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How to Install a Handrail. May 22, 2011
DIY Difficulty (1 easy-10 difficult) 7
Time to completion: 4 hours
Material cost: $ 225
Labor and misc. parts $ 210-265.
TOTAL $ ~500
Let's begin with the identification of parts.
1.The Handrail. Handrails come in many shapes, sizes and wood species. The one pictured here is made of red oak.
The underside of the handrail is notched to receive the balusters, the notch makes this a plowed handrail.
2. The Shoerail. This is the piece of oak bottom channel that will attach to the 1 x 8 oak plank. It is notched or "plowed" to
receive the bottom of the balusters.
3. The Newel Post stands about 42" tall (seen below).
4. Balusters. The vertical pieces square on the ends and
rounded in the center. In this diagram there are 5 balusters.
5. Rail Bolt Kit. A rail bolt kit consists of a lag bolt of 4-5" in
length, a washer and a wood plug or cap. This kit is used to
attach the newel post to the bottom of the stairs.
6. Handrail and shoe rail fillets. The piece used to fill in the
notched (plowed) sections of the of the handrail and
STEP 1 Install the stringer cap
The wall next to the stairs can be referred to as a stringer wall.
The stringers are the sides of a set of stairs to which the treads
and risers attach. In this example the stringers are referred to
as "closed". The cap in our project is 1 x 8 red oak. We
measure the width of the stringer wall and add 3/4" to each side
to allow for a proper overhang. The red oak is cut "ripped"
lengthwise to the proper width. The overhang is to allow for a
trim piece on the underside of the cap. The ends are cut at
angles. The angle is about 40 degrees. In order to find the
precise angle we used a few pieces of scrap wood, made a few
cuts and adjusted the angle of the miter saw as needed.
Another method is to use an adjustable square.
The cap is installed with any combination of construction
adhesive, glue and screws or nails. The fasteners are
installed near the center lengthwise of the wood to be
concealed by the shoerail.
STEP 2 Install the newel post
The newel post is the "anchor" of the handrail. It is the piece
that will take the brunt of the use of the stairs. For this reason it
should be installed plumb and secure. In this example we
used 1/2" x 5" lag screws and washers. The hole was bored
first with the paddle bit (as shown). The paddles bit must be
sharp for a clean cut. The other type of bit to use could be a 1/2
- 3/4" of an inch deep, the deeper the bore the less "meat"
available for the anchor.
The second bore is made with a 1/2" wood bit to allow the
shaft of the bolt to pass through the newel post. The third bore
is into the wall and this is done with a 5/16" bit. This allows for
the bolt to grab yet is not too tight to split the wood to which it is
attached. We use carpenters glue, sometimes known as white
glue to the backside of the post. We also take a caulk gun with
heavy duty construction adhesive (PL 400 or equivalent) and
squirt it into the 5/16" hole at the wall side. When the bolt is
inserted into the final assembly the construction adhesive will
be drawn into the shaft and eventually become hard and
The newel post must be plumb and level before making the
bore into the wall. In our example a few shims were used to
get everything plumb and level. Once we get the shims in
place they are removed and coated with white glue and re-
inserted. When dry it will provide additional strength to this
While bolting the pieces together the 4-foot level is used to
lever the post in all directions. Once the post is lever the bolts
are tightened. A few shims are placed below the post to add
additional support. Once the post is secure the shims are cut
where exposed but left in place below the post.
STEP 3 Cut and install the handrail.
The ends of the handrail are cut at the same angle as the cap,
in our example about 40 degrees. Another method is to hold
the uncut handrail alongside the stair treads and mark the
piece at the wall. When cutting allow for a margin of error by
making the cut a 1/4" larger or so. Then, hold up the piece on
the wall and check the angle and re-cut accordingly. The same
method is applied on the end of the newel post.
At the newel post end we drill from the bottom of the rail into
the post. The handrail was secured with white glue and a 3/8"
x 2" anchor bolt and washer. The angle of the bore was made
at a slight angle (20 degrees or so) up into the post. The hole
will be covered by the fillets.
At the wall the rail is first attached to the rosette. The rosette is
aligned on the cut end and holes are pre-drilled to allow for
the attachment with a single wood screw and white glue. The
screw is inserted on the backside or the rosette into the
handrail. NOTE: Do not make the mistake of drilling the screw
perpendicular to the rosette, otherwise it may pop out on the
top of the handrail. Hold the drill at the approximate angle of
the direction of the handrail.
Once the rosette is in place the rosette is nailed into the solid
surface at the wall. The attachment can be made with screws
or nails and a bit of construction adhesive on the backside of
the rosette. If screws are used allow for the hole to be filled
with a wood plug to conceal the screw heads. Nail holes are
filled with any sort of putty.
STEP 4 Cut and install the shoerail and balusters
The ends of the shoerail are cut at the same angle as the
handrail. The piece is measured, cit and placed on the cap. In
our example it was glued on the backside and installed with
2" wood screws spaced at about 18" apart.
The balusters have a top and a bottom. Gather the balusters
and determine which end is up, usually it is the tapered end.
The angle of the cut is determined by holding a baluster
plumb and level to the rail and cap and simply marking the
line with a pencil. The cut is made a bit longer than the pencil
mark and can be adjusted for a precision fit. It is important to
cut both ends mostly equal and allow for a balanced look-
instead of lopping off a big chunk at the bottom of the post
and a small cut at the top, or vice versa.
With a properly cut baluster the distance is measured equally
and the balusters spaced on the division marks. For 5
balusters there are six spaced and 5 divisions. The space is
the area between the balusters where the fillets will be
The balusters are placed in the opening between the cap and
the handrail. The fillets are cut in between the balusters. The
balusters can be installed with glue as well as the fillets. In
our example the fillets were secured with white glue and 1"
Due to differing conditions, tools, and individual skills, Housecalls Home Services assumes
no responsibility for any damages, injuries suffered, or losses incurred as a result of
attempting to replicate any of the home improvement ideas portrayed in this website.
Before beginning any home improvement project, review it thoroughly to ensure you or
your contractor can finish the project and if any doubts or questions remain, consult local
and regulations. Always read and observe all of the safety precautions provided by any tool
or equipment manufacturer, and follow all accepted safety procedures.
|A Handyman DIY Tutorial on How to Install a Handrail, Balusters
Power Miter Saw $84.99 and up
Bucket Boss $10.99
Multi-function Power Tools From $16.99
Air Compressors start $64.99
Portable Table Saws From $37.99
"A handrail and balusters is a rewarding project for any diy home handyman. There is a
sense of accomplishment when the pieces are cleanly cut with sharp blades and drill
bits. This is finished carpentry and one of the tricks to a fine job is to have good tools.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to finished woodwork."