How to Install a New Stair Handrail

A loose or damaged stair rail can be a serious safety hazard, and is something that should be fixed as soon as possible. More accidents occur on stairways than anywhere else in the average home – including the kitchen and the bathroom! If you are missing a stair rail, or you are not confident that your stair rail can actually support someone’s weight if they slip or trip, then you need to fix the problem immediately. Mounting a new rail is a fairly easy job, and it will make your stairway a much safer place.

stairs with handrail

Tools Needed

You will need:

  • Hammer
  • Tape measure
  • Stud fnder
  • Miter saw
  • Drill and drill bits
  • Nail set
  • A large level
  • Wood glue
  • Railing brackets and material
  • Sandpaper
  • Masking tape
  • Nails
  • Epoxy

Step By Step Instructions

The first thing you will need to do is measure the length of the stairs and then purchase an appropriate railing. Hardwood rails are the highest quality, but are slightly more expensive. Pine and poplar rails are more affordable, and still decent quality. In addition to the railing, you will need several brackets. You should buy enough brackets to allow you to place two at the top of the stairs, one at the bottom, and then brackets every 48 inches as you head up the stairs. Once you have everything you need you can install the railings.

  1. Assuming you are installing the rail into a plasterboard wall you will need to find and mark the studs so that you can anchor the brackets into them. If you are installing the railing into a solid wall instead of a plasterboard wall you can anchor the brackets directly into the wall. Mark each stud with tape. Once you have found all the studs you can decide which ones you want to use.
  2. Measure from the front of the stair nosings at the bottom of the steps, up the wall. You should mount your stair railings so that the top of the rail is between 34 and 38 inches above the front edge of each stair nosing. Repeat this process at the top of the stairwell, and once in the middle to confirm the alignment.
  3. If you are fitting the stair rail so that there is a joint, cut a 45 degree miter on the end of the rail where the corner is, and rest the cut end on the floor. Mark the point where the rail meets the nosing of the top stair.
  4. Next, cut the rail and glue the short horizontal section to the top using fast-drying epoxy glue. To do this, wrap protective tape around the outer edges of the rails to be glued. Apply the glue to both sections of the rail and hold them in place for 60 seconds, then leave the glue to set for another five minutes or so. After those five minutes, carefully remove the masking tape. Leave the glue to set for several hours before touching it.
  5. Once the glue has hardened, you can position the brackets and mount the railing. Take your time when lining up the underside of the handrail to the stud locations.The rail brackets must be centered correctly on the stud, otherwise the top screws will miss the frame. If you need to, adjust the brackets to ensure that the stud is centered. Don’t worry if this means that you have to make extra nail holes and then fill them in later – it’s easier to fill in the holes with plaster and touch up the paint than it is to fix a bracket that pulls loose. When you’re happy with the positions of the brackets, drill pilot holes, screw the brackets in place, and then mount the railing on it.
  6. Once the rail is mounted, measure some short pieces of wood to return to the top of the wall. These returns serve more than just a cosmetic purpose – they prevent loose pieces of clothing or bag straps from getting caught up in the railing. Glue the returns in place with wood glue or epoxy.

Final Tips

  • Ideally you should buy a handrail that is long enough to extend slightly beyond the stairs at the top and the bottom. A rail that is two feet longer than the stairs themselves is a good choice. This should ensure that the stair rail exceeds local building code requirements, and it will allow people to grip the handrail earlier, ensuring maximum safety.
  • The longer you can leave the epoxy to dry, the better. The glue will have set fairly firmly after a couple of hours, but it takes 24 hours to reach maximum strength.

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