How to Build an Outdoor Handrail

Updated February 21, 2017

Outdoor handrails enhance the safety, utility and decor of any outdoor living space. Most commonly associated with stairways, handrails can also be installed on flat surfaces or ramps. The railing can work as a decorative piece if constructed to complement other outdoor features of the home, as well as serve a utilitarian function. Proper construction of the handrail helps accomplish both of these objectives.

Determine the points that will support the handrail. Handrail height is between 34 and 38 inches above the floor or stairs. The handrail hardware attaches directly to the wall if the stairs or walkway is located next to the wall. If the walkway is away from the building install posts, usually 4-by-4 inch 6-foot long treated posts, every 6 feet along the walkway.

Dig the post holes using a post hole auger to a depth of about 2 feet. Set the posts in the holes and brace them in a vertically straight position. Fill the hole around the post with the soil removed when you dug the hole and pack in place.

Attach the handrail support hardware to the wall or posts. The hardware should set the handrail at least 1 1/2 inches from the wall to allow room to grasp the rail.

Attach the handrail to the support hardware. The handrail material should fit the hand and be easy to grasp in the event of a fall. Round rails of 1 1/4 inch to 2 inches in diameter are recommended, according to the website Inspectapedia. An oblong shaped railing should be no wider than 2 1/4 inches. The handrail should form one continuous support surface throughout the walkway or stairway. Once grasped by the person he should be able to slide his hand along the handrail to the end of the stairs or walkway.


Paint the handrail and posts, if made of wood, to match the existing decor of the home's exterior. A wrought iron railing adds a rusting look to the home, offering an attractive design component to the handrail, especially if used with wrought iron fencing.


According to the International Building Code, handrails must support a load of 90.7 Kilogram concentrated on a single point. Posts used to support handrails must be capable of standing in place when a 50 pound horizontal load is applied.

Things You'll Need

  • 4-by-4 inch posts
  • Handrail
  • Handrail support hardware
  • Post hole auger
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About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.