How to Refinish Wood Spindles


Wood spindles are found in stairway banisters or as part of furniture, such as benches and chairs. Spindles are long, round, and sometimes ornate pieces of wood that are formed by experienced woodworkers using lathes. The complexity of your spindles determines the complexity of your refinishing job. The more grooves and turns in a spindle, the more attention must be paid to detail.

Things You'll Need

  • Drop cloths, newspapers
  • Masking tape
  • Heat gun
  • Gel stripper
  • Cloths
  • Putty knife
  • Steel wool, medium, coarse and fine
  • 100-grit sandpaper
  • Stain
  • Paint brushes
  • Foam brushes
  • Shellac
  • Glazing liquid
  • Tint
  • Varnish
  • Face mask
  • Fans
  • Protect the area around your project with drop cloths or newspapers before you begin. Tape off any areas you do not wish to damage with stripping agents or paints and stains.

  • Strip the wood. If the spindle is painted, begin with a heat gun to lift off the paint. If it is stained and varnished, use a gel stripper that goes on thick and will not drip. Allow the stripper the appropriate amount of time to work on the old finish as dictated by the manufacturer. Wipe away the stripper once the appropriate time has lapsed, usually when the existing finish begins to bubble up.

  • Finish stripping using a putty knife and cloths to wipe away excess finish. Apply medium or coarse steel wool for delicate projects such as furniture, or 100-grit sandpaper for larger projects to remove any remaining finish and smooth the spindle.

  • Wash the spindle with paint thinner to remove all traces of the stripper and any dust from sanding.

  • Choose and apply your stain to the spindle using the appropriate sized bristle or foam brush, and using up and down strokes. Move smoothly from one end of the spindle to the other. Once the stain has been allowed to soak into the wood, remove excess with a clean cloth.

  • Allow the stain to dry overnight.

  • Wipe down spindles when stain is completely dry to remove any accumulation of dust or debris. Seal the stain with a coat of quick-dry shellac to protect the stain.

  • Allow the shellac to dry according to the brand's specifications. Rough up the dried shellac with four-zero steel wool, which is the finest you can find. This removes some of the gloss from the shellac.

  • Apply a coat of varnish to the spindle. Varnish will fully seal and protect your refinished wood spindle.

Tips & Warnings

  • Choose a glazing liquid and color tint to apply to the spindle if desired. While optional, this step serves to bring out highlights and low lights in detailed spindles.
  • Choose lint free cloths when possible for best results.
  • Try out several colors of stain before applying to your spindles to make sure you are happy with the color.
  • Always wear a face mask when working with solvents, paints and stains to avoid inhaling fumes.
  • Ventilate your work area by opening windows and/or running fans while you work.


  • Photo Credit three spindles image by Kokhanchikov from
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