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The best baluster spacing formula

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  • The best baluster spacing formula

    There has to be at least 10 different ways to calculate baluster spacing out there.

    What is your formula?
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  • #2
    Re: The best baluster spacing formula


    I decide what spacing will meet code then subract a little.

    I measure between all newels then add one spindle diameter.

    I divide each of these measurements by the code spacing. Say it's 4.625"

    I get a bunch of numbers like 17.34 and 28.72 and 8.64

    I round those numbers. The 17.34 one I would go 16, 17,18 and divide the measurement (plus one spindle diameter) between newels/walls by 16, 17, and 18. That gives me three sets of spacing for each section of railing.

    I compare them all and pick the spacings that are the closest to the same for all the sets.

    I put the spacing into the memory of my calculator. Then I poke plus memory recall, plus memory recall, plus memory recall.

    Then I butt the tape to a newel, go out the spacing make a mark and that's the further edge of the spindle from the newell or wall.

    If they are curved as so many of mine were, I rip a bunch of thin, straight grained stlcks, cut them so they fit between newels etc. Mark which one goes where and do my measurements and layouts on them.

    If they want them the same as the handrail spindles, I just get the closest whole number to that spacing.

    All right! All right! Sometimes I cheat just a little bit. But only if somebody's being an @$$****.

    Last edited by; 09-25-2006, 08:02 PM.
    "Experience" is what you get only just right after you needed it.


    • #3
      Re: The best baluster spacing formula

      Originally posted by Greg Di View Post
      What is your formula?
      Measure distance between newels/posts (55.125"). Subtract 4" and divide by 4"+baluster width ({55.125-4}/{4+1.5}=9.295). I round my quotient up and that number is the number of balusters (10).

      Now, I multiply the number of balusters by their width (10*1.5=15). This give me the amount of space that all of my balusters will occupy, which also tells how many inches I have for the space between the balusters.

      I divide this "space" by the number of balusters + one (40.125/11=3.648).

      Now I know exactly where to place my first mark so I will end up with equal spaces. I then add the width of the balusters to my spacing (3.648+1.5=5.148) and store that in memory. The calculator I use has a function where I can repeat a function by just hitting the equal sign, so I just keep adding the total unit length (5.148) until I place the last baluster.
      Jon Blakemore


      • #4
        Re: The best baluster spacing formula


        We do the marking on a scrap that fits between the posts on every layout:

        1. It allows us to make small (less than a 1/16th) for the spacing in the middle of the layout if they don't come out exactly right. So we don't have to erase and re-layout.

        2. we mark for the bottom of the spindles. Use a level to transfer the mark up to the rail at each end (this gives us two referance points to make sure we are not making a mistake). Then we use the layout scrap in to mark off the rail.

        Since we have been doing this: the balusters are always parralel, always plumb, we can drill the rail on the flor before installing it on the post so there is no dust in out face and it is much easier to drill on the floor than up into the rail.
        "We do not see things as they are; we see things as we are" -Talmud


        • #5
          Re: The best baluster spacing formula

          This is how I do it when I want equal spaces everywhere. Just imagine a baluster buried on the edge of each post, and measure the OC distance between them. Keep dividing that number until you have your spacing right.
          Attached Files
          Last edited by Joe Wood; 09-26-2006, 09:28 AM.


          • #6
            Re: The best baluster spacing formula

            Originally posted by Joe Wood View Post
            Just imagine a baluster buried on the edge of each post, and measure the OC distance between them.
            Which equals distance between posts plus one spindle diameter/width.

            Originally posted by Trim Carp View Post
            We do the marking on a scrap that fits between the posts on every layout:
            Most of my guys did it this way as well. It is certainly an excellent way to do it. It also has the advantage that you can endo the ripping to check your layout, and use the ripping to layout directly onto the handrail by evening up the two ends in cases where newel base and cap are different widths.

            I personally did not do it this way because I never got a chance to get my sheet together enough to keep track of everything, since I had to stop all the time to talk to somebody or go bid another job.

            I checked my first and last mark with a tape then used a short stick with 4 or 5 centers marked to check the rest.

            Originally posted by Jon Blakemore View Post
            I add the width of the balusters to my spacing (3.648+1.5=5.148) and store that in memory.
            Jon is doing the same thing as the rest of us as well. He just subtracts out
            the sum of all the spindle diameters in the beginning then adds them back in at the end, one to each spacing length.

            So basically, Greg, you have the same technique done in different orders. I would use separate layout sticks for each run if I didn't have to worry about the cleanup crews throwing them in the dumpster every time I left the job.

            Actually, when I was younger, and had a loud voice and a short temper, I think it was my own perverse crew who used to throw them out when I was gone just to have some good entertainment, on dull days, when I got back.

            "Experience" is what you get only just right after you needed it.


            • #7
              Re: The best baluster spacing formula

              Measure between posts, and add thickness of one baluster. Divide that number by the sum of the code-allowed space between balusters, and the baluster's thickness at its thinnest point. Round that number up to next whole number. That's how many spaces you'll have.

              Divide the number of spaces into the distance between posts, including the baluster thickness, to get the spacing. Put that number in memory. Find the center-point between posts, and layout from there in both directions. If the number of spaces is 'even', the center-point will be a baluster; If its 'odd', the center-point will be a space between balusters. In that case, divide your spacing dimension in half, and locate the two balusters on each side of the center space, then layout from there.

              Recall the number from memory, and add it to the number in memory, then hit "=". Just keep hitting "=" to get successive layout locations. Check yourself at the ends: the space between last baluster and post should be the same as between each baluster.

              If you are laying out on an incline, find the angle of inclination, enter that as 'pitch', enter your code-allowed spacing plus baluster thickness as 'run', then hit 'diag'. You'll use this number to divide into the distance between posts, as measured on the incline.

              Hope that came out clear.

              1) Unconsciously Incompetent: He knows not, and knows not that he knows not. He is a fool. Shun him.
              2) Consciously Incompetent: He knows not, and knows that he knows not. He is simple. Teach him.
              3) Unconsciously Competent: He knows, and knows not that he knows. He is asleep. Wake him.
              4) Consciously Competent: He knows, and knows that he knows. He is wise. Follow him.

              May we all endeavor to progress from not knowing that we know not, to knowing that we know.


              • #8
                Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                I try to keep it as simple as possible, no calculator, it's only a little math.
                On a straight run like a balcony- measure the distance between posts, or post and rosete or wall--add 1" at each end ( posts are tapered and turned, generally smaller area is 1" less then square or round base of post, and code calls for a 4" sphere test , so you want baluster next to posts 1" closer , and wall to balance layout visually) --say run is 98" + the 2" = 100"--Now if you're using a 1 1/4" tapered balusters, the top taper
                ( that goes in rail ) is 5/8", so 1/2 of is 5/16" --so 5/16"+ 4"+ 5/16"= 4 5/8" max. ctr. of balusters, I deduct 1/4" ( layout safety factor ), So max. layout is 4 3/8"-- divide 100" by 4.375 ( the guys that didn't get A's in H.S. math now is the time for a calculator)-- round up answer to next full #-- divide this into 100" = layout spacing ----Mark ctr. line of run on balcony landing cap and I take a combo sq. and scribe center of baluster path on same ( I do put down making tape to write on, unless it's a shoe mould )--if you have an odd # , ctr. line is ctr. baluster, if even#, measure 1/2 of layout spacing on each side of ctr. ( these are balusters )-- then I layout to right of then left of -- if you have an odd amount 4 11/64" you can fudge a bit here and there or allow a small amount to end up getting your last baluster at each end ( post or 1/2 post or wall ) a pinch closer than the 3 11/64 it would be.

                If you have a curved balcony, I draw the ctr. of baluster run, then use a 1/4" X 1" rip about 5-6' long to step it out to measure run distance, then proceed as above.

                On something like a knee wall going up the stairs at rake angle, 4" layout (plumb )= close to about 5" up the rake. I take my pitch block and mark the 4 3/8" as above and square a line to the angle cut , then measure to it down the angle, just a SWAG but it would be about 5 1/2" -- that is your max. layout going up the rake. Again measure run and add the 1" at each end and go as above. Dividing by the 5 1/2" to start off.

                The harder parts come in generally with metal balusters. For instance, I had been doing stairs and railings at a resort home developement ( you know a 1/2 mill lot with a 1/2 mill trac home with a little gingerbread ), the designer had speced on all the homes a layout of a -straight- twist - basket- twist- straight and continuing. He wanted all baluster runs to keep the pattern and start with a straight and end with a straight. Which ment that you needed to use 5-9-13-17-21-and so on. and since you always have 1 more on layout then balusters, everyting was a layout of 6-10-14=18 etc., Plus I tried to have balcony and stair layout visually look about the same spacing.

                I don't know if I covered it all -been a 10 hr. work day and now it's getting past bedtime.

                The main idea is to be smarter than a piece of wood


                • #9
                  Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                  I'm getting dizzy from all the formulas. Maybe I'm out of sync with most everyone else, but I don't go to near as much trouble as everyone else. I use a simple pair of dividers. Once the maximum center to center dimension is determined, I set my dividers to that dimension, start from the center of the run, and 'walk' the dividers toward the newel post. If the layout dosen't work out just right at the newel post, I go back to center and split the dividers over the center mark. Works for me.

                  "Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts." Winston Churchill


                  • #10
                    Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                    I am with Paul (iwoodknot) about all the formulas. I pull out the dividers and walk it out. The only time I start in the middle is if have a pattern in the iron balusters that requires on specific baluster centered.

                    The formulas gave me a headache after installing two or three stair jobs a week, and I think the dividers are more accurate.



                    • #11
                      Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                      Originally posted by iwoodknot View Post
                      I'm getting dizzy from all the formulas.


                      There's nothing to get dizzy over. You have a formula and just use it. It's only seconds on a calculator. All you do is just use the thickness of the baluster.

                      I use this every time.

                      Multiply the number of balusters x the width of the balusters and subtract that from the measurement in between posts.

                      Take that number and subtract it from the number of spaces and that's your answer.

                      You know that your spacing will be one more than the amount of balusters.

                      If you have 55" in between posts and using 1-1/2" balusters and pick 10 balusters, that would give you 11 spaces.

                      10x1.5 = 15

                      55-15 = 40

                      40/11 = 3.636364" or 3-5/8"

                      This is a drawing I made using the spacing from a deck I did last year.
                      Attached Files
                      Joe Carola


                      • #12
                        Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                        Oh I probably should get paid for this guys, but I've had a lot of help here, so here's my Excel spreadsheet for spacing balusters. I put it on my Palm Tungsten for easy access. Enjoy. I wish more people would post formulas etc especially in the Computer forum, but it doesn't seem to have much.

                        Actually I haven't attached a file, how do you attach an Excel file?


                        • #13
                          Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                          Excel files are not vaild attachments for this forum. If you want to share the file, you will need to find a host for it and link directly in your post.

                          The current valid file attachments are:
                          Last edited by Jeff B; 09-28-2006, 06:37 PM.


                          • #14
                            Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                            Here is another solution to try if you have a Palm Handheld. Email me if you want it and i'll send it out.
                            Attached Files
                            Gary W.


                            • #15
                              Re: The best baluster spacing formula

                              There was another thread going on at BT and between the posts at the top the measurement is 84-3/8". The baluster at the top is 5/8" O.D.

                              This is what I did with my Construction Master Calculator.

                              Add the 5/8" to 4" and get 4-5/8" and divide the width between posts by that number.

                              In this case it comes out to 18.24324". Now use 18 for the amount of balusters you would need giving you 19 spaces.

                              If the decimal came out over 18.5, then you wopuld use 19 for the baluster amount.

                              I used 18 balusters also.

                              84-3/8" [M+]/4-5/8" = 18.24324"

                              18 x 5/8" = 11-1/4"

                              [Rcl] [M+] - 11-1/4" = 73-1/8"

                              /19 = 3-27/32 [M+](Space between newel and first baluster and every balaster)

                              + 5/16 (half of 5/8") = 4-5/32" [M+][Stor][1](Center #1 Baluster from Newel)

                              + 5/16" = 4-15/32" (Centers up to the 18th Baluster)

                              [Rcl][1]Returns - 4 5/32" + 4-15/32" = 8-5/8"(Center of 2nd Baluster)

                              Continue pressing =

                              = 13-3/32"
                              = 17-9/16"
                              = 22-1/32"
                              = 26-1/2"
                              = 30-31/32"
                              = 35-7/16"
                              = 39-29/32"
                              = 44-3/8"
                              = 48-27/32"
                              = 53-5/16"
                              = 57-25/32"
                              = 62-1/4"
                              = 66-23/32"
                              = 71-3/16"
                              = 75-21/32"
                              = 80-1/8" (Center 18th Baluster)+ 4-5/32" = 84-9/32" or 84-5/16" (To Newel)

                              This leaves you with the same 3-27/32" spacing from Newel to Baluster on both ends and in between every Baluster.
                              Joe Carola