Just because you need a handrail to make your stairway safer does not mean you have to settle for the usual ho-hum wooden banister and rails. Follow safety guidelines from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) for height and spacing requirements, but allow yourself to do some out-of-the-box thinking to create a handrail system for your stairs that will add beauty to an otherwise overlooked feature of your deck.
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Pipe and Rope
For an inexpensive handrail on any deck, but especially fitting for one near the seaside, install a pipe and rope system, which is exactly what it sounds like. Simply screw a pipe flange to every other tread on the stairs, and screw a pipe of the appropriate height into each flange. Top each pipe with a 'T' fitting, and run a rope through all the openings from top stair to bottom. Finish with a knot on each end to keep the rope from slipping or becoming slack.
Build square wooden planter boxes -- sized to the width of the tread -- for the top, middle and bottom steps or as necessary for adequate support. Firmly attach the bottom of the boxes to the treads, and attach an upright post to the inside of each box. Add a handrail, affixed to the upright posts at the top, to span the length of the stairs. Paint the bottom portions of the posts and the inside of each box with a nontoxic waterproofing agent and fill with soil and plants for a fragrant addition to the deck.
My Japanese Garden demonstrates a lovely and classically Japanese stair railing and fence system that will pair well with an Asian-themed garden or architecture. Using nothing more than small dimensional lumber, black twine and short lengths of bamboo -- available in most garden supply stores and nurseries -- you can create a lightweight yet strong and functional stair rail. This is an especially good choice for renters as it is easy to dismantle and take with you if you change your residence.
For a modern architectural style, choose cable railing systems for a quick deck rail with flair. Install large pipe flanges on top and bottom treads. Add appropriate size pipes topped with 'L' fittings. Attach a long pipe section as the top rail between the two upright pipes by screwing it into the 'L' fitting on each end. Drill holes through both pipes at 4-inch intervals, and run a cable through each corresponding hole on both posts. Tighten cables in place with fixed or tensioner style cable terminals, available from speciality hardware stores or online suppliers.
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