recliamed staircase spindles leaning against brick wall
Photo: Kristine Larsen
Turned balusters like these at Demolition Depot in New York City cost about $25 each, though dealers will often cut you a deal if you buy in bulk.
The fancy newel post at the end of the stairs always gets the attention, but it's the spindles—those leggy beauties steadying the handrail—that do the heavy lifting.

Before the Industrial Revolution brought mechanical lathes to turn wood quickly and cheaply, these spindles were typically unadorned, save for those in the grand stair halls of the super wealthy.

But by Victorian times, the plain little pickets that the less-moneyed masses could afford had been transformed with decorative beading, intricately carved floral patterns, and classical fluting details. Millwork catalogs from the late 1800s showed dozens of designs, as well as various wood species, to choose from. Builders often picked inexpensive pine for spindles, though, preferring to splurge on stain-grade walnut or mahogany for the newel and rail. They'd then paint the balusters to match the stair risers or other trim in the room.

Long ago stripped from the staircases they once adorned, most of the spindles found in salvage yards today are covered in that same old paint. On worn spots, you can see the different colors for each successive layer applied over the years.

The handsome patina of a muted green paint on a pair of spindles is what caught my eye on a recent shopping trip. To preserve the timeworn finish and to contain any lead-paint chips, I simply coated the surface with clear acrylic enamel.

Once sealed and protected from ­future wear, such spindles have ­myriad uses around the house. You can bore a hole through the center of one and wire it for a table lamp, or use a spade bit to create a recess in just the top to make a candle holder. For both, screw a vintage wooden corner block or rosette to the spindle bottom for a sturdy base.

Another great project is to secure a pair of spindles under a reclaimed stair tread to serve as the front legs of a hall console table. It's a stylish and thrifty solution for a space-constrained foyer. And it's so simple to build that even at seven months' pregnant I managed it with ease.
Ask TOH users about Salvage

Contribute to This Story Below