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How to Build NEWEL POST-100 for About $60.46: Part 1

diy newel postTraditional & Victorian Styles

This is a decorative newel post.  That’s what I call this one because it doesn’t support a stair rail.

It’ there just to look pretty.

You can make your own decorative newel post this weekend.  Because this page shows you step by step how I built this one.

This newel post is mostly Victorian style.  The finial at the top and the base plinth height inclines it that way.

Posts in this Series

1.  How to Build NEWEL POST-100 for About $60.46 Part 1

2.  How to Build NEWEL POST-100 Part 2

3.  Before & After: Newel Post on a Half Wall


But the rest of the moldings on this upstairs landing, though found in Victorian homes, are also very traditional.  They swing both ways, so to speak.

how to build a newel post on half wall

Rectangular rosettes in the capital with a finial on top.  Neither has their final coats of paint.

The original idea was to just make a nicer cap for the half wall (pony wall) than what the builder installed, because what the builder installed looked like it was made with wood from an old cargo pallet.

  • Then I though why not install some nicer baseboards too?
  • Then I thought why not make a newel post out of the mdf board scraps left over from the baseboard?
  • Then I thought why now put some ornate appliques in the capital to dress it up some?
  • Then I thought why not put a Victorian finial on top?

Scope creep.  No one is immune.  Especially when the materials cost so little.  Read (Jennifer’s fun article about scope creep here.)

newel post diy walf pony wall

Why have a plain old half wall when it’s so easy to dress it up with moldings!

The large baseboards I installed on the stairs are the same pattern I installed in the rest of the house.  All I did was lay them on top of the original stair stringer.

how to make newel post

These new moldings have been sanded, primed and caulked and are now ready for paint.

This view shows all the moldings I installed on the upstairs landing.  The door trim is a combination of door casing and backband.

newel post at top of stairs

The moldings were eventually painted Benjamin Moore’s, White Dove #OC-17, and the walls were all painted Benjamin Moore’s Muslin #OC-12.

how to install easy large mdf moldings

We tore out the insipid “starter trim” that came with the home and installed some real moldings.

Materials Needed to Build this Newel Post

Special Order Woodworking Ornament

You can see all the details for the small flower ornament that fits in the capital here.

Pre-Cut MDF Board from Home Depot

I built this newel out of scraps from the rest of this project.  But if you don’t have a bunch of mdf scraps lying around, then you can go to Home Depot and buy some 2′ X 4′ pre-cut mdf boards to make your newel post with.  (This is not a paid endorsement for HD, because we don’t write paid endorsements on The Joy of Moldings.)

These mdf boards are usually somewhere between the lumber isles and the molding aisle, and are usually in a slotted shelf.  I’ll try to remember to take a picture next time I’m there.

It’s a little more expensive to buy these smaller, pre-cut boards, but they sure are convenient.  So I’ll price this project based on what those pre-cut mdf boards cost at my local Home Depot as of July 2012.

[You can find more detail about these materials on our DIY Projects & Inventory page.]

MDF-300 3/4″ thick 2′ X 4′

$10.87 ea. (1 ea.) = $10.87

More about MDF-300 here >>

MDF Board 1/4″ thick 2′ X 4′

$5.67 ea. (1 ea.) = $5.67

More about MDF-100 here >>

Edge Molding for the Half Wall Cap’s Edge

Panel moldings like this one running along the edge of the half wall cap can be purchased for about $0.60 per foot.  This one had some nice detail on it, but don’t worry if you can’t find one just like it.

Because the point of this molding is to cover the flat edge of the 3/4″ thick flat stock.  A small cove molding like CM-003 would work equally as well.

small panel molding

$4.80/8′ stick (1 ea.) = $4.80


This is a large cove molding that’s available most any place that sells moldings.  This image shows it installed on WAINSCOTING-100.

More about CM-006 here >>

cove molding for craftsman style moldings

$11.00/8′ stick (1 ea.) = $11.00


This is the same small ogee crown molding we used for our kitchen baseboard.

More about CM-005 here >>

crown molding small pine material lowes

$11.96/8′ stick (1 ea.) = $11.96


This is a classic bed molding profile.

More about CM-001 here >>

molding & millwork

$11.60/8′ stick (1 ea.) = $11.60


Another cove molding, but this one is smaller than CM-006.

More about PM-003 here >>

how to install moldings

$4.16/8′ stick (1 ea.) = $4.16


How to Build the Newel Post Core

The foundation of most of my molding designs is a mdf core.  This one is made from the 3/4″ mdf flat-stock, but you could use 1/2″ thick mdf too, I think that would work just as well.

I don’t have my usual number of step by step photos for this sequence, but there’s enough here to get you started on the right track.  I think the hardest thing for you to overcome is realizing how easy these things are to build, once you get the basic concept figured: mdf core wrapped in moldings.

Think From the Inside Out

This was one of my all-to-familiar improvisational projects where I was figuring out dimensions as I went.  And since each project has its own unique limitations, then you’ll probably have to do the same thing.

So start with your core.  I built this one in a “U” shape so I could slide it over the end of the half wall.  Once the core is in place then you can wrap the rest of the moldings around it.

how to build a diy newel post

diy newel post

Wrap the Core With 1/4″ MDF

Wrapping your core in the thinner mdf flat-stock is really pretty easy.  Mine is kind of pieced together because I kept rethinking things as I was building it.

The open panels at the bottom of my core ended up getting covered with the plinth.  You’ll see what I mean in Part 2.

diy newel post

Everything gets glued.  Every single contact surface.

The 45 degree miters that make up the core of the box get glue on both contact surfaces.  All of the 1/4″ thick mdf also gets glued to the face of the core.  I used my 23 gauge micro pinner to hold everything in place.

Victorian newel post


Posts in this Series

1.  How to Build NEWEL POST-100 for About $60.46 Part 1

2.  How to Build NEWEL POST-100 Part 2

3.  Before & After: Newel Post on a Half Wall

8 Responses to How to Build NEWEL POST-100 for About $60.46: Part 1

  1. Doug July 30, 2012 at 11:48 AM #

    Great photos and instructions! I’m glad you were able to post..I was heading in the wrong direction. You have effectively helped (or are helping) me turn an average builders-grade tract home staircase into a custom home staircase. There is no other blog on the net that I’ve found that does this. Youtube has some nice videos but the videos usually are not edited or scripted well enough to be useful. Even professional contractor websites (with their portfolio pictures) only show large custom home projects. No one seems to share this type of detailed knowledge especially in regards to builders-grade stairs with 2-3 return landings and a half-wall or pony wall. Usually jsut find project photos of wide, curved, massive, custom staircases that most folks don’t have in their home. This blog is invaluable in regards to the type of homes/construction most people have. Anyway, thanks again for an altruistic blog and taking the time required to post/share your work/skill/talent.

  2. Ken July 30, 2012 at 2:27 PM #

    It makes us very happy to hear that our blog is helping you out.

    And you’re right, Doug, our blog focuses on helping people design and install moldings in average homes.

    Your home does not have to be exceptional to start with, but can be made exceptional with the right kind of moldings at the right price.

    Good luck with your newel post!

  3. Frank October 13, 2012 at 3:13 PM #

    Ken, any issues using but joints when building the box? I do not own a table saw (only miter saw) to cut the long bevels. Thinking since this is paint grade I would be able to spackle and sand the joint line.

  4. Ken October 13, 2012 at 5:15 PM #

    Hey Frank,

    If you don’t have a table saw to cut the long bevels, then the butt joint seems like your only option. So just take your time lining up the joints and then spackle where necessary. A palm sander will help with the finish. You may need to sand, spackle, prime, sand to see how it looks. You may need to repeat the whole process to get the finish you want, but that’s just how it works. If you can, put the least pretty sides facing away from the side that will be seen the most.

    Jennifer’s dad restores old Pontiacs, doing all the bodywork himself. And something he and I talk about often is how you never just fill the holes, prime, sand and then paint. You do it over and over until you’re happy. Moldings and cars, same-same.

    If you have any other issues, just ask away. Good luck.

  5. Matthew January 2, 2013 at 5:24 AM #

    Hi Ken. I’m sorry if this is the wrong section, but I couldn’t find it anywhere else. I noticed you had some trim going up the staircase. How did you achieve this look?

  6. Ken January 2, 2013 at 7:12 AM #

    Matthew, the baseboard moldings you see in the background were very easy to make because all I had to do was add a baseboard cap to the existing stair stringer (the stringer is the flat board flanking each side of the stairs).

    The baseboard I installed in this hallway then was based on that stringer height and thickness.

  7. Matthew January 2, 2013 at 10:10 AM #

    Hi, how would I go about building the stringer trim? I’m in a new “cookie cutter” house that I want to be unique. They won’t be any carpeting on the stairs at the time I build the stringers.

  8. Ken January 2, 2013 at 11:02 AM #

    I’ve never made a stringer, Matthew, but I’ve seen a few decent tutorials over the years.

    Try One Project Closer to see if they have one. If they do, it’s certain to be very detailed.

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