DIY Oak Handrail
The do-it-yourself tip for the home handyman
Oak Handrail Installation
By: Ben Spofford, Housecalls Home Services
How to Install a Handrail.
     Difficulty (1 easy-10 difficult)  7
Time to completion: 4 hours

A handrail is not a difficult diy project. The hardest part is
making clean cuts. The parts for this handrail came from

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.
Remove the door from the hinges. Some doors are heavy and may
require a helping hand, especially when removing the screws. Or, use
shims to temporarily hold the door in an open position.

Remove the threshold. As shown in the picture above the threshold is
cracked in the center. Since this one is cracked in the center it does not
require a saw cut down the middle. One way to remove the threshold is to
gently lift the pieces upward, one at a  time from the center. The screws on
the ends should ease out with a swaying back and forth motion.
3. Newel Post. The vertical post at the bottom of the stairs
stands about 42" tall.

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 shoerail.
STEP 1    Install the 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 diagram below is an
example of "open" stringers. 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 overhang is need to allow for a trim piece on the
underside of the cap. The cap is cut on an angle at the top of the wall and at the
bottom. The angle in our example 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 could be an
adjustable square to find the angle.

The cap is installed with any combination of construction adhesive, glue and
screws or nails. The fasteners are installed near the center 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 forstner bit. The depth of
the first hole should be no more than 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 secure.

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 critical area.

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.

NOTE: The project here is on a slab and the carpet was left in place. Had the
carpet been cut or trimmed around the post the threads would eventually come
loose and unravel.
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 applied.

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" staples.  


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