Replace a Vintage Stairway Baluster

Follow these step-by-step instructions on how to carve a baluster for a stairway.


Home repair expert Henry Harrison shows a guest how to use a lathe to carve a replacement spindle (or baluster) for the front porch of his historic home. On his elbow grease scale of one to four, Harrison gives this job a three.


portable workbench
various lathe carving tools
face shield
utility knife



1. Remove a good spindle and trace the contours onto poster board to make a template.


2. Put a block of square wood into the lathe and practice using the gouge and sizing tools. Make sure to always wear a face shield when using the lathe.


3. Next insert the block of wood you'll use to carve the replacement spindle. Hold the good spindle next to the wood and mark points where the contour changes.

4. Line up the tool rest with first cut, lock it down and make cuts at each end where the contours start. Use the sizing tool to carve out grooves at each end.


5. Now use the gouge and to start creating the center taper. Use calipers to carve contours similar to the ones on the original spindle. Stop frequently and compare the original with your new spindle.


6. Set the lathe on medium and hold a piece of sandpaper by the edges while running it up and down the spinning wood to smooth out the spindle.


7. Take the poster board template and see how close you came to duplicating the original pattern. Continue carving if necessary.


8. If you're satisfied with your masterpiece, remove from the lathe and see how it fits. Prime and paint the new spindle before installing permanently.

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