Handrails on any stairway are necessary for safety reasons. On outdoor stairways they are especially important due to hazards that are not present on interior stairs such as wind, rain and ice. Handrails must be very sturdy and well built but can also look attractive and lend a decorative air to the exterior of a home.
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You can construct basic and serviceable handrails out of simple 2x4s to save time and money. Build the rails at least 4-feet high for safety, and attach them to the stairway or the edge of the deck with lag bolts or bolts with nuts. Screws or nails will not provide sufficient strength. Railings are attached at the bottom but experience significant stress at the top when people lean on them, so the hardware attaching them experiences major stress due to leverage. Whenever possible, extend a railing around a corner or attach it to the wall of the house to increase its strength.
Wrought Iron Handrails
If you are looking for an elaborate or old-fashioned look and have a bit of money to spare, wrought iron railings are an impressive feature for a home. Be honest about the home you have, however; elaborate wrought iron on the stairs of a modest ranch home can look pretentious and overdone. Options for wrought iron include doing it yourself if you have some blacksmithing skills, hiring a local craftsman or finding vintage wrought iron at an architectural salvage store. Take note that, no matter how you install it, wrought iron doesn't come cheap. Painting it with a gloss black anti-rust paint will help keep it looking fine.
Turned Wood Handrails
Wooden handrails don't need to be solely utilitarian. Handrails with turned newell posts and balusters can define the facade of a home. If you have some time and access to a lathe, you can learn to turn these components yourself. It isn't terribly difficult, but does take a lot of time if you're installing them all by hand. Newell posts are constructed out of multiple pieces of wood, like a barrel, and then turned on the lathe, while the thinner balusters are often made from a single piece of wood. Topped with a handrail that has an attractive profile, turned balusters can transform a drab housefront into a work of art.
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