Today I’m sharing the third and final big step in my front porch steps project — building the railing and handrail. Here’s how my finished railing turned out…
Now when I say “finished,” I don’t mean that it’s completely finished, of course. It still needs paint and stain. Right now, I’m planning on staining the very top handrail, and painting the other two rails white. And of course, I still have a bit of trim, a cap, and a finial to add to the post, along with some caulk and paint.
So “finished” simply means that it’s built. 🙂
If you missed the first two posts in this project, you can get caught up here:
- Building My Front Porch Steps (The Box Method) – Part 1 – Building The Basic Frame
- Building The Front Porch Steps – Part 2 – Treads, Risers, and Stain
Now let me show you how I did the handrail. I started by covering the posts with PVC boards. The frustrating thing about this is that the 4 x 4 posts aren’t actually 3.5 inches wide. They’re 3 5/8 inches wide. That means that I couldn’t use 1″ x 4″ boards (which are actually 3.5 inches wide). I actually had to spend more and get the next size up (1 x 6’s, which are actually 5.5 inches wide) and rip them to the correct width using my table saw. Then I attached those pieces to the left and right sides of the posts.
Then I ripped pieces to fit the front and back and attached those.
I want these posts trimmed out exactly like the columns on the porch, so before I could work on the handrail, I needed to attach the trim pieces at the bottom. I made these the exact same height as the ones on the porch columns. I attached the left and right pieces first…
And then attached the front and back pieces…
As far as the trim goes, that’s all that I needed to attach in order to do the handrail. The rest of the trim can be attached after the rail is done.
Next, I measured the finished height that I wanted (38 inches) and used my speed square to mark the height on all four sides.
Then I used my circular saw to cut along those lines on all four sides and remove the excess height.
In building the railing, I started from the top and worked my way down. The directions on the balusters that I used (these are the ones I used) said to start at the bottom and work up. That didn’t make sense in my mind because the handrail needed to be at a very specific height. The rest could be adjusted if need be.
So using a 2 x 8 piece of cedar, I ripped a piece to 3.5 inches wide. (I didn’t use cedar 2 x 4’s because I couldn’t find any that weren’t incredibly rough.) Then I measured and marked the handrail height on both the column and the post, held the handrail up to both marks, and marked the angles with a pencil. Then I cut the angles and attached the handrail using pocket screws on the bottom side of the handrail.
Here’s a peek of the underside where the pocket screws attach the handrail to the column.
Next, I ripped a two-inch-wide piece from that same cedar board to fit right under the handrail, cut to the same length and with the same angles on each end, but this one was cut so that it stood upright rather than lying flat like the handrail.
Before attaching that piece to the handrail, I measured and marked for the placement of the baluster connectors. These are the ones I used. They can be used on straight railings or on steps. You simply have to twist them to make them angled, and then screw them into position with the screws that are supplied with the connectors.
Once I had the connectors all attached, I removed the balusters (I was just making sure they would work 🙂 ) and then attached that rail to the bottom of the handrail using 2.5-inch screws screwed through the bottom of that rail and into the bottom of the handrail.
Using that same cedar board, I also ripped a piece that’s 2.5 inches wide for the bottom rail, and I attached the baluster connectors using the exact same spacing.
Then I realized that lining all of these things up and attaching them was a near impossibility for us mortals with only two hands.
I was about ready to give up and wait until I could call in reinforcements when I realized that I could just let tape be my other hands. I used some adhesive sealant inside the metal tubes, attached them to the top connectors, and taped them into place so they wouldn’t fall off.
It was still quite the challenge to get all of the seven balusters lined up with the bottom connectors on the bottom rail with only two hands, but I somehow managed. It used up almost all of my reservoirs of patience (my reservoirs of patience generally run pretty low anyway 😀 ), but I finally got them all attached. And then I attached the bottom rail to the post and colum using pocket holes that I had pre-drilled on the side of the bottom rail.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t hide those pocket holes underneath the rail since there wasn’t enough room to get my drill underneath that bottom rail to attach it. But Kreg has pocket hole plugs that can be used to fill and hide pocket holes.
As a side note, the balusters were a bit too long for my railing, but they’re aluminum, so they cut very easily with a miter saw. Just be VERY SURE that you wear eye protection (or just close your eyes completely while cutting, which is what I did) because those little metal pieces go flying. And the last thing you want are metal fragments hitting your eyes.
And with that, the railing was built.
I’m really thrilled with how it turned out. I love how the black metal ties in with all of my other black accents, and like I said above, right now I’m planning on staining the top handrail and painting the other two connecting rails white. And of course, the post still needs some trim, a cap, a finial, some sanding, a bit of caulk, and paint.
I should have these steps and railings completely finished this weekend!