Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer and mom of two little ones. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals.
I believe you can love your home just the way it is, AND have the power to design and make big changes to make it better.
I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!

Tutorial: Replacing stair balusters. And upstairs hallway reveal!

The first project of our 2020 list is done! The original reason for doing this was practical--our stair balusters were way farther apart than current building code allows and our toddler could definitely fit through them and fall if he tried. But, our upstairs hallway (large, mostly L-shaped) has been boring and/or messy since we moved in and this project encouraged me to make some great decor changes up there too!

I'm really excited to share this tutorial with you--even if your balusters are correctly spaced, maybe they're dated or not your style, and the system we used (LJ Smith Stair Systems metal balusters and versatile level kits to install each one) is SO easy for seriously any homeowner to use.

Thanks to LJ Smith Stair Systems for providing these balusters and level kits for this project! I am just amazed by all the options they have, definitely check them out if you're thinking of redoing your stairs and contact them with questions! Their products are available at Lowe's!

We started improving this upstairs hall area last spring... removing the 80's carpet on the stairs and painting the walls helped so much! But we didn't really finish; we still needed to replace the light switches and plates, install a handrail on one wall for safety, replace the light fixture, and maybe add some art to the walls. And, I never let Otto up there since the gaps in the balusters were so big!

So I knew we needed to do something about the balusters but I wasn't sure what. I was worried about matching the wood look if we added balusters in between the existing, or removed and started over... it sounded like a big job. So I didn't decide on what to do, but then  LJ Smith Stair Systems contacted me and I checked out their options. I love the look of a simple metal baluster under a wood banister, and we could get that exact look with their metal balusters and matching level kits! I'll show you exactly what we did to replace these and change the spacing.

Keep in mind if all you're doing is replacing balusters in the same locations, you may be able to skip a lot of these steps of sanding and staining or painting!

How to replace stair balusters

You will need:

  • Equal number metal balusters and level kits (Oregon building code is no more than 4" apart, so we knew to measure the banister/stair length and divide by 3.75" or 4" to get the right number.)
  • Wood filler if patching previous baluster locations
  • Stain and varnish (or primer and paint) to match existing if patching previous baluster locations
  • Orbital sander if patching previous baluster locations
  • Chop saw or miter saw and metal blade
  • Standard tools (power screwdriver/drill, measuring tape, level, etc.)


1. Remove existing balusters. This was actually way easier than we thought it would be; ours were nailed from the bottom (through the bottom piece called fillet). Some balusters are on pegs with peg holes in the fillet; the LJ Smith kits come with three sizes of wooden pegs you can use to fill if that's the case on yours.

We actually didn't have any patching to do on the underside of the upper stair rail/baluster. Prior nail holes are hidden by the lip of the railing.

2. Sand lightly and fill with wood filler.

3. Sand thoroughly, with an orbital sander (once the wood filler is dry). We taped off the rest of the hall for this to keep the dust contained.

After sanding...

So smooth!

I also ran the orbital sander on the existing balusters, which were scraped up. This is a good time to touch up dings, chipped paint, etc. on the rest of your staircase!

4. Apply stain (or primer, then paint) to fillet and anywhere else you sanded.

When that's dry, apply varnish. You usually need 2+ coats, especially if you redid an area that gets a lot of use like the handrail.

5. Measure and install the top of the level kits. We used masking tape and Sharpie marks as our guide.

We actually went a little too conservative on our spacing because we wanted it to be even all the way across, rather than ending up with a remainder that was smaller than 4" on one side, so we went with about 3.5", but due to the thickness of the baluster the edges are only about 3" apart when finished! So we actually did more work and installed more of these than needed. Oops. I recommend just measuring 4" all the way down and having an extra narrow space at one end.

Screw in the top part of the level kits by assembling the ball and joint with screw going through both. Screw in from the bottom.

6. Install the bottom elements of the level kits.

There are detailed instructions that come with each kit, but here's the photos of how it worked for us.

7. Cut the balusters. You can do this at any time, but definitely before installing the bottom part of the kit and the baluster. They come 44" long, but ours were a lot shorter than that. It would be great to have a silver Sharpie to mark the length on these but if not, use pieces of scotch tape at the right spot. I didn't take any pics of this as Jason did it while I was working on installing the kits, but here you can see the metal disc/blade on our chop saw. This part wasn't hard.

8. Install the balusters. You put the decorative half of the bottom part of the kit onto each baluster, and then they fit loosely into the top of the kits and you can push them up enough to screw the decorative bottom part on. Until you tighten the top and bottom with an Allen wrench, they can swivel around so you can position the Allen wrench screws all on the same side.

Once in place, tighten top and bottom Allen wrench screws.

That's it!!!!

To really complete the project, we finally replaced the light fixture (similar/similar) and added some art to the walls. I also found a good place for this 5x8 rug I bought on a whim a while back--5x8 is an almost worthless size for most rooms (always too small for a living room or bedroom), but it fits pretty perfectly in this oddly shaped hall! And adds some nice color.

The vintage viking is from my husband's family. I'm new to adding quirky pieces like this but I like it!

The gold mirror is also vintage, thrifted last year on one of my tour des Goodwills with friends (we hit up 4-5 in one long morning!). I found a very similar one here though.

I liked adding the gold/brass elements to tie in to the doorknobs, especially now that we have some strong black in the matte metal stair balusters. I think they balance the warmth in here really well! But still feel traditional and like they work in the house.

We feel really empowered by this project and are so happy with this smart system for updating you stairway! Definitely check out the options from LJ Smith at Lowe's or on their website, so many choices and things you can do yourself!!

Thanks to LJ Smith Stair Systems for providing these balusters and level kits for this project!

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