Stair Spindle Repair

DEAR MIKE: I have small children in my house and one of them grabbed onto a staircase spindle as he was rushing down the stairs. The spindle snapped and I need to repair or replace it. Tell me how. -- Joe D.

DEAR JOE: Hopefully you didn't have to pull splinters from little fingers or worse. If your spindle is painted, you can try to repair it, but if the spindle is stained and varnished, you may be looking at replacement as the repair will be noticeable.

Look at the snapped ends of the spindle. They probably have mating jagged edges that can be pushed together. You will be tempted to dab some glue on each end and stick the ends together, but it won't hold for long (especially if your kids didn't learn the first time).

If you try this method, put the repaired spindle in a different location (where it is less likely to be noticed or broken again), and place an unbroken spindle in its spot.

A better method of repairing the spindle is to drill mating holes down the center of the length of both pieces. You need to buy a dowel (one-quarter inch diameter works well) and match the diameter of the drill bit to it. Cut a piece from the dowel three inches long.

You can clamp the pieces of the spindle to a solid surface and, starting on slow speed, burrow a hole into both pieces. Drill the holes to a depth of 1 1/2 inches. You can measure from the end of the drill bit to this distance and wrap a piece of tape around the bit as a marker.

Apply wood glue to each hole and to the surface of the dowel. Line up the jagged edges of the spindle, push the dowel into one end and squeeze the other spindle piece on. Clamp the pieces together and wipe off any squeezed-out glue with a damp rag. Set the spindle aside to dry for 24 hours.

You will probably have to fill the damaged area with wood putty and either paint it or stain it to match.

If you aren't so lucky with a repair, you get to replace the spindle. Home centers sell generic spindles from about $5 on up, depending on the quality. With your luck they won't carry your style.

If that's the case, you will have to contact someone with a lathe to turn a new spindle. Try looking them up under woodworking or cabinet shops.

If you take the broken spindle to wood workers, they will be able to replicate it for between $30 to $50, depending on the type of wood you choose and the complexity of the design. It costs more but you will have an exact duplicate.

Dry-fit the new spindle to make sure it is the right length. You may need to cut the bottom of the spindle at an angle if you went with the replacement route and if the spindle sits on an incline.

Predrill a hole at the bottom of the spindle at an angle (called toe-nailing) so that the spindle gets pinned to the floor material. Dab some wood glue on the top of the spindle and push it into the hole in the underside of the handrail.

Swing the bottom of the spindle into position and secure it in place with a 4d finishing nail. Countersink the nail head and fill the hole with wood putty, then just paint or stain the putty.
You might also consider installing some yellow "caution" tape around your stairs the next time Junior wants to chase a sibling.

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