DIY Stair Railing Redo For Added Safety

10 Materials
8 Hours
One of my most popular posts ever was my modern stair baluster makeover back in 2016. My friend Savanna was aware of this transformation in my home and subsequently asked me to help her revamp her stair railing as well. Our DIY stair railing safety redo was more about bringing her balustrade up to code and making it safe for her little children. I felt compelled to help her so Savanna could feel confident this fix was a DIY opportunity instead of something she needed to spend hundreds hiring out.
You can see that her spindles are 6 inches apart and so she used a plastic sheet behind the railing to prevent her kids and animals from going between them. This protection was not sturdy nor attractive, but removing it caused Savanna stress! Many people have this issue with the stair railing in their home. Building code used to require a 6 inch space between spindles, but has since been reduced to a 4 inch requirement. This DIY stair railing safety redo will show you exactly how to remedy this problem.
Step 1 in the process is to remove the spindles and top rail from the newel posts. This railing was secured with screws drilled at 45 degree angles through the top rail into the newel posts. Savanna dissolved the wood filler that hid those screws using mineral spirits. Then I removed the screws with a drill and popped the spindles out of their holes.
Clearly I was happy with how easy it was to remove the railing!

Next in Step 2, we removed every other spindle by twisting and wiggling until it was loose. Each one had remnant wood glue and a finishing nail in it. Since we were changing 6 inch spaced spindles to 4 inch spaced spindles, we were able to keep every other spindle in tact. The measurement between them was 12 inches (of course) so we are just adding two spindles between each we kept.
Step 3: We took the railing outside and flipped it upside down to drill holes for the new spindles. Savanna used a drill and spade bit to make the holes measuring every 4 inches apart. Since her spindles are tapered, the top hole needed a 5/8 inch spade bit and the bottom hole that went into the floor needed to be a 3/4 inch spade bit.
Here are the newly drilled holes! The one between the newly-drilled holes will get filled with wood putty.
Savanna was feeling pretty proud of herself at this point! Using power tools successfully will do that to you.
Now it was time to address the bottom of the railing...
Step 4: I used the 3/4 inch spade bit to drill holes every 4 inches into the floor board just the same as the top rail. Then we started inserting our spindles!
The shorter stretch of the railing got all new spindles. Savanna found matching spindles at Home Depot and then stained them to match prior to assembly. The larger stretch of the railing has spaces where the initial spindles we left in tact would be inserted.
Step 5: Before installing the top rail, I filled in holes with wood putty using a 5-in-1 tool.
Step 6 was to put in the top rail and pound it down into the holes with a rubber mallet. We did add wood glue to the holes at the top and bottom of the railing. In this picture, Savanna is holding the top rail in place as I drill the 45 degree angle screws back into newel posts.
Step 7: We had lots of holes to fill with wood putty! We did this over the span of a couple days because in order to fill a hole this deep, we had to add the wood putty in sections letting it completely dry between. When the holes were completely filled and dry, Savanna sanded by hand with 60 grit sandpaper.

Be careful to go with the grain of the wood so the sanding marks are not noticeable. Step 8 is to stain the wood putty so it blends in!
Together Savanna and I completely this project in one afternoon and a few spare hours on other days staining spindles and filling wood putty. Savanna felt very empowered by this project and grateful for my help saying,

"I couldn’t have done this project without Melissa’s help! She is so knowledgeable & extremely talented when it comes to home makeover projects. Melissa is easy to get along with and always has a solution when a problem arises; she never gives up. I can’t thank her enough for helping me! Completing this project alongside Melissa made me feel so capable and accomplished."
The before and after is fun to see not because there is a dramatic change, but because I think we did a great job making it look like the stair railing was never modified. Now that there are added spindles to make the railing up to code and safe, Savanna can get rid of the plastic and rest easy!
This problem is so common! Be sure to share this tutorial with someone you know who could use this advice!

Also - if you're looking for a fun 4th of July craft, click here!
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  3 questions
  • Camilla Simms Camilla Simms on Jun 17, 2018

    I’ve changed out my wooden spindles for wrought iron and left the existing newels and railing. Neither newel is connected to a wall for anchoring. After installing the wrought iron spindles, my railing shakes. There is approx 25 feet between the newels. What can we do to stop the railing from shaking, without having to start all over and buying a new rail?

  • Becky Becky on May 22, 2019

    Hi! Wondering about painting an old pressed wood bedroom door. Looks like old dark wall panels look. Any tips would b great!! Thankyou!!

  • Darlene Darlene on Jun 14, 2019

    Where did you get the new spindles? How did you find them to match?

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