Ornate staircases—particularly those in older homes—can be difficult to repair. Their ornate and custom touches are difficult to replicate, and it often takes a true craftsperson to replicate balusters and moldings. General contractor Tom Silva is just the person for the job, helping one Queen Anne homeowner replace a baluster with a hand-carved replica.
Steps for Hand-Turned Spindle Replication
- Start by making a template of the profile using an existing baluster and a piece of manila paper. Hold the paper directly onto the edge of the baluster. Set the scribes to the largest distance between the paper’s edge and the deepest part of the baluster and scribe the top and bottom profiles onto the paper.
- Use the existing baluster as a guide to mark where the top and bottom sections begin and end with a pencil. Chuck the baluster into the lathe and mark these endpoints by carving a line with a chisel.
- Round the section between the marks slightly using a skew chisel held at a slight angle. Move the chisel back and forth, taking small bits off at a time until the blank is round between the marks.
- Stop the lathe. Place the existing baluster next to the blank and mark the blank at the high and low sections. Each mark signifies the end of a transition or the high and low points of the curves. Turn on the lathe and hold the pencil at each mark to continue the mark around the baluster.
- Use chisels to cut the different profiles according to the template and the marks drawn on the blank. Check each section with the calipers to ensure that they’re the same diameter as the existing baluster. Start with the deep sections and then move to the rounded sections, switching chisels as needed and using the template and baluster for reference. Repeat the process at both ends.
- With the top and bottom of the profiles carved, round over the rope sections with the skew chisel.
- Divide the rounded section into three perfect segments and draw a straight line down the length of the rope section at these marks. Next, hold the existing baluster in place and mark the deepest part of each section of rope onto the baluster blank. Mark the baluster the whole way down, and finish marking the baluster all the way around at each mark by holding the pencil in place and turning the baluster.
- Starting at one end of the rope section, place the end of the string where the first mark and one of the lines meet, taping the edge in place. Twisting the baluster, place the string at the next intersection, and so on, until the string spirals down the entire length of the rope section. Trace the string with the pencil. Remove the string, move it to where the first mark and the next line meet, and repeat the process. Finally, remove the string and do it one last time, marking the entire baluster with three spirals. This process should be close but does not need to be perfect.
- Using the backsaw, score each spiraled line to the appropriate depth the entire way down the baluster. Use a coarse rasp to grind away at the wood along each spiral. Continue grinding until the rope section is mostly rounded. Finish with the sandpaper, smoothing rough edges and fibers off the rope section.
- Use a rag and wax-free shellac to even out the different textures of the baluster. The shellac will seal the grain and even out the finish. After 10 minutes, sand the baluster with 220-grit sandpaper.
- Apply a gel stain to the baluster. Brush the stain on, allow it to sit for a few seconds, and remove the stain with a rag. Continue to apply the stain in this method until the baluster matches the existing baluster. Allow the stain to dry.
- Tom helps a homeowner missing original spiral detailed spindles from their staircase by hand-turning
replicas on a lathe.
- Then he traces the profile of the original baluster onto a manilla folder with a scribing compass. Tom then cuts out the profile of the baluster with scissors.
- Tom measures and marks the center portion of the baluster in equal increments.
- He uses the parting tool for low points of the spindle details.
- Then, Tom uses the spindle gouge to carve into tighter areas.
- He uses the skew chisel to carve into the larger areas of the spindle and to round out the edges.
- Tom uses a hand saw to cut slots in the spindle following the traced out lines from the string.
- He uses a rasp to file down the edges of the saw cuts until each section has a rounded edge.
- Tom then applies a wax-free gel shellac to the spindles to match the existing ones.