How to Replace a Baluster
Fixing broken, wobbly, or missing wood spindles makes a staircase safe and attractive
Q: I have an old stairway with several broken wood balusters. How do I replace them?
—S. Christopher Hunter, Ypsilanti, MIch.
David Raymond, owner, Raymond Design Builders, replies: A stair with missing balusters is not only unsafe, particularly for children, it's about as attractive as a hockey goalie's grin. Fortunately, replacing them is fairly easy for anyone who can use a miter saw. It just requires some advance work.
First, you have to find new balusters that match your existing ones. It's unlikely that a home center will have what you need, but companies that specialize in building stairs or making stair parts, such as Harmonson Stairs, can often turn an identical one for you on a lathe. You'll need to supply a sample or two, intact if possible. For paint- grade work, maple is ideal because it's strong and smooth. For stain-grade balusters, ask the company to match the species, too.
Finish the new balusters before you install them, either with paint or polyurethane, then follow these steps to get your stairway back in shape.
Scope Out the Situation
On this stair, each baluster has a tenon on its lower end that fits into the tread. A cap nailed to the end of the tread holds the tenon in place. Finishing nails secure the baluster's top end to the handrail. (On other stairs, these details may vary.) Each baluster on a tread is a different length, so provide the company making the new balusters with a sample of each length.