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These spindles are a modification of the traditional square topped spindles.
Instead of the top of the baluster being square and installed into that groove on the underside of a wooden handrail, these spindles are sharpened to a 3/4" dowel on the top-end... thus generating their name: "dowel-topped spindles"
I can't give you historical evidence but my guess is that they were invented to help some poor fellow that was installing a curved railing and fighting to put a groove in the underside of a curved railing.
With a dowel-topped spindles you typically use a flat bottomed handrail (ie. #4004). Since the top of the spindle is round you can drill holes in the underside of the handrail for easy installation.
It is also possible in a curved handrail application to line up the lower square portion of the spindle with the step, by simply rotating the baluster in the hole in the handrail.. a technique that is impossible if the spindles are square topped and inserted into a groove in the underside of the handrail. This feature is particularly important with curved steps.
A 38" spindle is typically used in all applications where the spindle is installed in horizontal handrails or mounted on the end of the stair tread in open sided steps.
The 38" spindles is used on the front of the steps and a longer spindle on the back (see below).
Most often the "Newel Post" or large spindle at the start of the handrail, is installed half way onto the first stair tread. This eliminates the 38" spindle on the very first step.
Thus to figure out the number of 38" long spindles that you might require for your steps is pretty straight forward. Just count the number of stairs where you are installing the handrail and subtract one spindle for the first step if the newel post is as we suggest. That will give you the correct number of spindles required in your situation.
For horizontal runs to comply with MOST local building codes you must NOT have a space bigger than 4" between adjoining spindles (and that is measured at the widest gap between the turnings.. usually at the top of the dowel-top).
If you would like to calculate the number of spindles you require for your interior wood handrail try this formula....take the number of inches of handrail that you require and divide that number by 5 you will end up with a pretty close estimate of the number of spindles you require.
inches of handrail / 5 = approx. number of spindles needed
( I usually subtract one for every newel, but this really depends on where you measured your handrail lengths from) Remember this is not an exact science and you always have to adjust to balance the spacing to fit your particular lengths of handrail.
A 42 " spindle is used in tandem with the 38" wood spindle above, in all applications where the baluster is mounted on the end of the stair tread (as in the picture at the top of this page).
Because of the angle of the handrail as it runs from the upper to the lower level, you require two spindles, a shorter one at the front (the 38") and a longer one at the back end. The 42 " spindle is used on the back of the step.
To calculate the number of 42 " spindles that you might require is pretty simple. You will need one 42" long spindle for every step. Can't get easier than that :)
These longer spindles are also used in the commercial arena where horizontal railings are quite often required to be 42" in overall height.
NOTE: I often get clients that are being told that an interior handrail, when the drop is over a certain height their railing must be 42" high. I have yet to have this confirmed by any building controls staff. Most often clients find that someone is trying to apply EXTERIOR railing regulations to an interior handrail application. Ask for confirmation or the building code section that they feel might suggest this is true before you jack up the height of your railing!
NOT that I am suggest lower heights, certainly if it is a very long drop and you have small children in the house, increasing the height of your railing is probably a good idea.
The dowel pin on the bottom is designed for easy installation. For all horizontal runs or those spindles installed into the step, you just drill a 3/4" diameter hole in the "base rail" or nosing or step, add some glue and insert. Pre finishing all the base rails and stairs BEFORE installation will make cleanup a little easier if some glue oozes out on installation of your handrail and spindles.