Stair Handrail... any tips?

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Forum topic by jeth posted 02-06-2016 11:00 PM 826 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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258 posts in 2804 days

02-06-2016 11:00 PM

Topic tags/keywords: stairs handrail newel install

Hello all.. I’ve been asked to put in a price for a few sections of handrail/balustrade and It’s something I’ve never done before. All my reference books are furniture based and an online search throws up lots of vids and tutorials, but all of them seem to cover the installation of a standard stair rail on wooden steps. The job I have been offered is for poured concrete steps. The info I can find for install on concrete steps is for typical exterior applications using brackets and specialist hardware.. neither the look or approach I am interested in.

So, any pros here with experience who could share some tips for me. I can pretty much work out how to get the job done but would be helpful to have some hints to make life easier, especially with regard to the usual assembly sequence for this type of install.

Probably easiest if I tell you what I have figured out so far and you can help me to fill in the gaps or correct me where I’m way off mark.
I am pretty sure that the first thing I will have to do is install some posts plumb at the head and foot of each section of steps (the sets are quite short, about 8’) .. I don’t like the idea of post holder hardware for this as I don’t think it will be solid enough (and comments I found online seem to agree). Anything beefy will also be hard to cover up, and I don’t want metal hardware on view. The idea I have here is to set some allthread (either 3 or 4) rods into the base of the post, using a template to mark for the holes, then use the same template to drill the concrete and set the rods/post with some epoxy.
From here I think I will need a lower rail as well as the top rail, this to avoid the hassle of fixing all the balusters to the concrete, so the whole rail will simply hang between the posts. For this I thought of using threaded rod again, set into the posts with an access hole on the underside of the rail to fit a nut and tighten in place, like hidden bed bolts. The lower ones the rail could slip over the bolt and the upper ones I would rout a channel so it can just drop down over the bolt from above. I could reinforce and avoid any twisting with nails or plugged screws.

What I am not sure about is if I should assemble the rail in the workshop and trim the ends of the upper/lower rails to fit on site, or assemble everything on site. I am also unsure as to the best method of fixing the balusters. As they will not meet a level surface at the bottom end, any dowel or tenon used will have to be angled. The top and bottom of the balusters could slip into a wide groove on the bottom/top of the upper/lower rail and the spaces be filled with fillets to lock them in position but I am not sure how secure that would be. The advantage would be that I would cut each baluster on site to sit plumb. I am concerned that if I pre-assemble, or even pre mortise the rails then my angle might not be spot on once everything is installed and it might look odd if the balusters aren’t perfectly plumb.

How do folks go about this normally? Any tips I will be very grateful.

8 replies so far

View No12's profile


7 posts in 946 days

#1 posted 02-06-2016 11:33 PM

Set up temporary posts first to rest the rail on. I use 1×4’s as temp posts. Clamp the rail on top of these. Then use this as a reference for the posts. Let me know if I can help further. I’ve done this type of work for 30 plus years.

View jerryminer's profile


916 posts in 1408 days

#2 posted 02-07-2016 01:27 AM

Sounds a little like you’re trying to re-invent the wheel. Bolting stair rails together has been figured out for a long time and there is hardware made just for that purpose. Here is one example:

Zip rail bolt

All-thread into concrete: I would leave an access hole in the post for post-tensioning in order to keep the connection as tight as possible (hole can be plugged after—or a skirt installed at bottom of post)

Exterior stairs? Remember to treat the wood against rot (or use a resistant species). Concrete-to-wood connection tends to collect moisture and rot the wood.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View jeth's profile


258 posts in 2804 days

#3 posted 02-07-2016 02:27 AM

thanks for your replies.. I had figured I would need to do a mock up as suggested by No12 in order to get my angles and rough measurements. I’m more concerned about the assembly of the balusters and rails if you have any pointers on that front.. would you pre-assemble or assemble on site and how would you fix the balusters between the rails?

jerry, I saw plenty of youtube tutorials referencing the zip bolt but I am in southern Mexico, where the wheel still hasn’t been invented ;) Seriously, I’m having a hard job even finding a suitable epoxy and these kind of neat solutions generally don’t get onto the market here as economy rules, where you would spend a couple of dollars more to save time on things here it is the reverse.. minimum wage is less than $5usd a day.
I had considered setting the rods in the ‘crete first then leaving access holes, like the rail connections and tightening them down with nuts then covering with a strip of moulding or something but then I thought perhaps it’s safer if the rods are set into the post first as if there is any slight misalignment they can be forced into the holes in the concrete, whereas forcing them into the holes in the wood could cause problems.
It’s interior so no worries there (nearly everything is made out of concrete here, exterior and interior) it’s a humid climate though so I will seal the post ends anyway.

View jerryminer's profile


916 posts in 1408 days

#4 posted 02-07-2016 03:03 AM

how would you fix the balusters between the rails?

If you pre-assemble, you can run some screws up from the bottom. Or toe-nails and filler blocks is a tried-and-true approach.
I saw plenty of youtube tutorials referencing the zip bolt but I am in southern Mexico,

Amazon doesn’t deliver to Mexico?

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View jeth's profile


258 posts in 2804 days

#5 posted 02-07-2016 04:14 AM

Not that Amazon doesn’t deliver, it’s that the work doesn’t pay enough for those kind of expenses, minimum $30usd shipping for a small package, even if the hardware cost me 5 bucks, I’ll be using 12 of them, $90 usd total and that’s equivalent to a weeks well paid work, a month at minimum wage! So you can see that $90 usd extra charged to the client isn’t going to help me get the job when the next guy is happy to stick some chewing gum and a couple of nails on it. I like to o things properly but that means making the most of what’s cheaply and commonly available.

View josephf's profile


188 posts in 2063 days

#6 posted 02-07-2016 04:50 AM

Can you set it up so the newels are against a riser? use a hole in the concrete below with water putty to hold/grab a lag in the bottom of the post .that keeps the base of the post tight .then come up the newel and run a horizontal lag through the post into the riser . plug this hole . i need pictures but hope i could help .

View jeth's profile


258 posts in 2804 days

#7 posted 02-07-2016 06:35 AM

I get you joseph, thanks, that, or going into the side of the steps, which are exposed, could be a possibility but I just don’t think it looks as clean as a “free standing post”.. might be harder to get plumb without it getting messy with shims as the riser face is unlikely to be flat or plumb? I’m going to think about it though, into the sides would certainly be more straight forward.

View dddddmorgan's profile


87 posts in 1094 days

#8 posted 02-07-2016 12:48 PM

I have in past projects put a small oversized round hollow form in the concrete framing then set my post in these and filled to match. The big limitation there is this doesn’t work right at the edge.

For edge work I agree with bolts or a bracket set in the concrete.

If things are really wonky all the way around I always made a mock-up, if I think I can get close enough I make the finished product sufficiently oversized and trim onsite.

-- Maintenance Man - I do precision guesswork based on unreliable data from people of questionable knowledge...

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