About Porches

ABOUT PORCHES --- PORCHES HOW-TO --- WOOD SPECIES

How far apart should I space my spindles?  How many do I need?

These are very common questions, and are often the starting point for those looking to buy wood spindles for their porch. Simply put, spindles are usually spaced according to a very easy rule: 
4×4 spindles: 6″ on-center 
3×3 spindles: 5″ on-center 
2×2 spindles: 4″ on-center 
Of course each individual may choose some variation.  For example, if you like the look of more densely spaced spindles, you may choose to space your 4x4's every 5" instead of 6". 

So, the number of spindles required is simply the rail length in inches, divided by the on-center spacing. 

How did we come up with this? For those that are curious about the logic behind these guidelines, read on… 

Most building codes require that the gap between the spindles, at the narrowest portion, be no more than 4″. So spindle spacing and quantity depends upon the diameter of the spindle at it’s narrowest portion. 

To get the spacing, take the gap required by code (4″) and add the diameter of the spindle at it’s smallest portion. That will give you the “on-center” measurement. You can then mark that spacing on your wood rail and put the spindles over the mark. 

To come up with the quantity, take the length of rail (in inches) and divide by the on-center spacing. Here are some examples of Western Spindle’s more common spindle sizes: 

4×4 Spindles: our best seller. They measure 3 1/2″, and the narrowest part of the turned portion is about 2″ in diameter. So 4″ code + 2″ small dia. = 6″. This means you should space your spindles every 6″ on-center. Quantity: Divide the rail length in inches by 6.  Example:  If you have a 120″ rail (10′), divide 120″ by 6″, and you come up with 20 spindles needed to fill the space. 

3×3 Spindles: 2 1/2″ wide, and 1 3/8″ at the narrowest portion. 4″ + 1 3/8″ = 5 3/8″. Theoretically you could space the spindles every 5 3/8″, but commonly they are spaced every 5″. This is for both simplicity and because it looks authentic. Quantity: Divide the rail length in inches by 5. Example: The same 120″ rail section would require 24 spindles (120 / 5 = 24) 

2×2 Spindles: 1 3/8″ wide, and 5/8″ at the narrowest portion. 4″ + 5/8″ = 4 5/8″. Again, you could space them every 4 5/8″, but they are commonly spaced every 4″ on-center much for the same reasons. Quantity: Divide the rail length in inches by 4. Example: 120″ rail section would require 30 spindles.

 

Building Codes

The first step in finding the size and quantity of components is to research your local building codes to find if there will be any restrictions. This is much easier than it sounds. The most common building codes affecting the railing system of your porch will be railing height and spindle spacing requirements. If you are using a contractor, he should know or be able to find out about any applicable codes. Otherwise you will need to contact your local authorities. Below is a link that might be of some help.

http://www.reedconstructiondata.com/building-codes/

Commonly, codes will require:

  • A minimum of a 36” top rail height (measured from the floor of the porch to the top of the top rail)
  • A maximum of 4” of space between the spindles at their narrowest portion. Many applications will not have to meet the building code requirements.
  • In some instances such as a registered historical property, you may be “grandfathered in" and can remodel to the original specification.
  • Inaccessible areas: Spaces that are not normally accessible, such as a dormer window, usually do not have to meet the otherwise applicable building codes. Railings in these areas are simply cosmetic and do not have to meet the requirements of usable railing.

I have my own idea for a spindle design style.  Can you make it?

Yes.  The spindle designs we can make are limited only by your imagination.  Send us a picture or a drawing and we can get it close.  For an exact duplicate, send an original.  Many of the wood spindles and porches you see on this website were made in such a way.  See examples of some of the restorations we have done on our RESTORATIONS page.

How do I care for my millwork when it arrives?

  • Always keep in mind that your new millwork is good old fashioned natural wood and needs to be handled accordingly. 
  • Although we use only "dried" wood, it still contains between 5% and 20% moisture. All woods eventually assume the moisture of the environment in which they are stored. Problems arise when the moisture content changes too quickly. Protect it from very wet or (especially) very dry environments.
  • Never store unpainted millwork in direct sunlight, even for a few hours. This will invariably dry the wood rapidly which causes checking (small cracks between the grain). In extreme cases it can cause splitting.

What types of finishes should I use on my new millwork?

  • Always use high quality oil-based primers and paints (or stains and top coats as your project may entail) on all surfaces, including ends.
  • Do not neglect the ends of your millwork. The end grain gains and loses moisture more readily than the side of the grain and needs to be protected. If you plan on putting a top coat on after the project is put together, then make sure to apply the primer before building.
  • Go to your local professional paint store for the best advice and products. These types of places often have more knowledgeable help and higher end products than the big box stores. You will pay a little more than you would at the big home improvement centers but a little extra investment up front will pay off in the decades to come.

What type of hardware should I use when I build?

Fastening your wood porch newels is often one of the most problematic parts of a porch rail installation. If you have access to the bottom side of the porch floor, you can simply lag bolts up into the newel and tighten it that way. But what if you don't have access under the floor, as with a finished roof underneath or a concrete slab? 

With this new Porch Newel Fastening System, you no longer have to choose between a strong porch newel and one that is free from visible fasteners. 

This system consists of a floor plate, threaded rod, channel for the top of the newel, and required hardware. Made of chromed steel for strength and corrosion resistance. 

Installation: The system is intended for use with Western Spindle's Porch Newels, which have a shelf milled into the top of the post that accepts the channel (see above picture). If you are using your own posts, you will need to mill a 1" deep shelf in the top inside of the newel.

  1. After marking the spot on the floor you want your newel, fasten to your porch floor with lag bolts (or masonry screws in the case of concrete or brick floors).
  2. Thread the threaded rod into the floor plate nut until it hits the floor.
  3. Place the hollow newel over the threaded rod and floor plate.
  4. Place the included channel over the threaded rod, resting it on the shelf milled into the top of the newel.
  5. Use the split washer and 1/2" nut to tighten down the newel using a 3/4" wrench or ratchet and socket.

DONE!   This system is available for different newel widths and heights, and can be found on our ONLINE STORE

We recommend using only high quality, exterior grade stainless steel hardware, or chromed steel for your porch. These products will resist rust, corrosion, staining, discoloration, and bleeding. You’ve invested the time, money, and energy in seeking the absolute best solid wood products from Western Spindle; don’t skimp in the building phase and jeopardize that beautiful porch!

Save a trip to the hardware store!  Click Stainless Steel Porch Hardware to purchase from our online store.  Buy your hardware with the rest of your porch products and save on shipping.

Architectural Styles

Victorian

Primary period of home building: 1840 to 1910

Victorian, as it refers to a style of home, is a broad term encompassing many different building styles and building methods.  Generally speaking, a Victorian home is one with an irregular floor plan, a prominent porch, towering spires, and intricate woodwork.  Gothic Revival, Second Empire, Queen Anne, and Gingerbread (among others) are really substyles under the Victorian umbrella.

The term Victorian architecture can refer to one of a number of architectural styles predominantly employed during the Victorian era. As with the latter, the period of building that it covers may slightly overlap the actual reign, 20 June 1837 – 22 January 1901, of Queen Victoria after whom it is named. 
In the USA, Highly decorated houses are sometimes called gingerbread houses. 

Notable Victorian era cities include London, Boston, Richmond, Charleston, Saint Paul, St. Louis, Louisville, Galveston, San Francisco, Glasgow, Melbourne, Manchester, Mumbai, Pittsburgh and New Orleans. 

In the USA, The South End of Boston is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places as the oldest and largest Victorian neighborhood in the country.  Old Louisville in Louisville, Kentucky also claims to be the nation's largest Victorian neighborhood. 

Richmond, Virginia is home to several large Victorian neighborhoods, the most prominent being The Fan and Church Hill. Church Hill has the distinction of being the place where Patrick Henry gave his famous Give me liberty or give me death speech at historic Saint John's church. The Fan is best known locally as Richmond's largest and most 'European' of Richmond's neighborhoods and nationally as the largest contiguous Victorian neighborhood in the United States.  The Distillery District in Toronto contains the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America. 

Although the general public often incorrectly refers to a Victorian era house as a Victorian "style" house, Victorian era refers to a time period and not to a style. Although architectural historians generally agree that there are about eight primary architectural styles prominent in the United States and Canada during the Victorian era, Victorian-era residential architecture in the United States and Canada was a procession of styles borrowed from every country and every era in history. 

Victorian-era homes can be one, two, or three stories high, with the homes in Eastern US cities tending to be three stories and homes in Western US cities more typically two-story homes or one-story cottages. In some regions of the US, Victorian-era homes may have an octagonal or rounded tower and a wraparound porch. Multi-colored Victorian era houses are often known as Painted Ladies. 

Quoted in part from: Victorian architecture, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Victorian_architecture&oldid=221923714

Colonial

Primary period of home building: Up to 1830

American colonial architecture, also called Colonial Georgian, characterizes the style of domestic architecture, church buildings and some institutional and government buildings that were built in America from the earliest colonies until the Neoclassical architectural style locally called "Federal" replaced in for high-style buildings in the 1780s. 

The defining characteristics of Georgian architecture are its square, symmetrical shape, central door, and straight lines of windows on the first and second floor. There is usually a decorative crown above the door and flattened columns to either side of it. The door leads to an entryway with stairway and hall aligned along the center of the house. All rooms branch off of these. Georgian buildings, in the English manner were ideally in brick, with wood trim, wooden columns and entablatures painted white. In the US, one found both brick buildings as well as those in wood with clapboards. They were usually painted white, though sometimes a pale yellow. This differentiated them from most other structures that were usually not painted. 

A Colonial-style house usually has a formally-defined living room, dining room and sometimes a family room. The bedrooms are typically on the second floor. They also have one or two chimneys that can be very large. 

See Wikipedia, American colonial architecture, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonial_architecture

Queen Anne

Queen Anne refers more to the amount of intricacy a Victorian home possesses than any certain trait.  They are often larger houses with complex floorplans and large wrap-around porches.  Many have multiple round or octagonal spires with steep roofs.  This style is probably the most recognized by the general public as "Victorian". 

Queen Anne Style buildings in America came into vogue in the 1880s, replacing the French-derived Second Empire as the "style of the moment." The popularity of high Queen Anne Style waned in the early 1900s, but some elements, such as the wraparound front porch, continued to be found on buildings into the 1920s.

In America, Queen Anne generally refers to an era of style, rather than a specific formulaic style in its own right. Unlike its British counterpart's use of "crisp white trim" (see the example from Lebanon, Illinois), Queen Anne in America eschewed white for bold color resulting in Polychrome paint schemes on exteriors, often referred to as painted ladies, a term that rose in popularity in the 1970s. E. Francis Baldwin's stations for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, built variously of brick and wood, are also familiar examples of the style.

Quoted in part from: Queen Anne Style architecture,http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.phptitle=Queen_Anne_Style_architecture&oldid=220745226

Gingerbread

The term "Gingerbread" as an architectural term simply refers to highly decorated Victorian houses.  They often incorporate detailed scroll and millwork.  They are different from other types of Victorian houses in that intricate woodwork is used in nearly every imaginable application.  The result is an almost fairytale-like aura.

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