DIY exterior handrails

Written by john landers
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DIY exterior handrails
Exterior handrails (what will this day bring? image by Jake Hellbach from Fotolia.com)

You can make exterior handrails from a wide variety of building materials, including wood, metal, PVC and composite materials. The handrails are safety measures for stairs and for decks and patios that have stair entries. Rather than depend on a handyman or carpenter to install these features, you can complete a do-it-yourself outside handrail project with the right tools and a little patience.

Building Codes

DIY exterior handrails
Find out the specific codes required (Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Speak to your building code inspector about the height requirement for handrails. Most municipal building codes require handrails to be 34 to 38 inches. The codes may require handrails when you have a certain number of steps. They may dictate the maximum space allowed between balusters to prevent small children from getting stuck between the components. In addition, many building codes require handrails around the perimeter of a deck when it exceeds a certain height above the ground.

Stair Handrails

DIY exterior handrails
Get the proper measurements depending on the handrail (David Sacks/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Generally, the first image that comes to mind for exterior handrails is when they are attached to two posts and are used to ascend or descend stairs entering a porch or deck. However, handrails may also be attached to a side wall along an exterior staircase.

Whether you are attaching handrails to walls or between posts, you must have the following measurements to get the correct handrail length: the total rise and the run. The total rise is the vertical distance from the surface of the top landing to the ground or the landing where the bottom step rests. The run is the horizontal distance between the top step's riser, which is the plank between the landing and the first step, and the riser of the last step.

Also, measure the distance from the top step to the bottom step. Extend your tape measure parallel to the stairs to get this measurement. Have these numbers in hand when you go to purchase the handrail kit or individual components. At minimum, you'll need the following components to complete the project: rails, balusters, spindles and fasteners. For wall-mounted handrails, you'll need metal brackets. If you are attaching the handrails to posts, you will need to purchase the posts if they are not already in place.

Metal handrails are usually single components consisting of the top and bottom rails with the spindles or balusters already mounted between the two rails. This type of exterior handrail requires mounting brackets or flanges that are usually secured to the landing and bottom step.

Deck Handrails

DIY exterior handrails
Deck handrails tend to be made from 2-by-4 boards (Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

This type of handrail gives people something to grasp as they walk on a porch or deck and prevents them from falling over the edge. One of the most popular installation methods is to mount 2-inch by 4-inch boards flat against the outside edges of the posts. Run the boards from end to end. Make the top edge of each 2-by-4 plank flush with the top surface of the posts.

The outside surfaces of the 2-by-4s also should be even with the outside surfaces of the band joists. Band joists are the boards around the perimeter underneath the deck. Fasten 2-by-4 boards on top of the posts. These boards form the flat part of the handrail. Now you can attach the balusters, which are the narrow vertical planks that extend down from the top of the rail.

Secure the balusters to the 2-by-4 boards that were mounted to the outside of the posts and make the top edge of the balusters even with the top of these boards. Fasten the bottom of the balusters to the outside surface of the band joists. Usually, balusters are made of 2-inch by 2-inch boards. The edges of the balusters can be bevelled or square.

It is best to use deck screws or galvanised nails for all connections.

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