Rehabbing a residential staircase by replacing wooden spindles with wrought iron is a project that requires at least moderate DIY skills. If you can use basic power tools though, the job is not too complicated. Sometimes the hardest part is removing the old wooden spindles. This post will address that process.

The tricky thing about removing wooden spindles is figuring out how they are attached – before you make any drastic decisions. It turns out that some spindles are easier to remove than others. It also turns out that what you have left after removal largely determines how easy it is to install wrought iron spindles.

Here is a basic guide, compliments of the Iron Spindle in Atlanta, Georgia:

Laying Down Drop Cloths

The first step is to lay down plenty of drop cloths. Why? Because you will be using a saw to remove the wooden spindles. Wherever there’s a saw, there is also sawdust. Drop cloths will protect the staircase, your furniture, and any carpet in the general vicinity. Depending on the proximity of doorways leading to other rooms, you might also want to hang drop cloths in those doorways to prevent sawdust from traveling.

Cut a Single Spindle

The next step is to use a jigsaw or reciprocating saw to cut a single spindle right down the middle. Cut it at a downward angle to make your life easier. Next, choose either the top or bottom portion and gently wiggle it back and forth and see what happens. The word ‘gently’ is key here.

If the spindles are attached only with nails, gentle movement back and forth will gradually work them loose. You should be able to pull both sections out without doing any damage. On the other hand, you could damage the staircase and/or handrail if the spindles are glued. This is why you should be gentle.

If gentle movement does not successfully dislodge the spindle and you fear you may break something by continuing, assume they are glued in place. The way around this is to cut the spindles at the very top and bottom in order to get them out. Then sand down the remaining wood to make it flush.

Removing the Rest

What you accomplished with the first spindle will dictate what you do the rest of the way. If spindles are nailed into place, you can cut all of them down the middle and remove them the same way you did the first one. If they are glued in place, you’ll have to cut each one at the top and bottom and then sand down what remains. Obviously, the latter process is more labor-intensive than the former.

As for removing any nails you encounter, it’s a matter of using a pair of pliers and a little bit of elbow grease. You should be able to get the nails out by wiggling them back and forth just as you did the spindles. Just do not be overly aggressive or you risk cracking the handrail or staircase.

Remember that those nails will have heads on them. Moving a nail back and forth while pulling forces the head through the wood until you can safely get it out. The more aggressively you work it, the more damage the head can do. So slow and steady is the right way to go.

Once your old spindles are removed, you can start cutting your wrought iron spindles to size and installing them. This post will not go into that process in detail. In all likelihood, installation will be easier than removal of the wood spindles.