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Staircase spindle movement

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RJ Joiner

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Hi everyone - this is my first post , and i start with a bit of a problem....
I fitted a set of oak turned spindles to a cut string staircase around four years ago , and the client has just informed me that they have come loose in places from the tread . They have sent me pictures and there is a gap underneath some of the spindles where they meet the tread. When I installed the spindles I glued in a 12 mm dowel using pu glue and also pinned at an angle. This has always worked and I have done quite a few of these jobs without problems .
My question is - 1 - do I try to remedy the problem ( i thought maybe screw / glue down through every other spindle into the tread and then pellet the hole )
Or 2 - tell them that it looks like misuse by the client and that I'm not prepared to get involved . Four years seems a long time to me for there to be no problems , and then all of a sudden there is one ...
I remember this was a particularly difficult , demanding and unreasonable customer who took an age to pay when the job was completed, so if I didn't have to go back , I would be quite happy .
What would you do ? .
 

bjm

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I'm going to start this by saying take every reply with a pinch of salt, including this. I wouldn't air a customer dispute on an open forum as it's difficult to offer impartial advice based on one side of a dispute - not taking sides here but there are two sides to every dispute and the only two parties that count are you and your customer. This turns it into a side-show.

My advice would be to start a dialogue - it might turn out to be easier than you think and goodwill goes a long way?
 

mynamehere

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Are you asking for advice how to fix the problem or are you asking for approval on here for not going back?

Cheers!

Ferenc
 

doctor Bob

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I'd fix it under your terms i.e. not under guarantee anymore, but fixed as best as possible, as a good will gesture when convienient to you.
 

RJ Joiner

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Thanks for the response . Its not that I'm trying to avoid going back to the job , it's more that I am interested in how long is a reasonable amount of time before you have to carry out remedial work ? . Four years is a long time in my opinion .
Also , if I did offer to repair it and I couldn't get it back to the same solid job that I originally completed , what would happen then ? .
 

Daniel2

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Can you post some pictures of the problem.
It would help a lot for people to advise.
 

Trevanion

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If you had any sense of craftsmanship and value for your own reputation and honour you'd go back and sort it as best you can, you wouldn't even be asking the question. If you had done it properly in the first place you wouldn't have this issue, butting spindles straight onto the tread, dowel or not is just asking for trouble when timber moves.

Don't go down the "misuse" road for the love of god, that's probably the most feeble excuse I've heard for shonky craftsmanship, unless they've taken a sledgehammer to it there's no way you can "misuse" a staircase.

In my opinion, just grow a spine and sort it.


Four years is a long time in my opinion
I know someone who made a pair of garage doors in their late teens/early twenties and forty years later the customer came back to them complaining it had rotted away.

I'm not even joking!
 

Doug71

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I would definitely go back to look at the job so that you can see exactly what has happened, it might not be what you think, maybe a handrail or newel or something has moved making the spindles lift. Handrails and spindles are there for safety reasons, imagine if something has failed and there is an accident where would that leave you.

Four years might sound a long time but for something like a staircase which has no moving parts or exposure to the elements I would expect it to not need any attention for it's lifetime apart from maybe initially the odd crack opening up from things acclimatising.

If you do visit you might see signs if they have abused or misused the staircase, you can then point this out and charge accordingly for any work done to rectify it.

Good luck.
 

LBCarpentry

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“Juuuuust pretend I didn’t see that email there....oh... what’s this...another sale on a blacks how pleasant!”

Probs best be a man And go sort out that staircase dude. Although there’s nothing worse than the return of that bar steward customer you we’re glad to see the back of....
 

Mcdemon

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Potentially classed as a latent defect unless you can prove misuse. You have your good name to protect here so a visit to establish the cause would be probably more beneficial to yourself. After all it may be an easy fix?
A bad reputation spreads quicker than a good one.
 

Peter Sefton

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I am not a joiner but the few staircases I have worked on are constructed to avoid these issues. The handrail and the wide string can shrink, I guess this is what has happened here. They both usually have a wide shallow grooves the spindles sit into, on the underneath of the handrail and within the string capping. The spindles are cut to length to fit and small fillets are cut between each spindle pinned or glued in place. This keeps the spindle from turning and when the timber shrinks the spindles are still captive in the grooves. The images below shows the principle but on a landing rather than a string.

Screenshot 2020-10-03 at 07.51.24.png


Cheers Peter
 

owen

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Four years is not a long time, fourty years yes, but four years is nothing, I wouldn't expect my staircase joinery to fail in that time. Go fix it otherwise prepare for that customer to tarnish your reputation.
 

owen

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I am not a joiner but the few staircases I have worked on are constructed to avoid these issues. The handrail and the wide string can shrink, I guess this is what has happened here. They both usually have a wide shallow grooves the spindles sit into, on the underneath of the handrail and within the string capping. The spindles are cut to length to fit and small fillets are cut between each spindle pinned or glued in place. This keeps the spindle from turning and when the timber shrinks the spindles are still captive in the grooves. The images below shows the principle but on a landing rather than a string.

View attachment 93543

Cheers Peter
A cut string staircase is different to that, the spindles sit directly onto the tread of the stairs. They're normally fixed with dowels or a mortice and tenon into the tread. It will be interesting to see pics of what has actually failed on this staircase?
 

Mike Jordan

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The proper joint between the treads and spindles on a cut string flight is a dovetail joint. Your method has the spindle hanging on just the glue on the dowel.
 

Cabinetman

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Yes I agree, to be correct a dovetail should be used, but in today’s world, niceties like that sort of go by the board, this is from the Richard Burbridge staircase site and they supply an awful lot of staircases.
837DA568-4C29-49A9-A536-C63B2946C46E.png
 

Mike Jordan

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When the photos appear I think they will show that the cut string is deflecting under load and causing the gap to appear. I can't think of anything that would make the handrail rear up and pull the joints open. Even the nail method shown by Cabinetman wouldn't show a gap under the balusters.
 

Geoff_S

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I've just "restored" our staircase and have attached a photo. The spindles are recessed in a square rebate and a nosing then over the top, not my design, that's what it originally was. They all had to be adjusted as over time they had all moved/shrunk but it wasn't that obvious because of the rebate. It's the same thing as Cabinetman has described in his diagram, but without that many nails (don't know why).

I wouldn't be at all surprised that a spindle had dislodged itself from an open string if it was just nailed & glued to the surface. All those years of people running up and down the stairs & maybe shrinkage. I guess that's why a rebate is involved to disguise any movement.

I'm not a professional joiner, the problem was that I couldn't, for love nor money, get any professional trade to take this job on. Many statements with mention of "open string" and shaking of heads. I think I now know why having done it myself.

So I think your problem is no rebate and maybe a glue & screw will solve it. Not sure it's ideal though.

Staircase.jpg
 

Max Power

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When the photos appear I think they will show that the cut string is deflecting under load and causing the gap to appear. I can't think of anything that would make the handrail rear up and pull the joints open. Even the nail method shown by Cabinetman wouldn't show a gap under the balusters.
I'm with Mike, definitely the string moving when the staircase is used. Given that the spindles are butted onto the treads your options are limited and your idea of screwing through the spindle into the tread is probably as good as any. Make sure your counterbore for the plug is flat bottomed and get some panhead screws of a decent length and you will be able to get some good purchase into the string without splitting the spindles.
As regards the customer tell them it's outside of guarantee but you are prepared to do it as a gesture of goodwill
 
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