Porch Railings. Part 1.

With all the west-facing columns now returned to the front porch for the first time in many decades, the next Great Porch Adventure can begin!




The main porch, intact. Image circa-1910.



A close-up. Note the columns, railing, and lattice. All these complementary components work in tandem to create a beautiful porch. With pieces missing, the porch is like a beautiful woman…with several teeth missing.


Too. Yummy.

The columns, returned.



But you can see how the lack of railings and lattice rather kill the effect on the west porch.



On the north porch, the railing and lattice are still extant. Just barely.


The pitiful original lattice offered itself up as something which could be carefully measured for recreation. And, presto, such a miracle ensued, and in treated lumber no less. Whoee!

The north porch lattice has already been recreated.



The railings on the west porch were removed long ago. After I purchased the house, I found them in a pile in the backyard, wet, soggy, and rotting. Poor dears. I immediately hauled them into the carriage house, where they spent the summer and fall drying out. A few months back, I pulled them out, and tried to a ascertain where each went. This seemed, at first, a monumental task, but just ten minutes after starting all the railing were back in the only places they COULD be. Each rail fitted into X location and X location only. In this image you see an upper rail (bottom of image) and lower rail (top of image). Not how the lower rail “slots” into the limestone plinth (far right). Cool.


To my utter astonishment, and considerable delight, the moldering railings proved to be almost all there, and all were restorable. Dr. Doug is almost done with this task, and soon the 120-year-old railings will return from the hospital. Only one set of rails had to be created anew; all the rest have been restored. Truly, a miracle, as such railings simply do not normally last for 120-years.

Between the upper/lower rails are spindles. I found these in the basement.



Spindels galore! I was thrilled that all these spindles were extant. Then today, after laying them out, I realized that they are in pretty sorry condition. The three over to the left are the only spindles which are fully intact.



The tops/bottoms of the spindles are in poor condition. The rest of the old wood, under all the ancient paint, is mostly sound.


One of the three fully intact spindles, denuded of ancient paint. Is this not THE cutest, sweetest spindle you have ever seen? Just 11-inches high! Sooooooooo adorable!


So, while I knew I likely had most of the missing spindles, until today I did not realize that I may not be able to actually use 99% of them.


Do I:

1) Have the rotted bottoms/tops cut off, and new wood put in place? This seems reasonable, but spindles are best when turned from one solid piece of wood. Having a bunch of small pieces of wood cobbled together is a recipe for disaster, as the restored spindles will fall apart within ten years. Still, I cringe at the idea of abandoning the original spindles.

2) Have all new spindles made. This way, the spindles would be turned from a single piece of wood (likely red cedar) as they were originally. Still, no new wood will be as good as the original old-growth wood.

Well, I invite your thoughts! I will also be researching the issues over the next few weeks, and look forward to having conversations with companies which can recreate my spindles.

The learning curve begins!



  1. Andrew on March 4, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Cool! What did you use to remove all of that old paint? Second, do you have to comply with 2015 building codes that apply to the height of your porch railing or will this be an issue?

    Asking for a friend. 🙂


    • Ross on March 4, 2015 at 8:25 am

      The paint came off easily with a paint scraper. Used a mask!

      My porches are grandfathered in. So, I can put the porches back the way they were. If I were to add on a new porch to the house (horrors!), it would have to comply with current buildings codes, and the railings would have to be much higher.

  2. ken on March 4, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    Did you get my post about westomillworks for your doors.Were there ever any pictures or writings about how the cross house was decorated when they lived there.

  3. Rick on March 4, 2015 at 7:03 pm

    I’m trying to get into the mindset of the person who would throw away the railings and keep the spindles. They would need to come apart together right? Well you had the good fortune of them still being in the yard, amazing. You have said before the house must be blessed. I will either start or join the save the spindles fan club Ross. Their not load bearing, cut the top and bottoms off glue and screw the new parts on add wood filler or calking and paint. All that’s left is the regular maintenance that comes with owning a home. Good luck.

  4. Barb Sanford on March 4, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    I count 80 spindles. If you decide to go with Rick’s suggestion, they’ll be part of the new port railing. If you decide it’s best to start from scratch with new turned spindles, I’d put them in the basement with the other bits of history that have accumulated there. They’re just to sweet to let go.

  5. Chad's Crooked House on March 9, 2015 at 11:55 am

    I’ve noticed that a lot of my favorite houses – yours, the one in Atlantic City, and some bigger and fancier ones in Philadelphia, the railings are clearly lower than what meets code. What does one do about this? I assume that if they were always there, they are grandfathered in… but I’ve wondered how I would handle a proper restoration of a pretty, low old railing that’s long gone.

    • Ross on March 9, 2015 at 12:29 pm

      Yes, my low railings are grandfathered in. And, even if they were gone, but I had evidence (archival images, physical evidence) showing what they used to be, I could reinstate them.

      • Chad's Crooked House on March 9, 2015 at 2:08 pm

        ah so I might be able to do that if I ever buy a place with 36 inch railings that I don’t like… I assume only if it’s a listed historic building.

  6. Montana Channing on February 25, 2016 at 3:23 am

    I say new ones. If you cobble pieces together you are just asking for rot. They are pretty simple symmetrical turnings.

  7. David Wallis on November 27, 2016 at 10:50 am

    Since we know that wooden porch spindles don’t have a long expected lifespan, perhaps it would be better to have them reproduced in the same resin that was used for the replacement capitals of your columns. Another thought is that maybe new spindles can be turned from treated wood.

  8. Grace Collins on April 17, 2017 at 8:11 am

    Ross, Have you spoken to your local museum? Most have wood conservators who could offer expert advice on preservation methods refer you to just the right person. Of course your spindles have a job to do in an exposed environment, but if they can preserve timbers that have spent centuries underwater they might have some answers. Regards GC

  9. Chris Brandt on January 31, 2018 at 8:18 am

    If you’re hardcore, you could buy sinker cypress to use for this application. I had fleeting thoughts of doing this for restoring missing exterior trim and window casework on our 1928 tudor, but ended up going a slightly more affordable route of remaking these lost pieces with quarter-sawn oak (yeah I know…gasp). White oak is still very good for rot resistance and quarter-sawn oak is very dimensionally stable and resists warping.

    A lot of the grander 1920s homes up here in Rochester used a mix of cypress and white oak for exterior millwork…the most grand of the homes used solely white oak.

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