This is Part Two of my DIY staircase makeover – How to Install Wrought Iron Stair Spindles. You can find Part One – How to Gel Stain an Oak Handrail – 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.
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.
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, more 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! If I had 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.