop make an over-sized round rail section that was cut to match the turns needed for the replacement section. He then took round blank section back on site to make sure the piece fit the existing turn and rise correctly. Once he is sure the blank was correctly shaped, he marked the center line of the bottom of the handrail blank. He then returned to CCM custom fab shop where he carved the total length of the piece to perfectly match the profile of the previously existing handrail.

finished-custom-railingHe started by carving a flat bottom section and from that reference he carved the rough profile of the hand rail. At this point the true artistry of his work is evident. There is no machine that can cut a profile that appears uniform as you look at it from all sides. And no machine can create a railing that will feel uniform as you run your hand along its surface as follows the turns, the curves, and the rise needed to match and honor the artistry of the original craftsman when he created that railing over 150 years ago.

Max is a great Operations Manager, and Central City Millworks is lucky to have him working for us. I believe Max’s look of satisfaction after spending a day bringing life to a beautiful piece of woodwork is indicative of most of us here at Central City Millworks. We love wood, and we especially love crafting wood into something as special as this piece of custom handrail.

Thanks go out to all of Central City Millworks’ customers for giving us the opportunity and the honor to meet your special and custom woodwork needs.


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