How to Build a Porch Railing

Front Porch Rail

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Overview
  • Working Time: 3 hrs
  • Total Time: 12 hrs
  • Yield: 8-foot section of porch railing
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $50 to $100

Porch railing helps to define the look and dimensions of your home’s porch. Along with the posts that support the porch roof, porch railing is prominent and highly visible—it’s the first part of the porch that visitors see as they approach your home. Not only is porch railing a style element, it’s a safety device that prevents users from falling off the edge of the porch. Simple, attractive porch railing can easily be installed in a weekend.

Choosing Wood For Your Porch Railing

Porch railing constructed of red cedar can be stained, painted, or left to weather on its own to a silvery gray color. White or red oak are denser and more difficult to cut than red cedar. Both are easy to obtain since they are found at most home centers. They stain well and they last longer than softwoods.

Extremely dense woods such as mahogany, rosewood, chestnut, and birch are beautiful and add value to your home. But these woods are quite expensive and are hard to drill and cut. 

Codes and Regulations

In many communities, any porch or deck that is higher than 30 inches is required to have a railing that is at least 36 inches high. Rail height is measured from the top of the porch flooring to the top of the rail. Higher railing is usually allowed. Check with your local permitting office for details. Porch balusters, when required, must be no more than four inches apart.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Bubble level
  • 1 Wood glue
  • 1 Tape measure
  • 1 Pencil
  • 1 Electric miter saw
  • 1 Spring clamps
  • 1 Cordless drill
  • 1 Sander

Materials

  • 2 one-by-four boards, 8-foot
  • 10 one-by-three boards, 8-foot
  • 2 scrap pieces of one-by-two board or equivalent
  • 50 Screws
  • 1 package Wood button plugs
  • 2 metal corner braces

Instructions

  1. Mark the Height of the Porch Railing

    With the tape measure, mark the intended height of the porch railing on each solid attachment point. In most cases, the height of the railing will be 36 inches high.

    Tip

    An attachment point can be two posts that hold up the porch roof or the side of the house (with a solid stud underneath) or a combination of the two.

  2. Measure the Width of the Porch Railing

    Measure horizontally from one post to another. Using a tape measure or laser measuring device can be imprecise because you need to maintain the level. Also, tape measures will bend across that long distance.

    Clamp the two one-by-twos together with the spring clamps, one on top of the other. For a railing that will be eight feet long, extend this temporary measuring device so that it is about seven feet long. Hold this device between the attachment points with the bubble level taped to the top to keep it level. Have an assistant open the spring clamps as you widen the device.

    With the device on the ground, then measure its length with the tape measure.

  3. Cut the Railing to Size

    Transfer the horizontal measurement to one of the one-by-four boards (the top railing). With the electric miter saw, cut the railing to size.

  4. Cut the Base to Size

    Using the cut railing as a measuring device, double-check that the two attachment points at floor-level are the same distance. If so, transfer this distance to the other one-by-four board. Cut the board to size with the miter saw.

  5. Cut the Inner Section Boards

    Two one-by-three boards form an inner section that is sandwiched between the railing and base boards. The balusters run perpendicular between these inner section boards. This arrangement allows you to attach the balusters with a minimum of visible fasteners.

    Cut one of the one-by-threes to the length of the top railing. Cut the other one-by-three to the length of the base board.

  6. Cut the Balusters

    Cut the remainder of the one-by-threes into 24 pieces, each at 33 inches long.

  7. Attach the Base Board

    Attach the base board to the bottom inner section board. Do this from the bottom upward. 

    Tip

    Make sure that the screwheads are sunk flush or below the level of the board. Otherwise, the railing will not sit properly.

  8. Attach the Railing

    Attach the railing to the top inner section board from underneath the inner section board. Use eight screws, spacing the screws evenly. With these screws, be sure to sink them below the surface by about 1/8-inch.

  9. Cover the Screw Holes

    With wood glue, place the wood button plugs into the screw holes. After the glue has dried, sand down the button plugs so that they are flush with the surface of the wood.

  10. Attach the Railing to the Porch

    Screw the railing to the porch. Be sure to hit solid wood underneath the floorboards such as joists or rim joists. Sink the screw heads below the surface. Similar to the upper screws, add wood button plugs, allow the glue to dry, then sand them flush with the surface.

  11. Attach the Railing to the Attachment Points

    Secure the railing (from underneath) to the attachment points with the two corner braces.