How to Repair Deck Railings

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A railing gives a deck a nice feeling of enclosure and makes it safer as well. In fact, most building codes require you to put a railing around any deck 30 inches (76 cm) or more above the ground. But a railing can't do its job if it has broken or missing balusters, or wobbly handrails or posts. Deck parts are fairly standard, so there's a good chance you'll be able to find premade pieces at your lumberyard that will make the repairs below as easy as possible.

Things You'll Need

  • 2-by-2 Lumber (or Premade Balusters)
  • 4-by-4 Lumber (or Premade Deck Railing Post)
  • Wood Preservative Or Finish
  • Scrap Of Pressure-treated 2-by-4 Lumber
  • 1/8-inch (3-mm) Drill Bit
  • 2 1/2-inch (6-cm) Galvanized Deck Screws
  • 3-inch (7.5-cm) Galvanized Deck Screws
  • 5-inch (13-cm) Lag Screws With Washers
  • Drill Bit For Pilot Holes
  • Electric Drill With Screwdriver Bit
  • Hammer
  • Handsaw
  • Power Miter Saw Or Miter Box And Saw
  • Pry Bar
  • Socket Wrench

Replacing a baluster

  • Remove the damaged baluster by backing out its screws using an electric drill with a screwdriver bit. If it's nailed on, hammer near the top of the baluster on the opposite side of the nails to loosen them, then pry off the baluster with a hammer or pry bar. (Note: In some deck railings, the balusters are attached to a rail on top and to the end joist of the deck on bottom.)

  • Cut a replacement baluster to the length of the old baluster. The ends should be cut at a 45-degree angle; use a power miter saw or a saw and a miter box.

  • Hold the new baluster in position against the rails, centered between the balusters on either side. The angled cuts on the ends will be facing outward.

  • With a 1/8-inch (3-mm) drill bit, make a pilot hole through the baluster at each end, drilling through the flat front about 1/2 inch (12 mm) from the angled ends, and into the rails.

  • Drive a 2 1/2-inch (6-cm) galvanized screw into each pilot hole to attach the baluster to the rails (see A).

  • Apply wood preservative or finish if necessary.

Reinforcing a handrail

  • Cut a pressure-treated 2-by-4 scrap so that its length is the same as the width of the railing post. Use a power miter saw or a saw and a miter box.

  • Place the scrap inside the corner formed by the handrail and the railing post.

  • Using an electric drill with a screwdriver bit, drive two 3-inch (7.5-cm) galvanized screws through the block and into the post.

  • Drive one 2 1/2-inch (6-cm) screw down through the handrail and into the block, being careful not to run into the first two screws.

  • If possible, drive one 2 1/2-inch (6-cm) screw through the side rail or the side of the top rail into the end of the block.

Replacing a post

  • Detach the handrail and any long side rails from the post. Back out any screws holding them to the post; to remove nails, hold a wood scrap underneath the handrail or inside the rail, and hammer on the block until the nails release enough to be pried off.

  • Remove the old post from the base of the deck. This will require either removing nails as above or removing lag screws from the side of the post with a socket wrench.

  • Using the old post as a template, draw lines on a length of 4-by-4 lumber to replicate its length and shape.

  • Cut along the lines on the 4-by-4 with a handsaw, and cut out a notch in the bottom so that it will fit over the base of the deck and align with the remainder of the railing. Use a saw and a miter box (or a power miter saw) to make an angled cut at the bottom of the post.

  • Apply wood preservative to the inside surfaces of the notch.

  • Put the new post in place so that the handrail and side rails meet it at the proper places.

  • Drill two pilot holes through the bottom part of the post into the base of the deck.

  • Install two 5-inch (13-cm) lag screws with washers into the pilot holes; tighten firmly (see B).

  • Reattach the handrail and side rails to the new post, using 2 1/2-inch (6-cm) screws.

  • Apply wood preservative or stain to any new parts as needed.

Tips & Warnings

  • While you're repairing the railing, consider installing some premade decorative post caps. They're available at lumberyards in a variety of designs.
  • Sometimes balusters on a fairly new deck become loose or cracked due to shifts caused by the deck's settling in the ground.
  • Apply an extra coat of preservative to the ends of any pieces you've cut on an angle.
  • When cutting pressure-treated wood (deck parts are often made from it), wear a dust mask to avoid inhaling any sawdust that may contain hazardous chemicals.
  • For safety, balusters should be spaced no more than 6 inches (15 cm) apart; install additional balusters, if necessary, to reduce any gaps to that size.

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