This is Part Two of my staircase makeover – How to Install Wrought Iron Stair Spindles. Part One – How to Gel Stain an Oak Handrail – can be found HERE.
If you’ve read Part One of my staircase makeover, you’ll know that our house was drowning in golden oak. It was EVERYWHERE, and I couldn’t wait to see it all gone. Ever since we had moved into the house five years before, I was itching to say goodbye to that golden oak bannister. But, the amount of time that would be needed to paint and/or stain the handrails and spindles held me back from getting started. Read More
Due to a variety of reasons, it was time to get rid of our carpet upstairs, and replace the golden oak hardwood floors downstairs with something that was more our style.
We were very happy to sub out the floor project, so we hired a local flooring company to come and install the new floors. (I know my DIY limits, and installing 2800 feet of new hardwood flooring was definitely above my pay-grade.) We didn’t want carpet anywhere, so we installed hardwood floors throughout the house – upstairs, downstairs, and on the stairs themselves. I figured that the new floors meant it was time to finally pull the trigger on the staircase makeover, and I wanted the handrails and spindles done before the new floors went in.
When I imagined an updated, no-longer-golden-oak version of our bannister, I pictured a beautiful dark handrail, and painted white spindles. However, whenever I thought about the amount of time that would be required to clean, sand, and paint those 72 golden oak spindles, I wanted to tear my hair out. Ultimately, I decided that it was well worth it to save my sanity and pay for wrought iron spindles.
Now, I consider myself fairly handy, and I’m willing to get my hands dirty. I’ve tackled some fairly meaty projects, and I’m comfortable using a saw. But, the idea of cutting metal scared the absolute BEJEEZ out of me. I didn’t mind doing the work and staining the handrail, but I was totally willing to pay someone to come in and install the wrought iron spindles. Some friends of ours referred us to a company that charged $18 per spindle for materials and labor, and I was totally happy to write that check.
And then I called the company. Apparently, they do really good work and get a LOT of referrals, because their outgoing message said something along the lines of “Due to the number of projects we’re working on, we are not providing bids at this time. Please call back in two to three months.” Um…what??? Our flooring installation was scheduled to start in two weeks. I wasn’t going to be doing any work on the handrail once the new floors went in – there was no way we were messing up the new floors.
If I couldn’t find a company that could come (RIGHT NOW) and install my new spindles, I would need to do it myself. Once again, I turned to Pinterest for answers.
Thank you to Kelly at View Along the Way for her tutorial on installing wrought iron spindles! I didn’t believe that this was a one-day project, but her step by step instructions made the project seemed like something I could handle.
After I decided on what type of spindles I wanted (more on this later), I shopped around quite a bit online to find the best price. Many of the websites that I found had really great prices, but the shipping was going to cost as much as the spindles themselves. I ended up ordering from Lowes – they offered free shipping to the store. The price of the spindles was a little higher, and they only sell the spindles and shoes in certain quantities, so I had to purchase more than I needed. With the savings on shipping, it was still the least expensive option. (I don’t get any sort of compensation from Lowes for this post. They were the best value for what I needed, so they might be a good option for you as well!)
When I started shopping for our new spindles, I very quickly discovered that there are a TON of options. There are almost TOO many options – it really can be quite overwhelming! Different colors, styles, twists vs. non-twists, hollow vs. solid. I used this website – it has a great design tool to experiment with different patterns and styles.
If you decide to use any sort of decorative spindles, think about your staircase and where those spindles will go. I made a quick sketch of our banisters to figure out my final pattern:
I changed my mind a couple of times on where the pattern should start/stop, so I was glad that I had drawn everything out. It also made it easier to keep track of how many of each type of spindle I needed to order. (You can see my notes!)
Initially, I had planned to do an every-other pattern: straight, knuckle, straight, knuckle, etc. And then my husband pointed out that each stair has three spindles, so I decided to go with a pattern of straight, straight, knuckle, straight, straight, knuckle. Basically, each step would have a pattern of straight, knuckle, straight; one knuckle per step. It made the overall measuring and installation easier, and gave a cleaner, final look.
I did a fair amount of research on whether hollow or solid wrought iron spindles are better. Every article I read said the same thing: both are perfectly safe, but hollow spindles are easier to work with (due to being lighter), and less expensive. Shipping is another factor to consider: unless a website offers free shipping, hollow spindles are less expensive because they weigh less. I went with hollow spindles.
With the new wrought iron spindles on their way, it was time to remove the oak spindles. It’s probably somewhat unconventional, but I used a jig saw to saw through the narrow ends of the spindles, about 2-3″ from the top. After I cut through the spindles, I wiggled the bottom portion until it came loose. The spindles were only glued at the bottom and came out fairly easily. To remove the top 2-3″ piece, I used a pair of pliers to twist it out. There was a long staple in that top piece that didn’t always come out with the wood, so I went back with a pair of needle-nose pliers and pulled out the little metal remnants. I probably could have left them, but I didn’t want to risk scratching the new wrought iron spindles during installation. Selfishly, I also didn’t want to impale myself!
On a project like this, I try to be conscientious about the amount of trash that will be leftover at the end. Rather than automatically send everything off to the landfill, I try to think about the possibilities for reuse. I intentionally cut the spindles on one end, rather than right through the middle. I was hoping that someone else could find a use for them. I posted them on Craig’s List (Free to Good Home!) and had 10 takers within about 15 minutes.
I had to ask the lady who came to pick them up – “What are you doing with them?” “Christmas crafts.” she said. Who knew?
With the old spindles gone, this was the perfect time to refinish the handrails and newel posts with that beautiful Java Gel Stain. I wasn’t thrilled about not having spindles for a week (Hello Safety Hazard!), but it was SOOOO much easier to apply the gel stain and NOT have to work around 72 spindles.
Now that the old spindles were out, I had a line of holes on the bottom of the handrail, and a line of holes along the bottom rail. I have to confess – I wasn’t super-exact with the measuring, especially with the straight spindles. I simply dropped each spindle into its bottom hole, held it up against the top handrail, and made sure to add about an inch to the top.
I would recommend that you measure and cut each spindle for its specific set of holes. I found that there were slight variations in the length needed for each spindle, mostly due to inconsistent depths on those bottom holes. If you cut the new spindle too short, there isn’t enough of the spindle to stick up into the top hole. If you’re using decorative spindles (or really anything other than straight spindles), how far the spindle sinks into the bottom hole makes a difference.
The cutting was definitely my least favorite part of the entire project. Whatever cutting tool you decide to use on the wrought iron spindles, make sure you are wearing safety glasses. Long sleeves and pants are also recommended. Picture all of the saw dust that flies around when you use a saw. Now imagine that as tiny bits of metal. Oh, and sparks when the saw blade cuts through the metal spindle. I only ended up with one “injury” – a teeny, tiny bit of metal flew back and stuck in my lip. Not a big deal, by any means, but I was really happy when all of the cutting was done!
After the cutting, I had to go back and adjust a few of my knuckle spindles as the knuckles weren’t all sitting at the same height. For any spindles that were sitting too low in extra-deep bottom holes, I came up with another unconventional, MacGyver-esque fix: I cut a bunch of “donuts” from the skinny ends of the old oak spindles. Each donut was about 1/4-1/3″ thick. By placing one of more of these little donuts in the bottom holes, I was able to adjust how the spindle was sitting in the hole.
Now that I had all of the new spindles measured and cut, I was on the home stretch! I was using baluster shoes on the bottom of the new spindles, so I slid those on prior to gluing. Baluster shoes are optional and can be installed on the bottom and/or the top of your spindles. They cover up the hole and any glue, and give a cleaner, finished look.
During the research phase of this project, I read a lot about what type of glue to use. I went with my trusty hot-glue gun for a couple of reasons:
With each spindle in place, I filled the bottom hole completely with hot glue. Because I wasn’t using baluster shoes to cover the top of the spindles, I had to be a little more careful with my glue application in those top holes.
After all of the gluing was done, I went back and tightened the screw on each of the baluster shoes to hold them securely in place.
After “only” six hours, the installation of the new wrought iron spindles was DONE! Had I hired someone to do the spindle installation, I would have paid about $1,300. My cost, including a $70 miter saw blade for metal, was about $500. As far as time invested vs. visual impact, this project was well worth the effort.
I consider myself fairly adventurous when it comes to home improvement and DIY projects. I’ve tackled some pretty big projects, such as pulling out the wood spindles on our staircase bannister and replacing them with wrought iron. I’m pretty comfortable using saws and power tools. I don’t even mind getting dirty, when the situation calls for it. But, my adventurous nature goes out the window when it comes to installing anything electrical.
Even though I know that I can check (and double-check) that there is no power left going to the wires on which I’m working, the (totally improbable and quite possibly crazy) idea that somehow, someway, the power MIGHT come back on really freaks me out. Like any wise woman, I save all electrical-wiring projects for my husband. Read More
Don’t get me wrong…I love my husband. I certainly don’t wish him any sort of harm (this isn’t THAT kind of blog). I think I just have faith that HE knows what he’s doing and has enough sense to not electrocute himself. Me? Not so much…
And while he is often my go-to guy when I need help, Chris does NOT share my love of projects. Depending on what the project is, he can be quite adamant that he will NOT be helping. In the 15 years that we’ve been together, I have learned that it’s usually better to do the project on my own. He’s happier being left to his own devices, and I’m happier NOT having my mojo ruined by a less-than-enthusiastic partner. (After typing this, I realized that in only four sentences, I used the word “NOT” in caps three separate times. That should communicate how much Chris does NOT like my projects.)
This post includes affiliate links for your convenience. Click HERE to read my full disclosure policy.
Back to my fear of electricity…
During one of my regular perusings of Pinterest, I found this post by Kris over at Driver By Decor. Now, I’m a huge Pinner, but there aren’t many posts that make me instantly hop online and start shopping. Her post about her new favorite gadget sent me directly to Amazon (I did not pass GO!) and I ordered this Econo Switch programmable timer:
The Econo Switch is a programmable timer that is installed in place of a standard, interior light switch. Not only did I install this for our front porch lights by myself (I did have Chris stand next to me during the installation for moral support), but it only took about 20 minutes and it worked right away!!!
There are all sorts of programming options, but I kept it simple and opted for the default program: the front porch lights automatically come on at sunset, and go off at 11pm. (There is also a manual on/off button; you can turn the switch on and off whenever you like, outside of the programmed setting.) As part of the set up process, you tell the timer the date and time and it is smart enough to keep track of daylight savings.
I’m not at all technically inclined (I leave that to Chris), so I have NO idea how the Econo Switch is smart enough to “know” all of this. At the end of the day, it works as promised, so I’m also not inclined to question it! It does as promised and was easy-to-install (even for someone with a fear of electricity), so I give the Econo Switch Programmable Timer two thumbs up!
We moved out of our starter home in November of 2011, and bought a house one street over. Literally. Our new home was less than a mile away from our first house.
I loved everything about the new house. The floor plan was perfect for our family. My kids would continue to attend the same elementary school, and our “commute” to school dropped from a mile to about a quarter of a mile. The street was full of my kids’ friends, and the backyard had room for a pool.
I loved everything about the house, except for the VAST amount of golden oak. It was EVERYWHERE. Golden oak kitchen cabinets, golden oak bathroom cabinets, golden oak laundry room cabinets. Golden oak staircase banister and spindles. The hardwood floor that covered almost the entire downstairs? Yep…golden oak. Read More
Coming in the front door of our house, you walk into a room with high ceilings and a u-shaped staircase. It’s the kind of layout that can be really striking and make you say “Wow!” when you walk in the door. Instead, all that really came to mind was a meek, “meh.” It definitely needed some pizzazz.
I wanted a darker handrail, and my first thought was to paint the spindles white. Gel stain and some white paint would definitely be the most cost-effective way to go. But, I was nervous to get started. Between the handrails, posts and 72 (yes, 72) spindles, there would be a LOT of nooks and crannies to clean, sand and paint. I wasn’t afraid of the project being overly-difficult or challenging, but I knew that it would take a ton of time. I’m not always the most careful painter, and I was afraid I’d end up with a lot of drips and glops on the spindles. I would need to really take my time to make sure it was done right.
I knew that cleaning, sanding and painting 72 spindles was going to be incredibly tedious, so I ultimately decided to just replace them all with wrought iron.
This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.
I figured gel stain was the way to go. I had used gel stain on the master bathroom cabinets at our old house, and I didn’t like the way it turned out. Because our staircase is the first thing you see when you walk into out home, I did NOT want this project to be a flop. So, I turned to Pinterest, and my fellow DIY-ers for guidance.
If you spend any time on Pinterest looking up gel stain, you will find that EVERYONE is talking about General Finishes Java Gel Stain. It’s kind of the current “It Girl” of the DIY world. The stuff is easy to work with, and the results are GORGEOUS! It was more expensive than the gel stain I had used in the past, but this stuff is worth every penny.
A HUGE thank you to the folks at Make It & Love It and View Along the Way – their tutorials were my bibles during this project. I took their suggestions, and coupled with my own experience in painting and staining woodwork, and followed the steps below:
Depending on which tutorial you follow, some folks say that it’s ok to skip the first two steps listed below. I didn’t skip them. I trust my fellow DIY-ers; if they say that they didn’t do steps X, Y, or Z and that it turned out just fine, I believe them. However, because our staircase is SO prominent, and because of the amount of wear and tear the handrails receive, I wanted to set this project up with the best chance of success to stand up to lots of grubby hands. Plus, steps one and two really don’t take that long. You’re investing a lot of time in this project, so go the extra mile and do the prep work.
Since I was replacing the oak spindles with wrought iron, I went ahead and removed the spindles prior to starting the staining part of the project. I figured that would give me a smoother, final finish by not having to work around the existing spindles. I took advantage of the fact that were removing the carpet (and installing new hardwood floors), so I cut a strip of the carpet away from the landing tread so that I had better access.
If your handrails are anything like mine, they get a LOT of usage. After thirteen years, they were due for a good cleaning. I use TSP to clean any woodwork that I’m going to paint. I bought one small box several years ago, and it’s lasted me through two kitchen makeovers and several Spring-cleanings. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for mixing with water – I use a big bucket and mix up about a gallon. I’d recommend that you wear some heavy-duty rubber gloves to protect your hands.
Dip a large sponge into your TSP/water solution, ring out the excess and then get scrubbing! Put a little extra effort into the areas that get more usage – the handrails. The posts probably haven’t received nearly as much handling, and shouldn’t be as dirty. Honestly, I didn’t spend a ton of time on this step – just enough to feel like I’d giving the whole bannister a good once-over.
Use painter’s tape to mask off any area that you’re not planning to stain. For the first time, I invested in the Frog painter’s tape (I used the “Delicate Surfaces” version.) My mom swears by this stuff, but I didn’t think it was worth the added expense. Having used it now, I don’t think I’ll go back to the standard blue tape. I’m not exactly sure why it works so much better, but the Frog Tape seems to make a much better seal with the surface, so you don’t get nearly as much leakage under the tape. Less leakage is a good thing – it means less touch-up at the end!
Any time I’ve painted or gel-stained any woodwork, I’ve always sanded to rough up the surface so that the new paint has a better chance to stick. Sanding is cheap (just the cost of sandpaper), and doesn’t take a lot of brain-power. With that being said, sanding is tedious and MESSY.
Holy schmoly, why am I just now finding this stuff??? Liquid sander/deglosser does the same thing as a light sand – it roughs up the previously-sealed surface so that the new primer/paint/gel stain can stick. It’s easy and inexpensive. It doesn’t create a bunch of dust that gets everywhere and seems to stay in your house forever!
Start by putting on some heavy-duty gloves. Put an old sock over one gloved hand. Pour a little bit of the liquid sander/deglosser on the sock – enough to get it wet, but not so much that it’s dripping all over the place. Rub that stuff on the wood – spend about the same about of time in each spot as you did when you were cleaning. When I first got started with this stuff, I spent a while in one area, trying to see if I could see a difference in the wood. I couldn’t. I also couldn’t really feel a difference either. But, when I got started with the gel stain, it stuck just fine, so the sander/degelosser had obviously done it’s job.
Helpful tip: Use heavy-duty gloves when you use the liquid sander/deglosser. I used regular, light-weight latex gloves for this step. The liquid sander/deglosser ripped up the gloves, and my fingers (and especially my fingernails) got pretty dried out. It wasn’t anything horrible, but I’ll use more heavy-duty gloves next time I use the liquid sander/deglosser and save the wear and tear on my hands.
Now comes one of the best parts of using the sander/deglosser: you don’t have to do anything else! You don’t have to scrap, and you don’t have to wipe it off. Just let it dry, and then you’re ready for Step Four.
This is where it gets fun, and you’ll get a glimpse of what your finished project is going to look like.
There is a bit of trim along the wall, and I wanted that to be white. I primed, and then painted, and then taped the trim pieces before I got started with the gel stain. This is where the Frog Tape “Newly painted Surfaces” came in really handy!
Put on some latex gloves, and put a fresh sock on one gloved hand. Dip your socked-up hand into that beautiful Java gel – get about a tablespoon on there to start. Working in small areas, rub the stain on the wood.
If it works better for you, you can use a sponge brush to apply the gel stain. I found that the sock method gave me better control – I was able to get a more even and consistent coverage. Plus, it was easier to get into all of the nooks and crannies.
You’re going for even coverage, but you don’t want to slap it on too thick. It’s better to do more, thinner coats, rather than fewer, thick coats. The gel stain does NOT self-level, so you want to make sure you’re getting a good smooth coat. If you are leaving glops of gel stain behind, they’re going to dry like that.
Now, I’m impatient when it comes to projects – especially when it means that my house will be tore up and in a state of chaos for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Trust me on this one – be patient and wait the 24 hours.
I stored my gel-covered sock in a Ziplock baggie, and was able to reuse it for the second coat of gel stain.
When your first coat is dry to the touch (and NOT tacky), do a second coat of the Java gel stain. At this point, you might be getting to your desired color. Wait another 24 hours to dry. I liked the color, so I just did my touch-ups at this point, getting any areas that I missed on those first two coats.
By now you’re tired of your house being a mess and you just want this project to be DONE, but you’ll need to stop. Do NOT pass go. Before you can apply your topcoat, you’ll need to wait 72 hours. Wait…what??? 72 hours??? Yep, seventy-two hours. You’re putting a water-based topcoat over an oil-based gel stain, and that gel stain needs to be dry.
After 72 excruciating hours, it’s time to apply the topcoat. Throw on a clean pair of latex gloes, and a fresh sock. Dip your sock-covered hand in the top coat, and then rub it on the wood. Again, you’re going for thin, even coats, so don’t go dipping your entire hand in the can of topcoat. This stuff is much more liquidy than the gel stain, and you’ll end up dripping all over the place.
Let that first coat of topcoat dry for XXX hours. Apply a second coat. You’ll want to decide how shiny you want your finished project. Each coat of the topcoat will increase the shine. After two coats, I was happy with the level of shine, and I felt comfortable that two coats would be a sold layer of protection for that beautiful Java gel stain underneath.
Step back, grab a (large) glass of wine, and admire your beautiful new staircase!