Building a stair railing serves the dual purpose of creating a new visual accent to your room while also providing a secure support mechanism for those that need it. While this can be a more challenging DIY, with some carpentry skills and attention to detail, a new railing for your renovation is achievable. Ready to get going? Here’s how to build a stair railing from scratch.
Prepping to Build a Stair Railing
Whether you’re replacing a railing or installing a brand new addition to your home, the steps will be the same in preparing your workspace. You’ll want to set up a makeshift shop with all of your tools laid out and clear enough room around the area to maneuver your tools and wood pieces. Additionally, ensuring that you have tie-in locations on the floor or wall that are secure enough to handle the support columns of the stair railing is important before you begin the project.
7 Steps to Build a Stair Railing
Determine Your Railing Style
Before you start building a stair railing, you’ll want to determine what style you’re going for: traditional or modern. The style determines everything about your approach, including the types of material you order and the tools you’ll use. Your budget will also come into play here; for example, a wrought iron railing costs more than a wood railing due to the specialized skill involved in fabrication.
While a traditional stair railing is often made of wood, more modern stair railings use metal spindles or horizontal spindles made with stretched cable. If you decide to go the metal route, you can cut the flat metal bar with a metal blade and bolt things together.
Measure for Materials
Using graph paper, draw out a rough plan for your stair railing project. A visual aid will help you determine how much wood or metal you'll need to purchase for all the various sections that comprise a stair rail. Mark down the numbers and check off each portion of the drawing as you go to get an accurate materials list, then order 5% to 10% of extra material to ensure that you have room for mistakes on cuts and errors in calculations.
Mount the Columns
The most important safety consideration when building a stair railing is how the columns tie into the overall structure of your building. People trust that a railing can hold their weight as they lean against it or use it as support, so you must ensure a solid connection for these main pieces.
If you're attaching a wood railing to a wood floor, you'll need special connector brackets that are sturdy enough to create the right joint between them for supporting weight and twist. The same goes for when you’re connecting a metal bracket to a wood floor, though it’s likely that you’ll be using a slightly different combination of attachments that could include nuts and bolts instead of nails and screws.
If you’re connecting the columns to a concrete floor, you’ll want to use a hammer drill and concrete fasteners to make the tie-in completely secure.
Cut the Spindles
If you’ve ordered your spindles—also called a baluster—from a railing supplier, you probably won’t need to be making cuts to their standardized sizing. If you’re building your stair railing from scratch, you’ll want to make the height between 34 and 38 inches to keep within commonly sized levels.
Make your first cut on a templated piece, and then use that piece to create the rest of the balustrade. This ensures that it's all level when installing everything, including the railing itself.
You’ll need an extra pair of hands to install the spindles. The railing has a notch on the bottom that fits into the spindle but if you’re installing, say, 13 uprights at the same time in a single section, you’ll need to do them mostly all at once and balance the uprights while you work. Slowly drop the railing down onto the spindles and nail or bolt them into the floor as you go.
Install the Stair Railing
The stair railing installation step coincides with the spindle installation, but you’ll want to use this time to ensure that everything is level and tied into the superstructure of your home. This is also a good time to put on the finishing touches like caulking or glue.
When using a wood product, stain and then varnish the sections all at the same time. If you've used metal for most of the railing, take a good linseed oil product and wipe everything down to give it a nice sheen and prevent corrosion.
DIY Building a Stair Railing vs. Hiring a Pro
Since building a stair railing requires a basic grasp of carpentry, you’ll only want to attempt this job on your own if you know your way around woodworking tools or are a pro at following a step-by-step DIY building guide. Otherwise, a professional carpenter will be able to do the job for you. The cost of a professionally installed wood stair railing ranges from $750 to $1,250, with $35 to $550 for newel posts and $300 to $450 for a stair banister; wrought iron balusters or handrails average around $2,600.
If you’re not paying for labor, the cost to install a DIY stair railing will start at around $700 for a 25-foot stair railing and $3,000 for a 50-foot railing, according to HomeAdvisor.