How to Build a Metal Hand Rail

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Metal handrails are stronger and more durable than other types of handrails but they are not as attractive. Metal handrails can be made from metal U-channel, black iron gas pipe, galvanized steel gas pipe or polished brass pipe. Metal U-channel is not as strong as the three types of pipe. Metal handrails can be assembled with a power screwdriver in just a few minutes. While metal pipe handrails were once used outdoors or in factories, hospitals or schools, they are now also used in converted loft apartments with post-modern decor.

Things You'll Need

  • Black iron, galvanized steel or polished brass pipe cut into 4-feet sections
  • Flange mounts
  • T-fittings
  • Pipe nipples
  • two 90-degree elbow fittings
  • Power screwdriver and socket set
  • Appropriate fasteners for your type of wall
  • Large magnet or stud finder
  • Carpenters' pencil
  • three to six bags of quick-drying concrete mix (if making a free-standing rail)
  • Flat-sided gravel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Plumb bob
  • Spirit level
  • Examine the wall where you intend to mount your metal handrail. If it is made of Sheetrock (drywall), use a magnet or stud finder to locate the nearest studs. If possible, place the flange mounts on these studs. If not, use molly bolts when attaching a metal handrail to Sheetrock to prevent it from being pulled loose. Use lag bolts to attach a metal handrail to concrete. Use wood screws to attach it to a paneled wall or outdoors on the side of a house or outbuilding.

  • Measure the length of the wall where you want to install your handrail. You will need one T-fitting and flange mount every four feet to support the rail between the two ends. If your rail will be free-standing instead of attached to a wall, you will need one post and T-fitting about every four feet. An eight-foot-long, free standing rail would need three 48-inch pipes for posts, two 90-degree elbows, and one T-fitting. A 12-foot-long wall would need two T-fittings, two elbows and four pipes.

  • Screw one of the 90-degree elbows onto one end of your first section of pipe. Screw a T-fitting onto the other end. Screw the second piece of pipe into the first T-fitting. Screw additional T-fittings and pipe sections as needed until you have a rail of the desired length. Finish with the second 90-degree elbow.

  • Screw pipe nipples into each flange mount. Pipe nipples are short sections of connector pipe that are threaded at each end. Screw the other end of each pipe nipple into the 90-degree elbows and into each T-fitting.

  • Hold the rail to the wall and mark the positions of each flange mount with a carpenters' pencil. Screw the flanges into the wall using the appropriate type of fastener: lag bolts for concrete or stone, molly bolts with Sheetrock screws for Sheetrock, or wood screws for paneling or wood-sided buildings.

  • Put all your weight on the handrail. It should not bow, wiggle or rattle when pulled or shaken. If it does, tighten all screws an extra quarter turn at a time, beginning with the 12 o'clock screw, then the one at 6 o'clock, then 9, then 3. Put all your weight on the sections between rails. If it bows, add an extra T-fitting, nipple and flange mount between the two ends of your metal hand rail for added support.

  • Dig one 6-inch to 8-inch diameter post hole for every four feet of rail if you want to make a free-standing metal hand rail. Instead of pipe nipples, use a 4-foot length of pipe that is threaded at one end. Screw the threaded end of the post pipes into each of the two 90-degree elbows and each T-fitting. Set the handrail so that each pipe fits into one of the holes at least one foot deep. Fill the space around each pipe post with flat-sided gravel.

  • Mix quick-drying concrete in a wheelbarrow and fill each post hole. Hang a plumb bob from a spirit level and place it on top of each end of the rail. Adjust the rail until the plumb bob and posts are vertical to the ground. Brace the rail in the correct position until the concrete sets.

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