How to Install a Wall Mounted Hand Railing With Return

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It's a good idea to install hand rails in your house for safety and to avoid possible lawsuits should a guest accidentally slip and fall down your stairs. A wood hand rail is easily mounted using well engineered brackets that are first mounted to the wall and then secured to the bottom of the hand railing. For a quicker, efficient installation, enlist the help of a second person.

Things You'll Need

  • Stud finder
  • Blue painter's tape
  • Carpenter's level, 4-feet
  • Marker
  • Electric miter saw
  • Wood railing
  • Railing wall mount brackets
  • 3-inch long finishing nail
  • Hammer
  • Variable speed electric drill
  • Assorted size drill bits
  • Screwdriver bit
  • Pencil
  • Wood glue
  • 4-D finishing nails
  • Nail set
  • Wood filler

Use a stud finder to locate the studs in the wall the railing will be mounted to. A stud finder is a hand held tool that will indicate when it's sitting over a wall stud. Place blue painter's tape on the wall to mark the location of each stud from the top of the stairs to the bottom.

Set a 4-foot level vertically against the wall at the nose--front edge, of the top step. Adjust the level for plumb--straight up and down. Place painter's tape on the wall behind the front edge of the level. Make a vertical mark on the tape along the edge of the level. Make a second mark 36-inches up from the top step perpendicular to the vertical mark. Repeat at the bottom step.

Measure the distance along the face of the wall from the strip of blue tape at the top of the stairs to the strip of blue tape at the bottom of the stairs. This is the length of the hand railing. Mark the length on the milled railing stock and cut off excess.

Cut a 45 degree angle at the top and bottom of the hand rail for each of the two returns--the section of railing between each end of the railing and the wall. Place the bottom edge of the hand rail on the bed of an electric miter saw. Set the saw at a 45 degree angle to the left of center or to the right of center depending on which direction the miter should be cut. Align the saw blade with the pencil mark before making the miter cut. Repeat for the opposite end of the hand rail.

Position the hand rail so the top is matched up to the 36-inch mark at the top of the stairs and at the bottom with the help of a second person. Holding the rail tight to the wall, trace a mark at the base of the rail on each strip of blue painter's tape.

Hold a railing wall mount bracket against the wall at the top of the stairs and make sure it's plumb. The top of the bracket should be aligned with the slanted line made in Step 5. Mark the position of the bracket holes on the blue tape--two holes marked over one hole. Repeat at the bottom of the stairs.

Using a 3-inch long finishing nail and hammer, tap the nail through the wallboard to locate both sides of each stud--both the one at the top and at the bottom of the stairs. Adjust the position of the brackets so the bottom single hole of each bracket is positioned in the very center of each stud.

Pre-drill holes for all screws at the top of the stairs. Choose a drill bit slightly smaller in diameter than the screws. For each of the two top screw holes, angle the drill at a slight angle towards the center of the stud. Drill straight into the stud for the bottom hole. Repeat Steps 7 and 8 at the bottom of the stairs.

Align the bracket with the pre-drilled screw holes at the top and bottom of the stairs. Screw in the screws using a variable speed drill with a screwdriver bit.

Set the hand rail in place on the two wall mounted brackets at the top and bottom of the stairs. Place the U-strap under the horizontal arm of the bracket at the top of the stairs. Mark the holes of the U-strap with a pencil. Pre-drill and screw in the small wood screws to secure the hand rail permanently to the bracket. Repeat for the bracket at the bottom of the stairs.

Repeat Steps 6-10 for all remaining brackets between the top and bottom brackets.

Miter cut a 12-inch long section of the remaining hand rail stock at a 45 degree angle for the hand railing return at the top of the railing. Measure the distance between the installed hand rail and the wall and transfer that measurement to the miter cut section and make a pencil mark.

Make a 90 degree cut--straight up and down, at the pencil mark. Dry fit the return to check for proper fit between the end of the railing and the wall.

Place wood glue on the face of the mating miter cuts. Place the railing return in position between the miter at the top of the railing and the wall, pre-drill holes and pound in finishing nails. Use a nail set--a pointed steel tool used to drive the head of a nail below the surface of the wood, to tap the nail heads into the wood before filling them with wood filler. Repeat Steps 12-14 for the railing return at the bottom of the stairs.

Tips & Warnings

  • Purchase a length of wood hand railing stock longer than the actual finished length of the railing. You have to have extra wood due to the miter cuts and for making the two railing returns.
  • Fill the nail holes made with the 3-inch finishing nail with spackle and touch up with paint.
  • Make sure to sand and finish the raw wood railing well too avoid any wood slivers ending up in someone's hand.

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