How to Install Staircase Spindles


The vertical posts that support a stair rail are called balusters, but when they are made of wood they are frequently called spindles. While providing essential reinforcement for the handrail, spindles are a great alternative to metal balusters because they can easily be customized. Spindles can be stained or painted to coordinate with your design scheme, and fortunately they are fairly easy to install for anyone with basic carpentry experience.

Things You'll Need

  • Spindles (two or three per tread)
  • Finishing nails or nail gun
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Baluster fasteners and fastener driver
  • Miter saw
  • Wood glue
  • Hand rail fillets
  • Remove the handrail and any pre-existing balusters from the staircase. Depending on how the old balusters were installed, you may wish to refinish the stair tread and fill any holes that aren't going to be reused with wood putty.

  • Drill holes in the stair tread that correspond with the center of the spindle base. The spindles should be spaced such that a ball four inches in diameter cannot fit between them, so a space of about four inches between the holes is ideal. The hole diameter (drill size) should follow the baluster screws' instructions.

  • Dab a small bit of wood glue into the hole and turn in the baluster fasteners with the fastener driver. Set the spindle on the fastener and carefully turn it into place. If the spindles do not have pre-drilled bores in the bottom, you will need to carefully drill into the center of the bottom face.

  • Use a level to make sure the spindles are perfectly plumb. Check the level along all four of the flat faces on the spindle, top and bottom, and adjust as necessary. If the spindle does not have any flat faces at the top and bottom, use a plumb bob instead.

  • Mark where the tops of the spindles will meet the handrail to cut the spindles down to size. To show where the handrail will be, tie a taut line from where the ends of the handrail are mounted. Many handrails have a recessed groove, or plough, in the bottom where the spindles attach, so you should factor this into where you mark the spindle. Because the staircase has a downward angle, or pitch, the tops of the spindles will have to be cut at a matching angle. Remove the spindles from the tread. Set the miter saw to the angle of the staircase's pitch and cut the tops of the spindles at the mark.

  • Apply wood glue to the bottoms of the spindles and reinstall them, again verifying that they are plumb. Put a dab of wood glue on the tops of the spindles and firmly install the handrail. Reinforce the glue with two finishing nails on each spindle, hammering them in at an angle.

  • Cut the handrail fillets to a length equal to the distance between the tops of the spindles with a miter saw, cutting in an angle equal to the staircase's pitch. Put wood glue on the fillets and install them into the handrail plough with two finishing nails.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the spindles do not have square faces at the top and bottom, they should be installed by drilling holes into the underside of the handrail that the spindle tops can fit into.
  • If possible, a nail gun is recommended for installing the finishing nails.

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