Need a handrail - looking for ideas

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Forum topic by Nel posted 04-07-2011 06:22 AM 3504 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Nel's profile


8 posts in 2571 days

04-07-2011 06:22 AM

Topic tags/keywords: stair railing

As you can see, my handrail only goes halfway up the stairs. Our young daughter has started walking down the stairs and it’s a bit nerve-wracking without an upper railing.
What would you do?
1) I really want a continuous railing. Should I just run a new railing all the way down the opposite wall?
2) I really want the new rail to match the other one in shape. Does this mean a custom railing and would that be expensive?
3) How can I figure out what type of wood to buy? The existing volute and rail do not seem to match.
4) How can I find the studs in that plaster wall? It’s super hard stuff, not sheetrock. THe house was built in the 1930’s.
Thanks for any advice!

19 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117061 posts in 3541 days

#1 posted 04-07-2011 06:28 AM

To put a continuous handrail would involve a jog or curve in the hand rail .I would suggest you just add another section of handrail mounted on the same side on the wall at the same height.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3005 days

#2 posted 04-07-2011 07:21 AM

To me it looks like railing you can get at HD or Lowes, I would check it out. Unless you have a builders supply house or molding company near by.

View drewnahant's profile


222 posts in 3053 days

#3 posted 04-07-2011 07:27 AM

You could go down the other side with a continuous rail, but it may make the stairs seem narrow, not sure from the pic. otherwise, I’d just do a section on the upper wall, it isnt worth the curved parts, and all the effort to jog over, and it will look odd anyway. Your current hand rail looks like the standard profile, I’m pretty sure you can pick up a section at Home Depot or Lowes

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18246 posts in 3640 days

#4 posted 04-07-2011 01:07 PM

I woudl just go down the other side if it isn’t a space issue.

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Nel's profile


8 posts in 2571 days

#5 posted 04-08-2011 03:52 AM

Thanks for the replies. I went to Home Depot today and they don’t have the same railing. I guess I could replace the old one at the same time, then everything would match.
How about finding studs in the plaster…any ideas? Guess I could drill a random hole, find the closest stud, then patch?

View GaryL's profile


1099 posts in 2794 days

#6 posted 04-08-2011 04:17 AM

Check out LJ Smith

You’ll need a fitting similiar to this to run a continuous rail up the same wall. Railings must be continuous by code if your concerned about that sort of thing.

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View wseand's profile


2796 posts in 3005 days

#7 posted 04-08-2011 04:34 AM

Gary, would it be better to put it on the other side then.

View RTim's profile


60 posts in 2656 days

#8 posted 04-08-2011 05:08 AM

To find the studs, get a low-cost electronic stud finder ($10-$20 at a big box store). This is a battery operated device that will give a reasonable indication of where the studs are in the walls by finding the edges. A low-tech way to possibly find them is see if you can find any of the nail holes in the baseboard moldings on the stairs. They were usually finish nailed into the studs. Hunt and peck with a finish nail is also a tried and true method.

This Old House has a video on their site of how to mount a handrail. It may give you some tips.

If your current railing is not an in-stock railing, milling something to match could be rather expensive. It might be less expensive to replace everything with matching, in-stock railing material. Check the local big box stores, ask at the millwork desk too for special order items, but also look for architectural millwork suppliers in your area. Some lumber yards also do millwork too, but they could have a more limited set of choices. Your other option is to try an mill a railing to match yourself. A piece of red oak (poplar if you plan to paint), a router, a hand plane, some sandpaper along with a good dose of patience and perseverence will get you a railing that matches.

-- Tim from MA -- "Well done is better than well said." - Benjamin Franlin

View GaryL's profile


1099 posts in 2794 days

#9 posted 04-08-2011 05:09 AM

It would sure be alot easier to run another rail up the opposite side.

-- Gary; Marysville, MI...Involve your children in your projects as much as possible, the return is priceless.

View ScottN's profile


261 posts in 2643 days

#10 posted 04-08-2011 03:31 PM

diddo on the railing on the other side.for looks I would keep it simple, not to draw attention from the main fancy railing.

-- New Auburn,WI

View NathanAllen's profile


376 posts in 3108 days

#11 posted 04-08-2011 04:13 PM

Even with a jog you’d likely lose some stability/integrity on the ballisters since instead of a hard mount to a stud you’d be relying on the connection of the fitting to the first and second sections of rail.

Adding a continious section of rail to the other wall will be cheaperst, balance the look of the stairs and not require significant modifications to what is already a stable rail/ballister system.

View Nel's profile


8 posts in 2571 days

#12 posted 04-11-2011 06:11 PM

Thanks again for the advice. I am leaning toward putting the rail on the opposite wall and leaving the existing rail alone. I am getting a quote from a Rhode Island company right now to create a rail similar to the one in this picture. I just couldn’t find anything close in stock. Will post more updates when I get them.

View doughan's profile


96 posts in 2555 days

#13 posted 04-23-2011 10:20 PM

If you buy two 90 degree fittings you can keep the rail at the right distance from the upper wall for your hand rail brackets.
How long ago was that hand rail installed? It doesn’t even come close to being a legal rail.

View devann's profile


2246 posts in 2656 days

#14 posted 04-24-2011 03:47 AM

I’d go with a countinuous handrail down the oppisite wall. You say your house was built in the 1930s? Then there is a good chance that you have 3/4” boards over the studs that the plaster was applied to. I’d use 3/16” toggle bolts to secure the handrail brackets if you need to have a bracket between the stud layout. But use a stud finder to locate as many as possible. You need a carpet runner going down those stairs too.

-- Darrell, making more sawdust than I know what to do with

View Nel's profile


8 posts in 2571 days

#15 posted 04-25-2011 04:37 PM

Thanks for all the advice. Here’s an update. After getting some high quotes, I went back to Home Depot. I realized I could get something pretty close to the original by using a stock 6010 profile, then ripping an inch from the bottom of it and sanding it smooth. I went with a basic return like this picture instead of a quarter turn back to the wall which would have been more complicated.
I had an old stud finder that didn’t register anything, but I just bought a Zircon i320 which is for deep walls and it seems like it is finding the studs right through the plaster!
Right now I am testing stain colors and getting ready to glue the returns to the rail. Found this cool product called the Spring Bolt to hold them together while the glue sets. Will post pictures when complete!

showing 1 through 15 of 19 replies

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