How to Install an Interior Wood Stair Railing

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Stair railings make your home safer.
Stair railings make your home safer. (Image: Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images)

Wood railing is not only a decorative part of a stairway, but it also serves a safety purpose. Most municipal building codes require that a continuous handrail be in place for interior stairs. Codes also establish the height between 34 and 38 inches. A wood stair railing needs to set 1 1/2 inches from the wall and be no thicker than 2 5/8 inches. Contact your local code administrator to see if your local codes vary. Wood railing is available at local lumber yards and home improvement stores along with the metal brackets that secure it in place.

Things You'll Need

  • Stud finder
  • Chalk line
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Handrail brackets
  • Screws, 1 1/2 to 2 inches long
  • Miter saw

Locate the studs in the wall where you intend to hang the wood stair railing. Slide a stud finder over the wood. Once you locate one stud, typically the nearest one is 16 inches away. Mark the studs with a light mark so you can find them again.

Measure the height of the handrail from the front edge of the lowest step. Mark the location. Measure and mark that same height from the front edge of the top step. Use a chalk line to mark the height for the handrail on the wall.

Hold a handrail bracket over the stud that corresponds with the lowest mark on the chalk line. Drill pilot holes for the bracket using the bracket as a guide. Attach the bracket into the stud using screws that are 1 1/2 to 2 inches long.

Find the stud at the top of the stairs that corresponds with the highest mark on the chalk line. Install the handrail bracket as you did in the previous step. Install additional brackets every 48 inches.

Measure the length of the chalk line from the front of the top step to the front of the bottom step. Add two feet. Purchase stair railing the length you measured.

Use a miter saw to cut off both ends of the stair railing at a 45-degree angle.

Set the handrail on the brackets. Mark where to drill pilot holes for the bracket mounts. Turn the handrail over and drill the pilot holes. Set the handrail back on the brackets. Install screws through the brackets and into the wood.

Create wall returns from leftover pieces of the handrail. Cut matching angles to the top and bottom of the rail and turn the short pieces in toward the wall. Attach the short pieces to the railing with finishing nails and wood glue. You may skip this step if you don’t wish to have returns, or you may opt to install a return at only one end of the handrail.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you are installing the wood railing over a wood-paneled wall, look for a vertical seam with finishing nails in the seam of the paneling. Chances are that is the stud. Check for another vertical seam 16 inches away that also has finishing nails.

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