The banister on our staircase has become unstable. Is there any way to tighten it without ripping the whole thing apart?
You should first try to tighten the newel posts — the large post at the bottom and sometimes at other points on the banister.
The bottom newel post, especially, frequently becomes wobbly from being pulled by occupants who use it as a hand-grip to climb the stairs.
The bottom post is sometimes attached to a joist under the floor.
If the underside of the floor is visible from the basement, look for the bolts that hold the post to the joist and tighten them securely.
If the post still wobbles, add another bolt or several heavy-duty screws to the part of the post that attaches to the joist. Be sure to use washers under the heads of the new bolt or screws to improve the grip.
Fasteners for newel posts are also sometimes concealed by wood plugs at the base of the post.
If you find plugs of this type, pry them out with the tip of a sharp knife. Tighten the bolts and replace the plugs.
Some old newel posts are fastened with long, rod-type bolts that penetrate the posts entirely. If you think you might have one of these, carefully pry off the post cap.
The nut on the end of the threaded rod can be tightened with a wrench.
Loose balusters (spindles) can often be tightened by driving finishing nails through their tops or bottoms into the railing or stair tread that supports them. The nails must be driven at sharp angles (called toe-nailing) so they penetrate both the spindles and the supporting wood. Use nails about 2 inches long and drill a pilot hole for each nail.
The hole should be slightly smaller in diameter than the nail. Sink the head of each nail into the wood with a nail set, and conceal the head with colored wood putty that matches the stair finish.
If you are unable to tighten your newel posts with any of these methods, you probably will have to have an experienced carpenter do the work.
We had some wallpapering done about two years ago, and some of the panels have pulled apart in places at the seams. Is there any way to bring the paper back together?
I don't know of any practical way to reverse wallpaper shrinkage, and it is usually difficult to pin down the cause of the shrinkage.
If there are a lot of gaps and they are unsightly, probably the best bet is to strip the wallpaper and try again.
If there are only a few gaps and you have some matching wallpaper, you can try patching. Here's how to do it:
Tape a strip of wallpaper over the damaged area, so the pattern lines up with the damaged paper. Use a sharp utility knife to cut through both the taped-on piece and the damaged paper, forming a patch that will fit exactly. Remove the taped-on patch and pull off the cut paper around the damaged area, then paste in the patch.