We receive calls on a fairly regular basis from customers who want to know how to fix loose balusters or stop a baluster from rattling. It is a common occurrence for both dowel top, or pin top wood balusters and wrought iron balusters, and there is an amazingly simple solution, but I’ll get to that shortly. First, let it be known that even professional installations occasionally result in a loose baluster or two, so don’t be too hard on yourself or whoever installed the balustrade. If the system as a whole is structurally sound and a quality product, don’t worry too much about one or two loose balusters. However, that doesn’t mean you have to live with rattling every time you walk up the stairs.
Most balusters, wood or iron, are installed into holes in the floor or shoe plate and into the handrail. This is true as long as they have a dowel top. Usually, wood balusters are installed with a small amount of wood glue in the hole and a finishing nail. Sometimes the finish nail can curve up into the hole and not actually penetrate the handrail, or a hard bump can even break the glue-joint. The best way to fix a rattling wood baluster is to simply re-nail it. This is done by shooting a finish nail into the baluster where it meets the handrail. The nail goes through the dowel top and into the handrail on the opposite side. However, there is another method if you don’t have a finish nail gun or if you have wrought iron spindles: a toothpick. Yep, that is the professional secret to securing loose balusters. Wood toothpicks are perfect miniature shims for this application.
Amazing how simple it is, isn’t it? You just need a small wedge to hold the baluster securely, so it can’t move and rattle as you walk by. Although any toothpick will do, the best type is the flat version. Simply add a little wood glue to the toothpick (on the side facing the wood rail if you have iron balusters) and then push it into place. Wedge it as tightly as you can with your fingers. Then using a utility knife, place the sharp edge against the toothpick 1/8” or so down from the handrail as if you were going to cut it. Don’t cut through yet, though; instead, use the utility knife blade to slide the toothpick father up into the hole. Once it is deep enough, and the baluster is secure (this may take more than one toothpick in some cases), you simply trim the toothpick shim flush with the bottom of the rail. Wipe off any excess wood glue, and you are done.
You can use this method top and bottom as long as the loose balusters are intermittent and the guardrail is secure; there should be no worries with the overall strength of the system.