Retrofitting a steel spindle balustrade

What you need to know about refurbishing an existing timber stair to accommodate a steel spindle balustrade.

So, you live in a period home and your existing staircase is looking tired and dated –  you’d like to give it a facelift.  You’ve seen images of beautiful minimalist steel spindle balustrades with an elegant curved timber handrails, but how do you know if it would work with your stair?

There are a number of things to consider:

 What is your existing stair made from and is the substructure sufficiently robust? 

This is the first question you need to answer before opting for this balustrade design.

In the majority of instances the spindles are fixed down through the treads into the stringer (see left)  – as such, it is important that the existing stringer is thick enough to allow for that. 

Sometimes it may be necessary to double-up the stringer so that the spindles can be screwed into or in some instances (like the image shown left) you may decide to conceal steel inside the substructure that the spindles can be welded into for additional security.  

This is something we recommend discussing with your intended balustrade supplier and/or an experienced joiner prior to commencing any works.

Are you planning on replace the existing treads? 

Whilst not every client does do this, it is probably worth considering if your budget can stretch to it.  If you are replacing a timber balustrade then the existing spindles will undoubtedly be thicker than the steel ones –  as such, unless you’re planning painting the treads, then there is going to be evidence of the old balustrade; and, even if you are planning on painting the treads, having had larger holes drilled and filled it could also compromise the strength of the balustrade. 

Replacing the treads will definitely give the best finish.  

Does your existing stair incorporate newel posts?

Typically when opting for this design of balustrade people want lose the newel posts.  Usually these can be cut down flush with the top of the stair tread, but they’ll often be integral to the structure of the stair so cannot be removed entirely.  This can be quite unsightly.   So this is another key question to discuss with your joiner to ascertain what can be done with these in your particular case.

How many spindles per tread will you need?

We often get people sending us images of balustrades with large gaps between the spindles – whilst we can see the appeal as these look very light and airy, under UK building regulations for residential properties no gaps in the balustrade should be greater than 100mm. 

Typically a standard tread depth would be about 220-250mm  – which means than depending on the thickness of the spindle you can sometimes get away with 2 spindles per tread, in which case we typically use 16mm spindles; but, often times 3 spindles per tread may be necessary, in which case we normally use 14mm spindles to keep it looking as light as possible.


Do you want the spindles to be top or side-fixed? 

In the majority of cases, owing to the typical layout of stairs in an urban terraced house clients tend to want the spindles to be fixed down into the tread; but, should the layout allow, an interesting alternative can be to fix them into the side of the stringer instead.  Not only is this visually interesting, but in the case of a very narrow stair maximises the width.  You might also decide to combine the two with certain areas being top-fixed and others being side fixed.

Timber or steel handrail?

Continuous turned timber handrails give a stunning, luxurious, timeless look.  

The way the process works is that we install the steelwork and then using a 3d scanner scan the steelwork.  From the scan a 3d model of the handrail is created.  From this file a specialist 5-axis turning machine then creates your millimetre perfect handrail.  Of course this 2-stage process does mean that the lead-time on this style is longer than if you opt for a steel handrail.

One thing to bear in mind for dog-legged is that the minimum distance on the inside of a handrail turn is approx. 150-200mm meaning the width of the handrail takes up a minimum of approx. 250mm – does your stair have sufficient width for this?

If budget is a big factor or if you like an ultra-contemporary angular look then a steel handrail is a good option to consider.  It is more economical than a timber handrail and gives a strong minimalist feel. 




If you’re thinking of refurbishing your existing stair and integrating a steel balustrade and would like to talk through your project please get in touch:

Interested in working together?