It may seem impossible to bend wood rails into a spiral, but you can do it with precision and grace. You start out with straight rails and, using a table saw and hand clamps, you can bend wood rails to almost any degree of curvature. If you look closely at any bent or spiral rail you can see the secret: lamination. By using thin pieces and then gluing them back together into a spiral, you can create a custom handrail that meets your needs.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- 2 handrails
- Table saw
- 4 steel handrail posts
- Resin glue
- Hand clamps
- Glue scraper
- 80- and 100-grit sandpaper
Set the table saw and trim off the outside edge of one of the handrails. You should see nothing but sawdust coming from the blade -- no waste at all. Move the fence over and cut off a 1/8-inch slice off the outside edge of the handrail. Move the fence over again and cut off another 1/8-inch slice. Continue moving the fence 1/8 inch at a time until you have cut the handrail into 1/8-inch slices.
Set the table saw fence and cut a 1/8-inch slice off the outside of the handrail. Don't trim it this time; leave a 1/8-inch slice on the outside. Move the fence over 1/8 inch and cut the handrail again. Move it again 1/8 inch at a time and cut until the handrail is cut into 1/8 inch slices. Assemble all the pieces from both handrails together to create one complete handrail.
Screw or clamp the steel posts in place on the spiral steps in the exact configuration you want the handrail to curve.
Lay the inside slice of the handrail out on a flat surface. Mix the resin glue and brush a coat of it on the flat side of the rail. Place the next piece of handrail on top of the glue. Pick up the two pieces together. Starting from the centre handrail post, clamp the two pieces to the handrail. Bend the handrail to the next post and clamp it there. Bend the handrail to the other posts and clamp it in place. Let the glue dry for four hours.
Glue and clamp the remaining slices onto the handrail two at a time until the handrail is complete. Remove the centre clamp first; clamp the next two pieces on in the centre and work to the outsides, removing clamps and putting the new pieces on and reclamping them.
Scrape off any residual glue with a glue scraper when the glue is dry. Hand sand with 80-grit sandpaper to blend all the edges down; then finish hand sanding with 100-grit sandpaper. Screw or bolt the handrail in place and remove the clamps.
Tips and warnings
- Ask an assistant to help you cut the handrail into slices. Use brown resin glue for dark wood handrails, maple coloured glue for natural wood handrails.
- Always wear safety glasses when working with wood.