After converting an unused dining area into a home office, we wanted to open up the space even more by removing the 8 wooden spindles on the 2 half walls leading into the room. Our goal was to remove the spindles without damaging the oak trim boards and then fill in each of the 16 square holes where the spindles had been mounted with decorative ceramic tiles. We didn't want the expense or work involved in replacing all of the woodwork, so we came up with a creative solution.
The 2"x2" tiles weren't available at local hardware stores, but I found a site online that sold decorative tiles in many patterns and colors. I only wanted to buy 20 tiles, 16 for this project and 4 extras in case of breakage. Even though we were careful, we broke 2 tiles during the install. This company sold the tiles individually as well in large quantities, so it was the perfect source for tile for our project.
Step 1: Making a Jig for 16 Identical Squares
The spindles were 1-3/4"x1-3/4" and the tiles are 2"x2" so we needed to enlarge the holes. We started this project by making a jig so that we could cut 16 identical squares in the correct locations after we removed the 8 spindles. We built the form using scrap lumber carefully sized so a router with 1/4" bit would run inside the form and create the correct hole for the tiles. We tested this on a scrap piece of 1/4" particle board which became a template to line up the jig on the spindle holes. Safety first, anytime we used power tools or the chisel, we wore safety glasses.
Step 2: Removing Spindles & Final Wood Prep
We placed duct tape on the oak trim to protect it from scratches, then using a reciprocating saw with a long blade, we cut through the bottoms of each spindle. The spindles could be removed once they were cut by pulling down on them. With the spindles removed, we used a hammer and chisel to remove the remaining portion of each spindle.
Each spindle had been installed with a screw drilled into the middle at both the top and bottom. The jig saw cut through the bottom screws and the top screws were broken out of the spindles; we drilled a 3/8" hole along side of the screws and used needle-nose pliers to remove the part of the screws still embedded in the top and bottom trim boards. The remaining holes in the center of the square would not be a problem when we installed the decorative tiles.
The holes needed to be squared to 2"x2", the size of the tiles. We clamped the wooden frame back in place and using a router with a 1/4" bit set to a depth of the tile thickness, we made 16 perfect squares. We dropped a tile in place after we cut the first square to be sure it was the correct size.
Step 3: Installing the Decorative Tiles
Before installing the grout and tiles, we put a light coat of varnish on each of the 16 squares and let it dry completely overnight. The top tiles are epoxied into place and trimmed with grout. The 5-minute epoxy sets up quickly, so we mixed only enough epoxy to install four of the overhead tiles, followed by a second batch for the remaining four overhead tiles. To prevent the tiles from falling out while the epoxy set, we cut sticks to length and propped them in place for about 20 minutes. We applied the grout after we removed the props.
The bottom squares did not require epoxy, but are set only in grout. We coated the sides and bottoms of each tile square with grout, and then inserted them in place, being careful to press evenly on the entire tile to secure it, but not applying too much pressure because the tiles are fragile and can crack. We made sure grout completely covered all the edges of the tiles and there were no gaps.
Using clean, warm water and a sponge, we wiped off the excess grout, changing the water often.
Step 4: Before & After
Once the grout was dry, we washed away the excess, and the job was finished. We faced many uncertainties when we approached this project, but we didn't have any problems along the way and the results are amazing.
The open entrance to this room created by removing the spindles gives the illusion of the space being much bigger than it was before. We had the grout, so the cost of all of this happiness is just the price of the ceramic tiles - $19.