Tips for Installing Stair Railings

About the Project

Building my own railing system in my new house was one of the most satisfying and nerve racking projects so far…and I’ve done a lot. I say that because any failure can have devastating consequences, especially since the first floor ceilings are 10’ (that’s a long fall in an open foyer).

I really planned through this and explored lots of options before jumping and here some things I learned.

Common Questions When Installing Stair Railings

Some of the biggest problems made when installing a railing are cutting it too short and not making it high enough.

1.                   How do I know how long to cut the stair railing?

Cut the railing after you install the newel posts. This will make sure you have fixed points to measure against.

Using the same angle degree you used for the 2x4s in the newel post article, cut one end of the railing. Tip: Cut one side at a time otherwise you’re asking for problems on your length.

Clamp the railing to one end at the newel post (verify the angle is correct at this point) and lift the other end to the proper height using the 2×4 from the newel post article. Mark the railing where it crosses the newel post.

Tip: I always add a little extra to my measurement…maybe a 1/4″. It seems like a lot but it gives me some wiggle room in case I messed and angle or measurement. Set the railing in place and see if the angle and distance is correct. If it’s too long, which it likely will be, then cut little by little until you have it perfect.

2.                   How do I secure the railing to the newel post?

There are various techniques of securing the railing and honestly some seemed way easier than what I did. My problem was I didn’t want to wait for shipping.  If I had to do it all over again I would get one of the kits below to make life easier. Instead, I used a hanger bolt by marking and drilling the holes in the post and railing. To secure to the railing I drilled a hole underneath the railing to secure a nut to the bottom.  Again, this wasn’t the easiest or cleanest and recommend using the kit.

Tips When Installing Stair Railings

Below are some tips for preparing and installing a railing.

1.                   Only cut one side at a time. By cutting one side you can double check the angle of the cut and you can get a more accurate cut by doing a test fit. If you cut it too short you cannot stretch the wood to make it longer.

2.                   To find the angle of the cut use two levels, one on a 2×4 that is going straight up from a step to make sure it’s perfectly plumb and one going up the steps.  Mark that angle on the board. This is the angle of the pitch of the steps and the angle of the railing cut.

3.                   Don’t be cheap or impatient; spend the extra time or money and get the right tools and equipment for the job.

4.                   Double check your local codes to ensure proper height is used.

5.              Be extra cautious. I say this from various perspectives (strength and height). I’m always paranoid that someone will fall through or over a railing. Because of that I made my railings a couple inches higher, added extra bolts, screwed every baluster in place, and spaced them at 3”. It gives me peace of mind.

Identify Tools Needed to Install Stair Railings

Below are tools that are either critical to the job or that I would highly recommend to make your life easier. There’s nothing more frustrating than spending an extra 2 hours of time with inadequate tools just to save $40 by not buying what you need.

I am not the seller of these products, however, I have used these or similar tools in my projects.

Critical Tools

Recommended Tools

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