Any carpenters here? (installing a handrail)

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This is not really a woodworking question, but I figure someone here can answer it.
My Dad is 92 and needs to grab onto things to climb the stairs. But for a short section of the stairway in their house, there's no sensible thing to grab.
Their house is plaster on lath if memory serves. Wood strips, I think, not wire. [This is an ancient memory. My parents had a larger closet made when I was a very young boy and I was allowed to bash away at the plaster for a little while. I remember being disappointed when I came back from school and found that the rest of the demolition had already been completed. ]
Anyway, I have no experience finding studs in that kind of construction. The walls are too rigid for me to just sound them out with my fist. I don't own a stud finder, but I might buy one if it's of any use in that kind of wall. I'm not eager to drill a series of holes that I'll need to repair, and then match the paint. If it comes down to it, I suppose I could remove the base molding and drill holes at the bottom of the wall, but the molding is finished oak, and a little complicated, and would be very hard to replace if an oaf like me were to damage it.
Suggestions? I imagine I'd use oak railing parts from the Borg, by the way.
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On 2/9/2013 8:16 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Tough to do with an inexpensive stud finder or other inexpensive electronics, and even Leon's favorite earth magnet trick won't work with some of the lath behind plaster walls.
The only way we've been successful is to start on a corner, measure the usual 16 OC, then pray/sound with a 1/16" drill bit ... small enough to cover up with a close match of putty.
IME, and no matter how much you spend on a Borg stud finder for a plaster wall, you end up doing that anyway.
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OK. Was 16" "standard" before there was sheetrock? (and yes, I'm aware that even if it was, I might not find that spacing) The house was built in 1939, I think. My house has plaster walls as well, but over "plasterboard"; like sheetrock, but with a grid of holes for the plaster to grab onto. Their house is just plaster on lath.
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On 2/9/2013 8:57 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Depends ... 16" OC, for a 2x4 studs in platform framed is "standard" in most codes dating far back; 24"OC is "standard" for 2x6 studs.
If the house is two story, and has balloon framing, which is not uncommon in houses of that vintage, you may find it closer to the latter (24").
I can tell you one thing ... you will not be happy with ANY stud finder you can buy at a BORG. End of Story
If you have to get destructive to anchor that thing for your Dad's safety, which is of paramount importance, Leon's suggestion about using a trim board behind the hand rail is excellent advice.
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On 2/9/2013 9:12 AM, Swingman wrote:

But still anchor the handrail brackets to the studs in as many locations as you can.
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I figure to get three or four studs; it's a very short run of stairs. And yes, I'll be a lot happier if I get a nice long screw to groan it's way in all the way.
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"Greg Guarino" wrote in message wrote:

Shop:www.e-WoodShop.nethttps://plus.google.com/114902129577517371552/postshttp://www.custommade.com/by/ewoodshop/
I figure to get three or four studs; it's a very short run of stairs. And yes, I'll be a lot happier if I get a nice long screw to groan it's way in all the way.
Greg...Wax the screws and the go in easy. WW
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wrote:

I always drill pilot holes for railing hardware rather than risk a screw breaking at the wrong time.
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It's two stories, but is actually brick, attached on both sides.

OK. I doubted that a stud finder would work well in this type of wall anyway.

Yup. That is the most important factor, but my Mom will prefer that it look nice too.
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I have a quick story. I helped a buddy rehab the old family homestead place to live in. It was documented in the family to 180 years old in 1985. That makes it almost 210 years old, now. Anyway, built with lumber cut off of the property. Cedar studs and poplar joists and rafters. ALL at EXACTLY 16 inches on center. Amazing. Perimeter beam, balloon frame, studs 19 feet long. On the other hand, I have worked on many much younger houses with totally random spacing, also. Go figure.
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On Sat, 9 Feb 2013 06:57:10 -0800 (PST), Greg Guarino

My 1939 California bungalow in Vista was built using full 2" x 3" rough sawn cedar and redwood studs on 24" centers. It also had knob and tube wiring which looked like a busy Union Telegraph Center in the attic. 1/4" ply topped the studs for the walls and ceilings, and the floor was full 1" thick by 4" (or 5"?) wide pineywood.
In demos, I've seen plaster over chicken wire, plaster over lath, and plaster over chicken wire over lath, but all had studs behind them. I think most were built 24" OC and built before WWII. Lath is spaced to provide a place for the plaster to overflow behind it and lock it to the wood. I haven't seen your holey lath before.
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wrote:

It was apparently called "rock lath" or "button board". Here's a photo:

asterLath.jpg
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On Sat, 9 Feb 2013 20:50:16 -0800 (PST), Greg Guarino

Whoa! Dat ain't lath like I know it. They're long, thin strips. Interesting. 18x36" strips? It's downright weird.
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wrote:

I found this:
"Gypsum or rock lath is a pre-manufactured plaster board, generally 16 inches by 48 inches in size, and 3/8 inch thick. Rock lath became popular in the 1930s as a less expensive alternative to wood lath. It is nailed directly to the wall studs and receives two coats of plaster over it. The rock lath is called the first coat and replaces the wood lath and the brown coat of the previous wet plaster system. The second coat is a cement plaster about 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch thick. The finish coat is then applied, which is comprised of hard finish plaster, and is approximately 1/8 inch thick."
Here's a photo of what this kind of wall looks like from the inside:
http://inspectapedia.com/interiors/Plaster_lath014-DJFs.jpg
In my house the first coat of plaster is darker, more grey, than it looks in that picture. But the "fingers" of plaster protruding through are very much like what is shown.
I can tell you from experience that that first coat of "cement plaster" is some pretty rough stuff. I used a regular sheetrock Roto- Zip bit to cut out around an electrical box (why, you ask?). It worked well for the first two inches then stopped dead, like I'd hit an object behind the wall. I pulled the bit out of the wall and inspected it. A 1/4" or so of the bit had been worn down to a 1/16" thickness, exactly where it had been in contact with the grey "cement plaster".
The positives and negatives are pretty much like what you can read online. The walls feel nice and solid, much moreso than sheetrock. But yes, cracks can sometimes develop. I haven't had too much problem with that, but here and there I've had to make a repair.
So here's the "why" about cutting around the electrical box. I had a location with two 3-way switches, one above the other. They were of the old "despard" type, which uses a plaster ring that is unsuitable for any current switch. So I had to cut out a piece of wall large enough to remove the whole double-gang plate. But the fun was only beginning. It turned out that the existing box had screw thread locations that are also no longer standard (they were inset from the corners of the box about an inch). And get this, the box was NOT located against a stud. It had an arm that went off to one side several inches which was then affixed to the nearest stud. So replacing the whole box would have required much more damage and much more repair. If the builders weren't already dead I might have had to kill them.
I ended up tapping threads into the corners of the *rear* panel of the box and using long screws to hold the new plaster ring on. Followed by an education in how to repair a hole in a plaster wall. Another "2 hour job" that took a weekend.
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On Sun, 10 Feb 2013 06:34:43 -0800 (PST), Greg Guarino

I'm surprised there aren't more pronounced fingers. That mixture must stick better than the regular plaster we use now.

UFR!

Condolences. That sounded like a real PITA.
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On 2/9/2013 8:16 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Know anyone with a ground penetrating radar unit? Call the Feds and tell them you "think" you might have a lead on Jimmy Hoffa.<g>
Seriously, two things to consider:
1) Use heavy duty Molly anchors. Drill a pilot for them first and if if you hit a stud, shift gears and start measuring for the rest of them.
2) stay with the Molly's if you don't hit a stud first thing, if you eventually hit one, just switch gears for THAT mount.
3) Go down to the Borg and buy a Zircon Stud Finder. Not the most expensive one, but not the cheapest either. I had their original one, a black thing with LED's that looked like a TV remote. Didn't work all that well. Took another bite of the apple several years later and got one that cost me about $20 - $25 and love it. WTH, if it doesn't work out, you can always return it for a refund, right?
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On 2/9/2013 8:16 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Could you possibly get on top of the wall, from the attic, and locate the studs from the nails in the top plate?
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On 2/9/2013 8:16 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Don't suppose you know how regular the wall stud spacings are, even, do you? Sometimes in those old houses they're as regular as a Swiss watch; sometimes not so much...if they are regular and there's a good corner at one end from which to measure, you've got a reasonable chance.
I've not used one so can't say firsthand but reviews of some of the better (as in higher-$$) Zircon and Bosch sounders worked reasonably well w/ plaster walls in a Fine Homebuilding review -- not sure otomh which issue; think it was about first of maybe 2011 based on a quick view of comments...
There are those who say the rare-earth magnet "StudTHUD" is supposed to be the cat's meow...
<www.diamondresource.net/index.php?page=products-stud-thud> I've not further info other than that on it, though...
One thing is that if the plaster is in good shape on a wood lath paster wall you can use a moly bolt and by getting across and behind the lath it'll be very strong even if you do miss a stud...
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I'd like it to be VERY strong. He doesn't just steady himself on the railing, he practically seems to pull himself up the stairs. I'll feel better, if nothing else, if I get the brackets into the studs.
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On 2/9/13 9:07 AM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Thinking a little outside the box.... Think about supports that come off floor flanges, instead of the wall. http://www.thehardwarehut.com/railing_components.php
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