How to Fix a Loose Stair Handrail

Written by chris deziel Google
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How to Fix a Loose Stair Handrail
Tighten a loose handrail by first finding out how it is connected (wooden steps image by Aaron Kohr from

A stair handrail is all there is between a person tripping on the stairs and falling to the floor, so a loose one is a cause for concern. In most cases it won't be hard to fix, but to do that properly, you have to know how the rail is connected to the staircase. If the rail was installed using lag screws, they may have worked themselves loose and should be replaced with carriage bolts. Once you find the connections, tightening bolts and replacing lag screws should be all that is needed, provided that the wood hasn't rotted.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Wrench
  • Drill
  • 1/2-inch drill bit
  • 1/2 x 6-inch carriage bolts, nuts and washers
  • L-brackets
  • Screwdriver
  • Pry bar
  • Hammer

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  1. 1

    Use a wrench to tighten all visible bolts on railing posts connected to the outside of a stringer.

  2. 2

    Remove all visible lag screws, and drill 1/2-inch pilot holes through the post and stringer. Insert 1/2 x 6-inch carriage bolts in the holes, and put washers and nuts on the threaded ends. Tighten them with a wrench.

  3. 3

    Remove the stair tread nearest any post that emerges on the inside of a stringer, and examine the condition of the post and the method of connection. Replace rotten posts. If the post is attached with a lag screw to the stringer, you won't be able to replace it with a carriage bolt if you don't want to drill through the stringer. In this case, remove loose lag screws and screw them into a different location on the post. Attach L-brackets to the post and stringer to fortify the connection.

  4. 4

    Tighten bolts and replace lag screws on posts that are connected to under-stair blocking and not to the stringer. Some handrail systems use newel posts, which are held by long bolts inserted from under the floor. These are difficult to troubleshoot. If you can't find the bolts you need to tighten, the best you may be able to do is to brace the post with L-brackets.

  5. 5

    Tighten the bracing on surface-mounted posts, and fortify it by adding L-brackets, if necessary. Some surface-mounted posts are connected to plates that are bolted to blocking under the stairs. Tighten these bolts as necessary, removing stair treads for access as needed.

Tips and warnings

  • You can remove most stair treads by unscrewing the screws holding them down and lifting them off. You may have to chip away filler to expose the screw heads; if so, remember to refill the holes and touch up the finish when you replace the tread.
  • Remove nailed treads by prying them up until you can hook a pry bar around the heads of the nails holding them. Remove the nails one by one, and then lift off the tread.

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