DIYing a Wood Handrail

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Our decking project is still on hold ... and it's still a weather thingy. But its not rain this time. It's just too dang hot to be working in the direct sun on a deck!

So we took shelter inside the super inslulated Momplex, where the basement keeps everything nice and cool, and started on our first interior woodworking project!

While we totally agree with you that the very first room we'll be tackling is a bathroom (thank goodness the Momplex is about a mile from our home so not having a bathroom hasn't been a huge issue so far), we get a ton of visitors, from newborn babies to busy toddlers to great-grandmas (and not to mention yours truly who's balance is starting to get a little wobbly these days due to a new carpenter on the way), so there was one thing we wanted to take care of inside the Momplex first and foremost.

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Step 1 Diagram: 
Step 1: 
A stair handrail. The stair handrail isn't just a safety thing either. We will need to put the stair handrail in before we can lay flooring down upstairs in the Momplex.
Step 2 Diagram: 
Step 2 Instructions: 
So the Ram moved into Sewing Mom's garage. We decided to build the handrail in the garage first, and then move it into place as a completed project. Let's do this!
Step 3 Diagram: 
Step 3 Instructions: 
We are all fans of simplicty, so I designed a handrail out of 2x boards (yes, 2x4s and 2x2s with 4x4 posts) that we will paint white later on. This is what a finished section looks like. We've still got another section to add to this section of the handrail to get the L-shape needed to fully enclose the stair opening.
Step 4 Diagram: 
Step 4 Instructions: 
Like the finished section, we start building the handrail by cutting our boards (need a handrail too? I'll be posting these plans this week!)
Step 5 Diagram: 
Step 5 Instructions: 
And then sanding all the boards first. It's much easier to sand a board on a tabletop, than trying to sand a completed handrail.
Step 6 Diagram: 
Step 6 Instructions: 
Then we start building the basic frame for the handrail, consisting of the 4x4 posts and the top.
Step 7 Diagram: 
Step 7 Instructions: 
The top is screwed to the post. For a painted handrail, we'll just go back and fill the holes with wood filler and finish. For a stained handrail, a top 1x board can be added with finish nails to hide all screw holes.
Step 8 Diagram: 
Step 8 Instructions: 
With the 4x4 attached to the top and bottom 2x4s, we fit it to the existing section. For a single straight handrail section, we would have added a 4x4 post on the open end too.
Step 9 Diagram: 
Step 9 Instructions: 
But with the L-shaped handrail, we instead use the 4x4 post on the existing section, attaching with 1 1/2" pocket holes and 2 1/2" pocket hole screws.
Step 10 Diagram: 
Step 10 Instructions: 
The same is done at the bottom. We used a Kreg Jig to create the pocket holes.
Step 11 Diagram: 
Step 11: 
Stair railing must meet certain codes for spacing requirements. For us, it's no more than a 4" gap in the handrail. So we cut blocks 4" long to use as guides throughout the building process. TIP: We actually cut the blocks shy of 4" just to be extra safe that we are meeting code requirements.
Step 12 Diagram: 
Step 12: 
The 4" blocks are placed on the bottom 2x4 board
Step 13 Diagram: 
Step 13: 
And we attach the another 2x4 board to the 4x4 posts, again with pocket holes.
Step 14 Diagram: 
Step 14: 
Next, we measure the opening and determine how many stair balusters we'll need.
Step 15 Diagram: 
Step 15: 
The stair balusters are cut from 2x2s and pocket holes are drilled on each end.<br /><p><img src="" alt="" style="width: 470px;" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>Since we have an even number of stair balusters, we position an opening in the center, with the first balusters attached offset 2" off the center.</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" style="width: 470px;" /><br /></p><p>We use 2 1/2" pocket hole screws and glue through the predrilled pocket holes to attach. &nbsp;</p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>Then we add the other center baluster to the railing,</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>Using the spacing blocks to make sure we are the right distance appart.</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" style="width: 470px;" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>And we just keep adding the balusters using the spacing blocks as guides. &nbsp;</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" style="width: 470px;" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>Last one!</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>By starting in the middle and working outward, we end up with even spacings on the end.</p><p><br /></p><p>From the inside (stair side) the railing is finished with no visible pocket holes.</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>But on the outside (living room side), each baluster has a pocket hole showing. &nbsp;We could fill these pocket holes with plugs or wood filler, but here's an even easier solution -&nbsp;</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>We cut 1x4 boards to fit</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>And attached with finish nails over the balusters. &nbsp;This also gives the outside (living room side) of the handrail a more finished look.</p><p>Time to see if she fits!</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>Perfect!</p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>Once both of us are happy with the handrails position,</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>We use 4 1/2" long screws to attach the handrail to the floor. &nbsp;</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>We attach from both the inside and outside,</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>And also attach the handrail to the wall.</p><p><br /></p><p>Man, this is one sturdy handrail!!!</p><p><br /></p><p><img src="" alt="" style="width: 470px;" /><br /></p><p><br /></p><p>For less than $100 in lumber and screws, we built a sturdy, solid wood handrail! I'll share detailed plans just in case you need a handrail for your home later this week as well.</p><p><br /></p><p>We'll also be adding a matching wood baby gate and stair railing later on to make sure the Momplex is very grandkid friendly.</p><p><br /></p><p>Now who's the lucky lady who get's to paint it?</p><p><br /></p><p><br /></p><p><br /></p>


we bought a house with a 1970's iron railing above the stairs and not only do I worry the kids will fall, we've had close calls with our silly cat! and a few matchbox cars whizzing down the hall and falling onto unsuspecting people walking up the stairs! We priced some replacements but this is wayyyyy cheaper and I could do it myself! Maybe I'll surprise the hubby while he's out of town on business next week...

My only worry - how to attach to the walls and (hardwood) floors?

Kind of funny how after rushing to beat the snow, freezing for so long, and now it's too hot...the weather sure puts a damper on things, doesn't it? This looks really nice and oh so sturdy! Been longing for a Momplex update. Great timing!

*for now

It looks great, *love* all the tricks you used to make life easier. :-)

I know what you mean about the weather, we were too hot to do anything outside, now we have monsoons (thunderstorms for 5 of the next 7 days). And my workshop's my shed. Which is outside.


Glad you found something to work on to occupy the too-hot days!!!

It looks great, Ana! Your gracious spirit truly shines through when you speak of having plans up this week "just in case [we] need a handrail for [our] home[s] later this week as well." Thank you for sharing and so kindly thinking of how it helps others.

Yvonne @

how hot is too hot to work in alaska? we had temps in the 90s today in northern indiana and it was definitely too hot and humid for us here to work in the yard but when it gets 'too cold' here it's still usually still in the double digits (way warmer that your version of too cold for sure!). The handrail is beautiful and simple, exactly what I'm thinking we want to put on our front porch, I can't wait to see the plans!

So we are such whinners up here in Alaska! It's been in the high 80s (but direct south facing on the deck) and that's just too hot for us Alaskans to work on a deck! It's been an unseasonably hot summer, so we may not get around to finishing that deck for another week or so.

thanks so much!

I was noticing the sharp corners on the boards you used. Do you joint or plane your lumber before using it? It sure seems straight!

Hi! The 2x4s are stock, just carefully selected and well sanded with a hand sander. We couldn't find 2x2s, so we ended up purchasing 2x6s and ripping into 2x2s with the table saw, so that's why they have sharp corners.

But everything else is just stock lumber.

Thanks for reading!

Hi Ana,
Just curious...I was wondering if you find the need to dry your wood ever. I have gotten really wet 2 x4s at my Home Depot and I worry that they will twist as they dry. I have only needed small amounts of wood for my projects so far and have worked around this issue, but am hoping to tackle much bigger projects coming up.

So excited to see your progress on the Momplex!