Replace a Vintage Stairway Baluster

Follow these step-by-step instructions on how to carve a baluster for a stairway.
arh250_3a

arh250_3a

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.

Tools:

lathe
portable workbench
various lathe carving tools
calipers
mallet
face shield
sandpaper
pencils
utility knife

arh250_3b

arh250_3b

Steps:

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

arh250_3c

arh250_3c

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.

arh250_3d

arh250_3d

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.

arh250_3e

arh250_3e

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.

arh250_3f

arh250_3f

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.

arh250_3g

arh250_3g

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

arh250_3h

arh250_3h

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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