How to Design an Outdoor Handrail

Written by anne wilson
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How to Design an Outdoor Handrail
Learn how to design a handrail. (staircase image by roberta fisher from

A handrail is a useful safety feature for any staircase or walkway, especially outdoors where inclement weather can make the place slippery for pedestrians. Fortunately for those with a little construction acumen, it's not too difficult to design a functional and affordable handrail.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Measuring tape
  • 2 posts, 4-by-4s
  • 3 railings, 2-by-4s
  • Nails
  • 4 hex bolts
  • Sandpaper

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  1. 1

    Select the posts. You will need at least two posts in your handrail design, and 4-by-4s are an excellent choice. An average height for a handrail is 36 inches from top to bottom of the posts, but double check by holding your hand at the normal position you would hold the rail to find the perfect height for your railing.

  2. 2

    Determine where to place the posts on your stairs. Then they should be attached to the stairs' stringer via hex bolts (two per post) perpendicular to the ground, or to the area supporting the rise of the stairs. Their tops should be cut at a 45-degree angle downward or at an angle matching the slope of the stairs.

  3. 3

    Design the handrail's "rail cap." This is the part the hand will touch or grasp when using the handrail. It is usually constructed of at least two pieces of wood the same length as the distance between the two posts or the distance of the entire span of stairs, whichever is the longer. The top piece should be nailed to the tops of the posts with the second piece nailed just below the rail cap to the outer edge of the posts' sides. Edges should be sanded to reduce splinters.

  4. 4

    Plan to incorporate a railing the same size as the rail cap, but nailed to the two posts about six inches down from the rail cap, for additional strength. This additional railing may go on the inside or outside of the handrail, according to preference.

  5. 5

    Determine whether you want additional railings, slats or posts. Measure from the stringer up to the rail cap where you would like the additional slats. Decide how far apart to space the slats, which determines how much extra wood to buy.

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