I notice that older houses tend to have much more massive and finely wrought woodwork than new homes. For example, here is a railing from an early 20th century house:

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Notice the elaborate paneling on the floor siding. We can compare this to a typical railing found in a modern McMansion:

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Is it simply too expensive to have turned balusters and massive hardwood railings, or is it because the craftsmanship and knowledge to build such railings has been lost? I looked at some contemporary manuals used by carpenters to build staircases before 1930 and they are amazingly complicated with complex mathematical equations and drawings. Here is an extract of two plates:

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I got the impression that a carpenter would have to spend years studying this stuff before they could do it. Has this knowledge been lost, or are there still carpenters who can do it?

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    I think the former. If you have the money, there is someone that could build that for you. – ArchonOSX Sep 4 '17 at 10:01
  • @archonosx agreed – UuDdLrLrSs Sep 4 '17 at 13:19
  • Are there still cleaners who are willing/affordable to do all that dusting? – Andrew Morton Sep 4 '17 at 15:11
  • @AndrewMorton same solution: if you have the money you will find someone who will. – ratchet freak Sep 4 '17 at 15:14
  • It's too expensive. I'd have to send my kids away to private boarding schools if I had all that nice wood trim in my house. I wouldn't trust them around all that beautiful wood...and I can't afford boarding school. Hmmm...but I would like to get rid of my kids... – Lee Sam Sep 4 '17 at 16:39

Getting rid of the kids would be fairly simple if you put them to work as indentured carpentry apprentices making all those beautiful banisters.

Honestly the answer is several fold:

1) stately homes like that require immense upkeep and refurbishment which means money that most people don't have;

2) wear, tear, termites, and age don't mix well;

3) design and taste changes as quickly as a new magazine is printed;

4) many of these homes were built prior to current electrical and fire codes often making them deathtraps; and

5) given the previous four, demand has driven the experience necessary to turn these pieces out of economic reality. Supply and demand.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but I'm betting these five rank in the top ten.

I am all ears for more!


I think it's primarily cost. When I built my addition I put in hardwood stairs - just a simple straight run, wrought iron balusters. It easily cost me $1K-$2K in materials and a few weekends labor over what it would have taken to do the standard tract home staircase (OSB, carpet & drywall).

With hardwood, everything has to be perfect - you'll see every gap where something doesn't line up. And then sanding & finishing like a piece of furniture. Versus the tract home where you slap it together in an afternoon and the carpet & drywall covers a huge multitude of gaps, cracks, misalignments, etc.

A friend tried to hire somebody to do hardwood stairs in his renovation - gave up when it became clear it would consume his budget.


Really, it comes down to one simple thing: the lust for square footage and the compromise it takes to achieve it on a particular budget. Home buyers have deliberately traded richness of design and quality of construction for sheer size. Size became the standard for status, real or imagined, and folks decided that they'd trade quality and richness for the ability to play cornhole indoors.

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