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How to install iron balusters

Oh, friends! The day has come. The day to REVOLT against plain wooden balusters and jazz up your staircase with iron balusters.
Iron baluster staircase: before and after
In the last post, I showed you how to stain your wooden railings… and today we talk iron balusters. Glamorous, glamorous iron.

Like this.
traditional-staircase

Highland Park Architects & Designers

glossy railing
Lucy and Company

I’ll take one of these giant swirly staircases, installed in my foyer, please and thank you.
eclectic-staircase
Edina General Contractors

We got lots of bids to have someone install these for us, they all came up at least $750-800. Price to do it ourselves? Around $150.


Y’all, this is a no-brainer:

It’s SO easy to do yourself. Just pocket that extra $600 or so and take yourself on a nice little weekend vacation, putting aside a little extra to send me some cookies as thank you. Chocolate chip please, and thanks in advance.

Materials Needed

  • Iron balusters (more on this in a sec)
  • Iron baluster shoes – an upper shoe and a lower shoe for each baluster (more on these too, in a second.)
  • Epoxy glue or hot glue
  • Any power tool with a metal cutting blade, like a jig saw (we use this one) or a reciprocating saw (this is the one we have.)
  • A drill with a bit like this
  • Amazon links take you to my affiliate shop.

1. Design your balusters

When you buy iron balusters, you have lots of options of baluster designs you can buy. Most companies have options like this:
Iron baluster options for stair railing

source

There’s a fun interactive tool on this site where you can play with different designs and decide what peels your banana.

Design is all personal taste. We went with a combo of swirly bars and straight bars with single or double “knuckles:”
Types of iron balusters

If I could do it again, I’d skip the scrolly balusters and go with a more simple baluster design, but as Henry David Thoreau says:


“To regret deeply is to live afresh.”

(Sometimes, decorating makes me overly dramatic, like a Shakespeare character shaking my fist at the sky and shouting at the moon.)

Yes, yes I did stop and google a quote about regret. That was just for you. No charge.

You should pick whatever kind of balusters you dig. You’ll also need baluster “shoes,” which are those little chunky parts at the top and bottom of our balusters. They’ll hide the old, larger holes where your wooden balusters used to live.
iron baluster shoe

Who wants to play a game? See if you can spy all the Spiderman socks that somehow made it into the photos throughout this tutorial. There was a very curious three-year-old observing this installation.

2. Buy Your Parts

You can buy the actual balusters at your local home improvement store (there’s usually a “stair parts” section with a few iron baluster options), or even on amazon. We ordered ours from a local place we found by googling around. They’re usually around $3-5 for a simple baluster, and you’d pay extra for the swirly pieces, and for each knuckle and shoe.

(As of the second I’m writing this, you can get 10 straight balusters together for only $3.60 each. That’s a great price. You’ll pay more for the more decorative ones, but definitely shop around for the best prices.)

3. Cut your balusters

Remove the old balusters (here’s how) and make sure there are no nails left in the railing. If there are, remove the nails with needlenose pliers. Then you’ll need to drill the holes in the railing a little deeper. This shows you how deep the holes are on our railings: approximately one man-pinky on the top and one or two man-finger-knuckles on the bottom. (We specialize in precision.)
How to install iron balusters: correct depth of railing holes
Essentially, you want to go pretty deep, but not so deep that you drill through the other end of the railing pretty please.

Andy used a block of wood to make a jig on his drill so he went same depth on all the lower railing holes.
How to install iron balusters: make a jig to drill a hole in the railing
Please note the emotional maturity required for me to restrain myself from making 6th-grade-boy-level jokes about drilling just the tip. *Ahem*

Now set your baluster in the lower railing hole and stand it up so you can mark a good length to cut it. You can just eyeball it, but you want the baluster to be long enough not to fall out of the railing, and not too long that you can’t stick it up into the top railing and set it down on the floor. Mark the length with a pencil or some-such device.
How to install iron balusters: cut the baluster to the right length
Then cut the baluster with a reciprocating saw or a jig saw that has a metal-cutting blade.

This little part is totally optional.

When we did this originally, Andy just held the baluster down with one hand and cut it with the other, but the saw made the baluster move all over the place, so it was tough. Make it easier on yourself and build a little jig to hold them in place while you cut them.

This is just a scrap piece of plywood, with two other scrap boards screwed in on top, exactly far enough apart to fit one baluster between them, and another board clamped on top to hold it in place while he cut it.
Jig to cut iron balusters
All that stuff is optional! The point is: use some kind of device to cut them to the right length. The end. Of this step.

4. Install!

Just stick the baluster right into the railing holes and set it down. How’s it look? Good, right? High five! If all is well, take it back out and thread the shoe(s) and/or knuckles onto the baluster, then put it back in the holes.
How to install iron balusters
The little shoes are still loose at this point, so hold them up out of the way while you glue the baluster in. And yes – you are just going to glue that bad boy right in place, with our best friend, hot glue. Put a little bit on the top end of the baluster and insert it into the railing on top, then set it down and glue the bottom too. Don’t be shy with the hot glue, friends!
How to install iron balusters: using hot glue for iron balusters
(By the way, if you read any “real” instructions on how to install iron balusters, they’ll say that you should use epoxy glue. But take it from me: you totally don’t need to. We found the epoxy glue to be messier and harder to use, plus it’s SCARILY PERMANENT. Once you use epoxy glue, you can NEVER undo this. Our balusters have been installed four or five years and all is still well with the hot glue.)

Just fill that hole with gobs and gobs of hot glue.
Tutorial to install iron balusters
Hold the baluster straight for the 4.2 seconds it takes the glue to dry, then just use an allen wrench to tighten the shoes and knuckles in place…

As long as you didn’t accidentally install the upper shoe backwards. Oops.
Installing iron baluster shoes
In which case, you’d BE SO GLAD YOU DIDN’T USE EPOXY GLUE! And you’d REWIND, take the baluster back out, fix the shoe and glue it all again. :) THEN tighten the shoes with an allen wrench.
How to install iron baluster shoes
If you have any knuckles, same deal: just hold them in place and tighten the little screw with an allen wrench.
How to install iron baluster knuckles


And you’re done!

The way I wrote this makes it sound like there are a lot of steps, but it’s very simple and can be finished in a Saturday. Buy and cut your balusters, stick ‘em in the railing, glue them, and tighten the shoes and/or knuckles into place. That’s all there is to it!

Install iron balusters to glam up your staircase! Surprisingly easy and inexpensive!

Have you ever installed iron balusters? How many spiderman socks did you count?

P.S.: I’m over at Pepper Design blog today sharing my top 3 design suggestions, inspirations and more. Swing by and say hi to Morgan for me – she has a brand new baby! (Awwwww.)



Let's connect

Comments

  1. I love that you used hot glue. Hot glue could save the world. Well, not really. But the sentiment goes with the overly dramatic Shakespeare fist-shaking thing, so.

  2. This makes me wish we had an open staircase just so I could add some fancy balusters to it!

  3. Branalyn says:

    I only counted one Spiderman sock. I feel that I’ve failed somehow. : ) I can see why you might regret not going simpler, but I like the scrolly detail. This is so much easier than I ever thought it would be to change out balusters! Also, on the sixth-grade-boy-level thing, I just got a new computer and there’s this thing that came with it so you can plug a VGA cord into it. The thing is technically called a dongle. There have been so many jokes about that…

  4. Fawn anthony says:

    I love how dramatic that change is! And you make it look so easy too!

  5. Barbara says:

    You = Genius

  6. cassie says:

    i have to say i am really digging the inspiration with the black railings, too….

  7. Love, love, love your style. Decorating and writing.

  8. Inspiring! I never really thought about iron balusters before but now I will :) And I know we will have plenty of spider man socks to count along the way with our two boys

  9. Kayla says:

    You are hilarious!!! Oh, and btw they look amazing!!!

    Blessings,
    Kayla

  10. cindy says:

    Funny, but everything old is new again. When we were younger everybody was taking out their iron balusters and replacing them with “simplier” wooden dowels. Looks great!!!

  11. Your staircase is so beautimus!! Your scrolly balusters are pretty! And if I had a dollar for every design choice I made and then regretted, I’d be a rich woman. But like you said, who wants to live like that?!! Good work Kelly! :)

  12. Debby says:

    I really wasn’t sure about this when I saw the iron scroll work. I love wooden balusters. BUT when I saw that the components are all separate, that changed the whole game. I just painted all the woodwork in my hallway (www.thedebbyproject.com/the-upstairs-hall/) and my husband thought we might make a change to the mini railing sometime. This gives me ideas now!

  13. Lisa says:

    Kelly & Andy, what an amazing upgrade to your house to replace the balusters and restain the wood! It looks so great, and I love reading your tutorials. They make me laugh AND, bonus, they’re educational. Thanks for sharing!!!

  14. Erica Deuel says:

    Amazing job!!! You guys make a great team!! XO, Erica

  15. It looks great!!! It’s amazing how much it updates the space! And who knew it was so easy to do it yourself?!?!

  16. The iron makes such a difference and looks so good!

  17. It looks lovely! Your posts on the staircase make me want to redo ours (add it to the list!)

  18. We totally hired someone to do this. DIY blogger fail. I was worried about the railings falling over on our two story walkway. :P

  19. Hi Kelly,
    I’m new here and wanted to tell you that your blog is AWESOME!
    I’ve been exploring and I’ve learned a ton! I especially like your how to on making a cordless lamp!
    You’ve made my bookmark list. I’ll be back!
    Annie XO

  20. Thanks for this tutorial. Great project.

  21. Now, see, THIS is the sort of project even people who can’t yet get rid of their house full o’ orangey oak can tackle. maybe while they’re procrastinating about ripping carpet out of a bathroom or something ;) Looks awesome!

  22. Staci says:

    I have never gone as far as getting a quote to get ours done because it seemed to be surely out of our budget so I loved seeing this post . Then I counted our balusters – 115 total! Our cost to do it ourselves would be around $1,100 without any decorative balusters. Ugh! Still out of our budget right now. But, I’d hate to see what a contractor would charge…

  23. omg. “just the tip” I was like in tears laughing!

  24. Julia @cuckoo4design says:

    It looks like so much work but with a great result! (and you crack me up as usual)

  25. Allyson says:

    I can see why your quotes were so high…..this looks soooo hard! Can I just hire you to come over and do it for me?! Yours definitely turned out amazing!

  26. Laura says:

    So you leave the top rail on??

  27. Berennisse says:

    I love this makeover! My husband and I starting to put together some ideas for our (eventual) stair remodel. We have white floating stairs that are (poorly) tiled. Any ideas on how to remove installed iron balusters? Ours are painted white and they did not do a good job!

    • Kelly says:

      Wow, painted white? That sounds rough! But they might not be too tough to remove. You can use a saw like we did to cut them in half, then just try to pull them out of the holes. As long as the glue they used isn’t too crazy, they might come right out. But if they used any kind of really intense glue, you might need some chemicals to break down the glue.

  28. KJ says:

    Wowza! Can’t believe you did that on your own. Impressive! But, is hot glue realllllllllly safe for this project? If someone falls and leans/lands hard on one of those spindles is it just going to give way? Or are spindles not for safety just for looks?

    • Kelly says:

      No, the hot glue just keeps each baluster from spinning, but each spindle is stuck up into the top railing and down into a hole in the stairs, so the iron would actually have to break in order to give way. The glue has nothing to do with the safety of the railings. Hope that makes sense! :)

      • Heather says:

        So how did you get the iron baluster into the holes since they clearly do not bend or flex. That is the part I haven’t understood. It would seem if they were short enough to slide in easily that they would fall out at some point and not be strong enough to hold but if they are long enough to go into both the top and bottom holes is seems that you would need to remove the railing first to fit them in. What am I missing? I really want to try this project!

        • You have to drill the hole up into the top railing pretty deep, then you slide the baluster up into that hole and set it down into the bottom hole. It’s a very tight fit to get it to slide into the bottom hole, then there’s enough extra railing at the top so there’s no chance of it coming out of both holes. It’s really hard to explain. :) It’s nowhere near close to coming out… I hope this helps at least a little bit?

  29. Candice says:

    Just spent a solid 20 minutes going over your stair makeover! Love the materials and colors you selected. Since the layout of my foyer is eerily similar to yours I can envision making a weekend job out of adapting your stairwell to give mine a facelift! Thanks for the great directions!

  30. M says:

    I can find the balusters for $3-4. Can u help. I want them plain or w a twist

  31. Wow! Great tutorial, great project & very entertaining writing. I pinned this & I’d love to tackle it. . . someday!

    Warmly, Michelle

  32. Andrew Chadwick says:

    I love how you explain everything. I am going to help a friend do his stairway and you gave me a lot of tips. However i am still stuck on a part. The new iron balusters we have are skinnier than the holes made by the old wood balusters. Will the hot glue be enough to fill in the extra space and prevent the balusters from moving around inside the hole?

    • Kelly says:

      Ours are skinnier too and the hot glue is holding fine. If it doesn’t feel sturdy, you could always go for epoxy.

      • Thunderchief says:

        I am in mid project with 83 balusters. My supply folks said an alternate to Epoxy which is a mess is the Locktite Adhesive that is marked 8X stronger than standard. I am just a little Leary of hot glue holding up. I am using a 10″ chop saw with a metal cut-off wheel for my cuts.
        One more trick, I cut a baluster too short, I stuck a wooden dowel snug-fit into the bottom. The construction adhesive should hold that pretty darn well. It was an alternative to ditching the entire baluster. The shoe covers the extension. No one but you will know about it.

  33. Allyson says:

    Hi! Your blog about your balusters is helping me, so thank you! I am in the middle of replacing mine. I am having a hard time drilling the holes deeper but your suggestion of the drill bit will help a lot. I do have a question about the glue…did you put the glue into the top and bottom? Mine are fitting pretty tight up top and then I’m concerned about it dripping down. So, I’m wondering if it would be secure enough to just apply the hot glue at the bottom. Thank you for any help!

    • Kelly says:

      I bet if it’s fitting securely already, you’re probably fine to just skip gluing the top and glue the bottom only. Good luck!

  34. Cari Brown says:

    WOW! Thank you, thank you, thank you for this tutorial! I’m buying a home with balusters that are too far apart to be safe for my young child – this will help me install extra balusters to make it safe and attractive at the same time!

  35. brian says:

    What end of the iron baluster did you cut? I’ve been told to always cut the bottom end…never the top. Btw I love your staircase I just ordered my balusters today!:)

  36. Brad says:

    Since you just used the same spacing as the old wooden balusters…..I’m guessing your 1/2″ wide balusters cause you to have more that 4″ between each one?

    That’s the problem I’m running into. Instead of 2 balusters per tread (wood ones that are 1-1/2″ wide), I need to make them 3 per tread to comply with the 4″ building code.

    Not as easy as you make it look here…..that’s for sure.

    • Kelly says:

      It may be that your building code is different from mine. My dad is a home inspector and he never said that we’d have to change the spacing to comply with code. Good luck.

  37. Yuri says:

    Your steps are flat and my base is at an angle. Does that make a difference??

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  39. Henry says:

    Wow! Nice process for iron balusters installation…Very much helpful…..
    http://gonzalesironworks.com/

  40. corinne says:

    I loved this!!!! Thank you!!

  41. Great tips! Extremely helpful!!!

  42. Tony says:

    Hello there, just asking for some help on installing iron balusters. My stair hand rail has a metal bracket under it. The wooden spindles are screws on the bracket from the top. Do I or Can I drill holes into the wrought iron balusters to screw them onto the hand rail metal bracket?

    Any help would be appreciated thanks.

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Tony, I’m not completely sure I’m picturing it right, but even if I was, we’ve only had experience doing it this way, so I’d be hesitant to say for sure whether it would work without having done it myself.

  43. I used hot glue originally when I installed railings, but after a few times of them spinning out of place, I purchased epoxy. When I originally purchased the balusters, I called http://www.lightedlandings.com about shipping, and they offered a baluster they had excess inventory on which happened to be the one I wanted. They were really helpful in getting me the products, and this tutorial was helpful with the installation.
    Thanks

  44. holly says:

    Thank you for the step by step tips! Super helpful :)

  45. Sean says:

    Hey this is cool. I was preparing to strip my golden oak railings and balusters, stain the railings and posts java and then paint my balusters white….but now I’m thinking the metal balusters would look way better and this seems like a boat load less work. Thanks!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] after we moved in: I’ve gotten soooo many questions about how we stained the railings and replaced the balusters with iron, so I’m finally, finally sharing how we did it. It’s a simple, inexpensive change with [...]

  2. […] we did on our house were our first attempts: removing the popcorn ceilings, painting floors (?!), installing iron balusters in the stairway, yada yada. I’d say 95 percent of the jobs were brand new to us. Since […]

  3. […] It's true: The spindles on your old stair rail weren't installed with the notion that they would someday need to be replaced, but don't be intimidated—they can be,  … How to install iron balusters – * View Along the Way * […]

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