Replacing A Broken Baluster: A Step By Step Guide
Aside from making a stair climb easier and safer, a handsome and sturdy banister (handrail and balusters) can be a decorative centerpiece in any home with stairs.
Think about it. Consider the classic movie, Gone With The Wind. Scarlet O’Hara would not have appeared nearly as stunning as she descended the grand staircase at Tara had it contained anything less than the elaborate balustrade. Not to mention that she may never have made it safely to the bottom of the steps to greet Rhett had the banister not been in tip-top shape.
Sturdy spells safety when it comes to a banister. A wobbly handrail and/or loose or broken balusters can be the cause of a nasty fall. Thus, enough can’t be said for the importance of a study banister.
A dress shirt gets it stiffness from starch. When it comes to a banister, it is the newel posts that give it its strength and rigidity. The newel posts are anchored to the stair framing. More often than not, this anchoring system is concealed below the decorative elements of the stairs. The handrail attaches to the newel posts and the balusters (spindles) are attached to the underside of the handrail. Balusters are usually housed or stub tenoned into the underside of the handrail and into the edge of a closed-stringer or an open-stringer stair. Sometimes they are simply butt-joined and secured with nails or are housed at the bottom but nailed at the top.
Strengthening a wobbly banister can be a major undertaking, especially if there is no access below or if the stairs are carpeted. Due to its complexity, this may be a job that is best left to a finish carpenter. On the other hand, replacing a broken baluster is a task that can be accomplished in short order by most do-it-yourselfers.
The first step in the replacement process is to remove the broken baluster. This can be a lot like pulling teeth – depending upon how the baluster is anchored. A damaged baluster that is butt-joined and nailed can usually be knocked out by driving its top end backward and its bottom end forward. If, on the other hand, it is housed at the bottom, it can be pulled out of the housing once the top has been freed. If it is housed at both the top and bottom, the baluster must be sawed into two pieces. The pieces can then be removed with the help of a pipe wrench used to pry and twist.
Be careful not to destroy the damaged baluster while removing it since you will want to use it in your quest to find a replacement. Although your local home center may not stock a replacement, they may be able to order it for you. A lumberyard or store specializing in trim and stair parts is your best bet. If they don’t have an exact match, they can usually custom fabricate one — though you can expect to pay a lot more.
If possible, use the old baluster to measure and mark out the required length and angle of the new one. If this cannot be done, use an adjustable triangle or, by holding the new baluster against an existing, scribe a pencil line to match the existing angle. Carefully saw the new baluster and check the fit by putting it into place.
The new baluster should go in the same way that the old one was removed. A hammer, finish nails, drill with a small bit, nail set and wood glue will be needed to complete the project.
Since many balusters are constructed of hardwoods, using a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the shaft of the nail, pre drill the locations where finish nails are to be toe nailed through the baluster. This will help the nail go in easily and prevent the baluster from splitting. As an alternative, construction screws with a small finish head can also be used. In either case, the nail or screw head should be set slightly below the surface of the wood to allow for concealment using putty or wood dough.
If one of the ends of the baluster is housed, apply some wood glue to the doweled end prior to inserting it. Any excess glue that oozes out should be wiped up with a clean, damp cloth. A touch of caulking and a tad of paint or stain will give your banister a clean bill of health.
Granted your stairs may not rival those in Gone With The Wind, but, then again, when all is said and done, your house will still be standing.