Overview: Benefits of a custom railing
A new iron handrail on the front steps will enhance your home's
curb appeal, but the real benefit is the added safety it provides.
Whether you need to replace a wobbly old railing or add a railing
where there isn't one already, we'll show you how to order
and install a new one.
Iron handrails range in price from $60 to over $150 per running
foot. In addition, most companies charge several hundred
dollars to measure for and install the railing. Here's where you
can save cash. We'll show you how to measure a simple set of steps so you can
order a custom railing and how to bolt the completed railing securely to your
concrete steps. If your entry step is curved, has jogs or is an unusual shape, ask
the railing company to measure for you.
Step 1: Order a custom railing
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Photo 1: Measure the depth of the landing
Measure the depth of
the landing. If you're
installing railings on
both sides, make separate
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Photo 2: Measure the landing slope
Lay a level on the landing and shim it
until the bubble is centered. Then
measure the gap between the level and the
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Photo 2A: Close-up of slope
Landings usually have slopes to drain off water.
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Photo 3: Measure the “run”
Hold a level against the lowest step
and adjust it until the bubble reads
plumb. Then measure from the edge of the
level to the edge of the landing to determine
the total “run” of the treads.
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Photo 4: Measure the “rise”
Lay a level on the landing and adjust it
until the bubble is between the lines.
Measure from the bottom of the level to
the top of the bottom step to determine
the total rise of the two steps.
Careful measuring is the key to a successful
handrail order. Photos 1 through 4 show how
to take the measurements you'll need to
order the railing. Record the measurements
on a sketch as we show below. Take
the sketch to the railing fabricator to place
Most large cities have an iron railing
fabricator that will be glad to show you
the railing designs it sells. There are a few
standard styles, which only require you to
choose between straight or twisted spindles,
and perhaps whether you want the
top rail to start with a “lamb's tongue” like
ours (Photo 8), or a scroll.
We added a few upgrades to the basic
railing to come up with our design. First
we chose to install a brass cap rail. Then
we added a second rail 4 in. below the top.
We also increased the size of the square
spindles from the standard 1/2-in. width
to 5/8 in. for a heavier appearance. For an
easy do-it-yourself installation, ask the
railing company to weld 3-in.-square
stainless steel plates to the bottom of each
post and drill 3/8-in. holes in all four corners.
Then you can simply bolt the rail to
the stairs as we show here. Get a price quote
from your fabricator for the railing design
4 Measurements for a Perfect Fit
Make a simple sketch and jot down four
measurements to help the fabricator build
a perfect railing.
Step 2: Install the railing in a few hours
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Photo 5: Position the railing
Position the railing, making
sure all the plates
are an equal distance from
the edges of the steps. Drill
one hole at each end and
drop in anchors to hold the
railing in place. Then mark
the remaining holes by
drilling 1/2-in.-deep starter
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Photo 6: Drill the mounting holes
Set the railing aside and
drill 2-1/2-in.-deep holes.
Blow the dust away from
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Photo 7: Set the anchors
Tap in the anchors. Then
remove the nuts, set the
railing in place and snug up
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Photo 7A: Close-up of sleeve anchors
Tightening the nut tightens the anchor in the concrete.
After ordering your custom railing,
you'll probably have to wait a few weeks
for it to be completed. But once you get it
home, it'll only take you a few hours to do
a top-notch installation. The only special
tool you'll need is a hammer drill with a
3/8-in. masonry bit. You can rent a hammer
drill for about $30 for four hours, and
the bit will cost about $5. Purchase 3/8 x
1-7/8-in. sleeve anchors and 5/16-in. cap
nuts for each. Make sure you wear safety
glasses and hearing protection when
Strong anchors make for a sturdy railing. Sleeve anchors provide strong support in
solid concrete. But the pressure the
anchors exert as you tighten the nuts can
crack or “blow out” concrete that's not
structurally sound. Before you order a
new handrail, make sure the concrete is
solid, that is, free of cracks and surface
deterioration. If your steps are covered
with brick or stone, materials that may
easily crack, you may have to use another
anchoring method. A two-part epoxy
anchoring system often works better than
sleeve anchors in these circumstances. Ask
the railing fabricator for advice before you
order the rail.
Photos 5 and 6 show how to drill for
and set the anchors. Set the railing on the
steps with the edge of the plates at least
1-1/2 in. from both the front and the side
of the step. Adjust the railing position
until the mounting plates are parallel with
the side of the steps. Then mark the hole
locations with the drill while the railing is
in place to ensure accurate bolt placement.
Start by drilling one starter hole
through each of the end brackets and
dropping an anchor bolt into the hole.
This keeps the railing from shifting while
you mark the remaining holes. When all
the holes are marked, remove the railing
and complete the holes by drilling them
2-1/2 in. deep. Drill vertical holes; otherwise,
the plate may not fit over the bolts.
Set the gauge on your hammer drill for
accurate hole depth.
When all the holes are drilled, tap
anchor bolts into each one and set the
railing in place (Photo 7).
Step 3: Shim the posts for a perfect installation
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Photo 8: Plumb the posts
Check the posts for plumb
with a level. If a post leans,
loosen the nuts and slide a thin
washer under the side it leans to.
Snug the nuts and recheck with
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Photo 9: Trim the bolts
Saw the bolts flush to the top of the
hex nuts with a hacksaw. Then
remove the hex nuts.
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Photo 10: Install cap nuts
Thread cap nuts onto the bolts
and tighten them.
Snug up the
bolts, but don't fully tighten them until
you've checked the posts for plumb
(Photo 8). Out-of-level steps can cause the
handrail posts to lean. Photo 8
shows how to check for and solve
the problem. We used stainless
steel washers for shims because they won't
rust and are thinner than galvanized
washers. They're readily
available at hardware stores and
home centers. As an added precaution
against corrosion, spread a
layer of polyurethane caulk under
each plate before bolting them
down. This keeps water out of the
bolt holes and provides a little
For a neater-looking job, we cut
off bolts that were too long and
replaced the hex nuts with decorative
cap nuts (Photos 9 and 10).
The railing company painted the
cap nuts to match the railing.