How to Build a Deck Rail

The railing of a deck may be an important safety feature, but it is an aesthetic feature as well. Many styles and types of railings can be built. On many decks, it is a simple wood design that blends well with the rest of the deck.

Things You'll Need

  • 2 x 2 deck rail balusters 2 x 4 lumber 4 x 4 posts 2-1/2 inch deck screws 3-inch deck screws 3-1/2 inch deck screws 1/2 x 7 inch carriage bolts 1/2 inch nuts and washers 8 inch clamps Miter saw Drill 1/2 inch spade bit Hammer Ratchet set Four foot level Tape measure Safety glasses Dust mask


  1. Installing the Posts

    • 1
      Rail Post Installation

      Install the posts before the deck boards. Ideally, each post should be fastened on two adjacent sides by placing against a joist and the rim joist where they meet. If this is not possible, then install it against the rim joist.

    • 2

      Clamp the post in place. Plumb it with the level and get it as perfect as possible. Add a second clamp and tighten both clamps so the post can't move.

    • 3

      Drill all the way through the rim joist and post in two places. Use diagonal spacing. Insert bolts all the way through from the rim joist through the post. Use a hammer to tap it into place if you have to. The fit will be tight.

    • 4

      Drill another hole through the post from the adjacent joist center. Add a washer and nut to all three bolts and tighten with a ratchet.

    • 5

      Add posts about every six feet. Six feet is ideal spacing, but slightly shorter or longer is OK. Shorter spacing may be needed in some cases. Try not to have a long space between two posts, and just a foot or so between the next two. Space them out.

    • 6

      Recheck the plumb of the posts with the level. If it is off one way or the other, loosen the bolts just enough to use a shim to straighten the post. Then tighten the bolts again. Now install your deck boards before continuing with the railing installation.

    Installing the upper and lower railings

    • 7

      Measure the distance between two posts, three inches off the decking. Mark and cut a 2 x 4 for the lower rail piece.

    • 8

      Use three inch blocks to hold the 2 x 4 lower rail in place. Stand the rail on edge on the blocks and flush the inner rail face with the posts inside face.

    • 9

      Pilot drill two holes on the outer face of the lower rail on an angle through the lower rail and into the post. Add two 3-1/2 inch deck screws. Repeat for the other end of the lower rail.

    • 10

      Measure up 31 inches from the decking and make a mark on the post. Temporarily screw a block flush with the mark to hold the upper rail as it is fastened. Add another block to the opposite side at the same height.

    • 11

      Measure the distance between the two rails at the marks. Mark and cut two 2 x 4s for the upper rail pieces.

    • 12

      Stand the upper rail on edge on the blocks. Flush the board with the posts and drill two pilot holes in each end the same as was done for the lower rail. Fasten in place with two screws at each end.

    • 13

      Lay the second 2 x 4 flat on the upper rail piece and flush it with the inside edge. Clamp it in place and drill pilot holes two inches from the ends and about every 12 inches. Drill the holes into the center of the installed rail piece. Fasten in place with 3 inch deck screws.

    Installing the Balusters

    • 14

      Batch cut all the balusters to 31-1/2 inches. Set the saw to 45 degrees and cut one end of each baluster to 45 degrees, leaving the length at 31-1/2 inches.

    • 15

      Divide the width of the rails by two. Measure out from a post this distance and make a mark on the upper and lower rails.

    • 16

      Hold a baluster in place, centered over the marks and pilot drill the top and bottom of the baluster.

    • 17

      Screw the baluster in place with 2-1/2 inch deck screws. Measure over 3-1/2 inches, mark and place another baluster flush with the marks, leaving a 3-1/2 inch gap between balusters.

    • 18

      Pilot drill the holes, screw the baluster in place with the 2-1/2 inch screws. Continue until all the balusters are in place. Insure the gap between the last baluster and post is less than or equal to 3-1/2 inches.

Tips & Warnings

  • Before beginning, check your local building codes. This deck rail will meet most, but not all, building codes. A 2 x 4 makes a great spacer to set balusters. Cut a 34 inch piece and stand it on the decking against the previous baluster and you can lay the next baluster right against it. Some stores like Home Depot offer deck design services free of charge and they are set up to meet the local codes of the communities they serve. Follow the plans they print out and you won't go wrong at the building department or while you're building. Don't waste your money purchasing cheap lumber which will rot in a few years. Use pressure treated lumber for all your framing and either pressure treated lumber, cedar, or redwood for decking and railings. Or for a finished look right from the start, use some of the new composite materials which never need staining or sealing.
  • Wear safety goggles while cutting or hammering. Wear a dust mask while cutting lumber. Follow all local building codes and clear your plans with the local building department before beginning construction.
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  • Photo Credit Photo by Clyde Meeshka, Illustrations by MJ Logan

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