Replacing Stair Balusters – An Easy DIY Staircase Makeover


Is your staircase ready for an update? Replacing wood balusters with iron balusters is a lot easier than you might think and can completely change the look of your staircase, which is often a big focal point in your home.

My friend Leah's stair banister was bugging her big time because it was outdated and didn't fit her decorating style. The previous owner attempted a diy stair railing makeover that left a ton of drip marks down the wood spindles and a painted handrail that seemed to attract dirt.

Knowing I'm always up for a good DIY project, she called me to help her transform her entry with a staircase makeover and it was so much easier than I imagined it would be, so today I'm going to share the easy steps to replace wood balusters with metal balusters so you too can transform your space!

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Tools Needed For Baluster Replacement

  • Reciprocating saw to remove wood balusters (you could use a hacksaw but it will take longer and require more muscle)
  • Needle nose pliers to remove nails
  • Electric sander (optional)
  • Sand paper
  • Drill with wood paddle bit (Size will depend on the size of the balusters you install)
  • Caulking gun
  • An electric miter saw with a metal cutting blade (you could use a hacksaw but it will take longer and require more muscle)
  • Full seal safety goggles: full seal goggles are the ones that go all the way to your skin. This is really important for this project because small pieces of metal will be coming at you when you cut your iron balusters.
  • Small allen wrench to tighten baluster shoes (our baluster shoes came with the right size allen wrench)

Supplies Needed For Baluster Replacement

How To Replace Stair Balusters

Step 1: Remove existing balusters

Removing the wood stair balusters was really fast and fun.

Run your reciprocating saw through the middle of each wood baluster. Some will fall out and others will need to be pulled out of place. Be sure to lift the bottom of the old wood balusters out to preserve the edge of the existing holes.

Pull out any nails left behind by the balusters with needle nose pliers.

Step 2: Drill holes for new balusters

If you have existing holes, place one of your new iron balusters in the hole to make sure it's the right size. it should fit snuggly, but not too tight.

If you need to make the baluster holes bigger or create holes, first mark the depth of the hole by placing painter's tape around the wood paddle bit. Using a drill and a wood paddle bit drill your holes making sure to stay plumb (straight up and down) so you don't have crooked holes.

Step 3 (optional): Update the staircase railing posts, and base rail (board under the balusters)

The cost to replace the stair railing was out of the question, but it wasn't in great shape so we sanded it down to original wood and gave it 3 really nice coats of gloss white paint. This allowed us to update the stair railing without replacing it and with the new coat of paint it's easy to wipe clean.

We painted the wood stair rail and posts with a brush and used a 3 inch dense foam roller for the base rail being careful about our brush stroke marks.

Tip: your first coat of paint can be decently thin. After that be sure to have enough paint on your brush to give a nice coat and the brush marks will even themselves out. Let each coat dry completely. Use a fine grit sand paper and lightly sand and clean your surface before the next coat of paint.

It's important to let the paint dry and fully cure (overnight is best).

Step 4: Measure for new balusters

Measure from the hole in the base rail to the hole in the hand rail and add one inch.

Tip: Many of your balusters will be the same length, but there may be sections of your banister that differ in baluster height. It’s a good idea to take the measurement in a few different places along a section to make sure.

For plain iron balusters, measure from one end and mark your cut with a pencil.

For the iron stair balusters with decorative detail, you'll need to first determine the height you want the detail to be. This may require you to make cuts on both ends to keep the height consistent.

For example we wanted our decorative detail to be in the middle, so we first determined how much we needed to cut off of each baluster and divided it by 2. Then we cut that amount off of each end to keep the detail in the middle.

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Step 5: Cut metal balusters

Put your full seal safety goggles on and using a saw with a metal cutting blade, cut each metal stair baluster along your mark.

A couple tips:

  • It’s best to do this in an area that can be fully swept and hosed down after your project. There will be little shards of metal that you’ll want to clean up completely. We did our cuts in the driveway and it was perfect.
  • We worked in sections, making cuts and installing the plain balusters for the top hallway rail first. Then we made cuts and installed the detailed balusters for this section before moving onto the angled stair section, working on the plain balusters first, and then the detailed balusters.
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Step 6: Place the baluster shoes

For the flat baluster shoes, slide two shoes to the middle of each baluster making sure the bottom of each shoe is facing the end of the baluster and tape in the middle with painter's tape to hold them out of your way.

For the angled baluster shoes pay close attention! Slide two angled baluster shoes to the middle of each baluster making sure the bottom of each shoe is facing the end of the baluster and that the angles are going in opposite directions to mimic the angle of the base rail and the hand rail. - We messed up on one of these and didn't realize until it was dry so we had to cut it out and do it again.

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Step 7: Install the new balusters

Tip: If you’re installing a decorative baluster every couple of balusters, count out which holes will have a decorative baluster and place a small piece of painter’s tape next to the base rail hole to mark which ones will be decorative.

The cutting was the scariest part of this project but installing iron balusters is actually really easy.

Once you have your balusters cut, squeeze liquid nails into the hole in both the base rail and the hand rail about ⅓ full.

Then slide the top of the baluster into the handrail hole pressing upward to allow the bottom of the baluster to clear the base rail and go into the base rail hole.

Adjust your baluster so it's facing the direction you want it to. (If you're installing square iron balusters, be sure to stand back every few and make sure they're even.)

Once the liquid nails dries, you won't be able to make any adjustments!

Let the liquid nails dry and set overnight.

Step 8: Tighten the baluster shoes in place

Once everything is dry and set, remove the painter's tape holding the shoes in the middle of each baluster, slide them in place and tighten with an allen wrench. (The allen wrench often comes with the shoes you order.)

Tip: There was a small section of the staircase base rail that didn’t exactly line up with the angle of the baluster shoe. To remedy this, we got it positioned as best we could and filled in the gap with a little bit of black caulk.

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The Final Result Of Leah's DIY Staircase Makeover

We didn't start this project knowing how to install balusters but I'd say we pulled it off quite nicely. The new iron balusters with the freshly painted banister has created a really nice focal point for this open space and has definitely brought it up to date while still allowing her to mix in the style of her older pieces as well!

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The other final touch we completed was capping the two bottom stair ledges (the same way I capped the half wall in my own home) to match the top ledge. This simple update completed the look and makes cleaning the ledges much easier.

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Frequently Asked Questions - DIY Stair Railing Makeover

What is a baluster?

A baluster is the vertical piece of a stair case that helps support the hand rail between larger posts and close the gaps between posts for safety. Balusters are often decorative and are most often made out of wood or metal.

What is the difference between balusters and stair spindles?

Balusters and spindles are used interchangeably but often when made from wood with detail you'll hear them referred to as railing spindles, wood spindles, or iron spindles.

What was the cost to replace the wood balusters with iron balusters and update the stair banister?

The cost of your staircase makeover will depend on how many balusters you need to replace, the cost of the balusters you choose, whether you plan to replace the stair railing or update the stair railing without replacing it (like we did.)

In Leah's the cost to replace the stair railing with a new stair railing was way out of the budget. The best option here was to go with a white banister with iron spindles.
She spent about $870 on supplies not including touch up paint and caulk.

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