How to Install Stair Railing

  • 01 of 11

    Install Your Own Stair Railing

    Interior Stair Railing
    Interior Stair Railing. Getty / Janja Milosevic / EyeEm

    Stair railing does not seem all that important--until the moment you walk down a rail-less set of stairs. Should you stumble, you have no recourse. Your body becomes a bobsled all the way down.

    As it turns out, installing stair railing is easy and well within the skill set of even the most basic DIY home remodeler.

    Materials you will need are cheap and easily available.

    Materials

    Handrail Bracket

    Handrail brackets mean that you do not need to invent a method of attaching the railing to the wall.  

    Railing

    Unless you are a fine woodworker, buy pre-made railing--not raw lumber. You can find long, continuous railings at home centers. Buy about 24" longer than you will need to account for potential mistakes and to give yourself a short sample piece to work with.

    2.5" Screws

    While drywall screws can be used for many projects unrelated to drywall, this is one area where you do not want to risk having these brittle screws snap off.  Instead, use stainless steel screws.

    Tools

    Cordless Drill

    You will need both a Phillips-head driver and a set of bits.

    Chalk Line

    If you do not have a chalk line handy, don't worry. Anything resembling a chalk line (minus the chalk) works great: string, twine, fishing line.

    Pencil

    Any kind.

    Laser Level

    You can get by without this, but it really helps the process out.

    Measuring Tape

    Studfinder

    Note: We are installing stair railing only--railing attaches to a wall in a stairwell. For an entire railing/baluster/newel package, see our article about ​Staircase and Balcony Railing Kits.

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  • 02 of 11

    First End of Railing: Determine Height

    Drive Helper Screws
    Drive Helper Screws. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    Municipalities' requirements may vary, but staircase code tends to dictate that railing is 34" to 38" high, as measured from the nose of the stair tread directly upward to the top of the railing. The nose is the very outer projection of the stair tread. It is the corner where tread and riser meet.

    You're only doing one end of the stairs right now. You need to find a good spot to attach your first handrail bracket. It must be attached to solid wood: a newel post, for instance, or into a stud located behind drywall.

    Cut off a very short piece of railing, only about 3 inches long.

    This is where the laser level (or plumb bob or bubble level) comes in handy: so you know that your tape measure is perfectly vertical. Measure up to your intended railing height (top of the railing). Mark the wall.

    Place the short sample piece of railing on top of your railing bracket. Tilt it in the general angle that the railing will go. Place the bracket on the surface and move it up or down until the top of the rail reaches your mark. Again, the laser level is great for determining this.

    Mark bottom of your handrail bracket.

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  • 03 of 11

    Mark Drill Points on Bracket

    Mark Drill Points on First Bracket
    Mark Drill Points on First Bracket. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    With the pencil, mark the holes on the handrail bracket.

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  • 04 of 11

    Drive Screws to Hold Handrail Bracket

    Drive Screws on First Bracket
    Drive Screws on First Bracket. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    Attach handrail bracket with included screws. You will probably need to first drill pilot holes to make it easier to draw in the screws.

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  • 05 of 11

    Attach Railing With Sleeve

    Install Rail and Sleeve on First End
    Install Rail and Sleeve on First End. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    Underneath your railing, attach the U-shaped sleeve with the included screws. This sleeve will straddle the handrail bracket.

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  • 06 of 11

    Second End of Railing: Measure Height

    Measure Height for Other Side
    Measure Height for Other Side. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    Go to the far end of the railing (not any of the middle points).

    Your railing is now "hinged," at the first end, with the bracket/saddle combination. This makes it very easy for you to raise and lower the railing to the intended height.

    Drive a 2.5" screw to hold railing in place.

    One way to double-check that height of your railing matches at both ends is to measure diagonally from the stair nose.

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  • 07 of 11

    Screw Second Bracket in Place

    Install Bracket at Other End
    Install Bracket at Other End. © Lucas D. Wallender; licensed to About.com

    As you did with the first bracket, drill pilot holes, screw this second bracket in place and attach railing underneath with the sleeve.

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  • 08 of 11

    Middle of Railing: Determine Dip with Your Chalk Line

    Determine Railing Dip with Chalk Line
    Determine Railing Dip with Chalk Line. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    Now you've got a stair railing attached to two staircase brackets, one at each end. I guarantee that your railing is drooping in the middle. Even the hardest of the hardwoods will do this; it's just physics.

    Run your chalk line across the top of your railing. Somewhere in the middle, the railing should be drooping down the farthest. In this example, the railing is drooping about 1/2".

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  • 09 of 11

    Elevate Railing to Height of Chalk Line

    Elevate Middle of Rail
    Elevate Middle of Rail. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    Use a piece of scrap lumber to elevate the railing until the middle part touches the chalk line. You can jam the lumber in place, one end of a stair tread, the other end underneath the railing. By gently tapping the lumber sideways, you can make the railing go incrementally up or down.

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  • 10 of 11

    Install Middle Staircase Railing Bracket

    Install Middle Bracket
    Install Middle Bracket. © Lee Wallender; licensed to About.com

    With the railing in the correct position, install the middle bracket(s) in the same manner as you did with the end brackets.

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  • 11 of 11

    Test the Completed Stair Railing

    Stair Railing in Use
    Finished Stair Railing in Use. Lee Wallender

    Test your stair railing out with family members or friends of different heights to make sure that it is ergonomically correct.  Also, you can remove the railing and stain, coat, or paint it.