A Love Affair With Handrails

5:34 PM

Who really thinks too much about handrails? Aside from a moment of faulty balance on a step, do you even notice them? Yet they are a fairly integral part of how a house looks. Handrails can be a critical indicator of the age (80s with large round painted metal) or style (traditional style oak with a little decorative flourish) of a home.

After moving into our new place I wanted to remove the early 2000s builder looking handrails and replace them. I wanted something a bit more modern with a nod to old world/art deco vintage. Enter DIY!

Taking inspiration from this post on the Driven By Design blog about making brass + lucite curtain rods, I embarked on DIY handrails.

P.S. Doing this with lucite instead of wood dowels would be gorgeous! For us it was tricky given the length of the rails we needed.

Lengths of 1.5inch or 2inch solid round dowels
Saddle posts and end posts (number will depend on how many railings you have and the length)
Extreme sticky tape
Thinner dowel or yard stick (ideally 2 of these)
Electric drill with both drill (size noted by manufacturer) and screw attachments
Paint or stain depending on how you want to finish your dowels
Another person

1) Before removing the old handrails make sure to measure the height from the step at the top and bottom and also the length.

  • For our new house the handrails were originally connected to be one continuous length going up a stairwell and I wanted more separation so I factored that into my plan.
  • Drawing it out on a piece of paper with lengths marked, bottom vs. top of stairs, and if you have multiple floors which floors the handrail is associated with makes a huge difference later.
2) Remove the old railings and patch/paint. 
  • We had painters coming in so they patched and painted the wall, but you could also do this yourself. 
3) Review your drawing and based on the length determine how many saddle posts (support posts) vs. end posts you need. 
  • For the posts I bought the requirement was roughly 4ft between each post. So I tried to accommodate that based on the length of the different sections. 
  • I bought these flush end posts in 1.5inch and these saddle posts. Both were brass and had pre-drilled holes to attach them to the walls. Buyrailings has a ton of other cool hardware as well. 
  • How amazing would it be to do bar foot rests with these supports. Maybe a later project?
4) Purchase and pre-cut the dowels. 
  • I found them at Home Depot. I know they will cut them to the right size, but we used a miter saw at our house instead. I am not the best at measuring (I tend to measure once and cut twice), so I bought a lot of extra wood and left them in 14 or 16ft. lengths. 
  • We could have painted these ourselves, but I also opted to have them painted. Megmade in Chicago painted them for us and did a fantastic job! However, getting the dowels there involved carefully loading them into my car with one end sticking up at the front windshield and then hanging 4ft or so out of the trunk. I even had to attach a "red flag" to the dowels as I drove. Lesson learned, I should have had them pre-cut at Home Depot or had  Megmade pick them up. 
5) Paint the dowels.
  • I would go with a high gloss or a semi-gloss. Ours are painted the same color as our walls (Benjamin Moore Decorator's White) and the different finish/sheen made them really pop. If you go high gloss, you may need to have them spray painted instead of hand painted to avoid brush strokes. 
6) Once the dowels are cut to size and the supports have arrived cut two extra pieces of wood or dowel to the railing height required by code. 
  • Check you local regulations for how high from the step the handrails need to be. We cut extra pieces of wood to that size so we didn't have to fumble with tape measures during installation. 

7) This is where two people are critical. Hold the posts to the end of the railing and hold up both ends agains the wall. Use the guide dowels or wood to get the posts to the right height and mark the pre-drilled post holes with pencil. 
  • Make sure to use proper supports (dry wall anchors, etc.) for the type of wall you are drilling into. The BuyRailings posts come with screws, but not anchors. 
  • The guide dowel or wood should be resting on the step directly under the post. 
  • You may have to adjust the height slightly for looks, especially if you have multiple lengths of dowel that come together. 
8) For longer sections of the handrail that require support saddle posts midway through, line up the support saddle posts on the ground at the appropriate distance from the end posts. Lay the dowel on top and mark on the dowel with pencil where the pre-drilled holes are. Then you can flip the dowel over and drill the support saddle posts into the dowel. This should ensure the support saddle posts are in a straight line. 
  • Make sure to do this before you hold the railing up to the wall to mark the holes.
  • Odds are longer pieces are not going to be 100% straight. Drilling them into the wall will help a lot. 
9) Drill into the pencil marks on the wall and install your anchors (or whatever support is right for your wall). 

10) Cut a small piece of tape and place it on the inside of the end post. Cut another strip and wrap it around the outer edge of the end of the dowel. Put the dowel and post together. You want a fairly tight fit.
  • This helps to ensure the dowel doesn't turn or move when installed. 
11) Screw the posts into the anchors/wall. Stand back and admire!

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  1. Hello there these are the incredible designs for the handrails.The process that you have followed is pretty simple and informative.

  2. I made a wooden staircase following your recommendations. Thank you! What are the main requirements for the stairs?