Types of exterior handrails

Written by sandra king
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Types of exterior handrails
Steps and flowers are bordered by a handrail. (stairs image by AGITA LEIMANE from Fotolia.com)

Made of primitive saplings, gleaming steel and every material in-between, exterior handrails exist to provide a safe handhold when climbing stairs or prevent a fall from a deck or porch. They also point visitors to the front door, may offer clues to the personality of the business or homeowners housed within or confirm the age of the structure they enhance. Choosing the right exterior handrails can link design with purpose and upgrade curb appeal.

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Often associated with modern design, steel, stainless steel and aluminium handrails are used for exterior handrails. Because metal bends to fit just about any shape during the manufacturing process, it may work best for long, curving staircases or awkward angles. The durability of metal also enhances its appeal, according to the website Home Decorating Reviews, which notes metal outlasts wood and requires much less maintenance.

Far from modern, wrought iron has existed for centuries and remains a vintage favourite for exterior handrails. Predictably more expensive than wood, House Decorating Reviews reports that low iron prices can turn wrought iron a viable and more affordable alternative. Few products, too, outlast the tenacity of wrought iron. The decorative choices of curling flowers, simple straight lines or a combination of shapes also add to its attraction.


Generally less durable than metal or stone, wooden handrails were originally carved by hand and utilised for safety rather than design, according to Amy Hughes, writing for This Old House. Interestingly, the advent of the manufacturing age and machine-cut products in the United States brought wood to the forefront for use in porch and outdoor staircase railings.

As familiar now as front porches once were, backyard wooden deck railings can be wide enough for a flowerpot, thin enough to avoid competing with the view yet sturdy enough for safety. Kits for porch, deck and stair handrails abound in catalogues and at local home improvement stores. If you have an old house, styles mimicking the curlicues of the Victorians or the strong simplicity of the Prairie movement are widely available.

Durability improves with treated lumber and routine maintenance like painting or applying fresh stain as directed by the manufacturer.

Other Materials

Possibly cost-prohibitive when compared with wood or metal, stone can make a sturdy statement as a newel post marking the entrance to your outdoor staircase or cast an invitation to sit for a spell when used as a wide porch railing. Concrete manufacturers use their product as imitations of natural stone or slick counterparts to modern architecture. Many designers regularly combine metal, wood or stone with panels of tempered glass to make bold statements or enhance city views on rooftop decks.

Consider Recycling

When choosing exterior handrails, a day spent at an architectural salvage yard may uncover hidden treasure in the stacks of old porch and stair railings typically available. More stringent building codes these days require tighter spacing between balusters and higher handrails than in days past, but mixing and matching with salvage yard pieces can create an artistic and safe exterior handrail.

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