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Staircase Repair

By Jim Sulski

Summary: Indoor staircases occasionally have problems like loose balusters or handrails. Here are instructions to make repairing the staircase a do-it-yourself project.

In the last decade or so, indoor staircases have gone from being drab vertical hallways to architectural statements in many homes, a homage to the staircase found in homes built decades ago.
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For the most part, staircases are maintenance free. But occasionally, a problem does surface on a staircase.

For example, balusters - the vertical posts that support the handrail - often become loose over the years as a house settles.

A baluster that's loose can be tightened with a wooden wedges or wooden shims.

Coat a wedge with carpenter's glue and drive it between the top of the baluster and the handrail with a hammer and block of wood. After the glue dries, cut the exposed edges of the wedge.

A baluster can also be tightened by driving a screw up through the upper backside of the baluster and into the handrail. Use a drill to start a pilot hole and be careful not to use a screw that is too long.

If a baluster is loose at its bottom end, it may be a bit more complicated reattaching it.

Balusters that are rounded are often attached into the tread of a staircase via a dowel rod - a small round wood stick. If the dowel rod has been broken and the baluster moves freely across the top of the tread, the baluster needed be removed and dowel replaced.

Start by popping the baluster loose from where it attaches to the bottom of the handrail. It might be held in place with a nail or glue.

The upper end of the baluster may also be secured to the handrail via fillets - small flat strips of wood that run between the balusters on the bottom of the handrail. The fillets can be pried out with a pry bar or chiseled out with a chisel to loosen or remove the upper end of the baluster.

Next, pull the bottom of the baluster out of the tread by pulling up on it. If the dowel rod is broken, drill out the old pieces from the baluster and the tread and replace it with a new one.

Coat the new dowel rod with glue and insert it in both the baluster and then into the hole in the tread. Then slide the upper end of the baluster back into place under the handrail and reattach it with a finishing nail or screw.

A broken doweled or rounded baluster can be sawed in half and a pipe wrench can be used to extract the bottom of the baluster out of the tread. Then pull down on the top half of the baluster to remove it from the handrail.

There are a couple of ways to replace a broken or missing baluster. The first is to search the local salvage houses for an exact or similar baluster. A second method is to have new a baluster built by a millwork house.


If the handrail holding the balusters itself is loose, that can be often be tightened after determining how it is held down to the newel, the main post at the bottom of the stairs.

Sometimes, handrails are attached via a concealed bolt or nut. By removing the top of the newel, you may be able to locate the fastener.

If you can't find the original fastener, you can try to tighten the handrail by toenailing or screwing it to the newel. Glued in wedges may also help tighten the connection.

Handrails are also attached to walls via brackets that may need tightening. Usually the brackets are mounted so that the bracket screws go into the wall studs behind the plaster or drywall. If the screws will not tighten, try longer wood screws or add additional brackets, again mounting them over the wall studs.

© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. June 20, 2005.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher. 

2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.




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