How to build deck railings

This article is about how to build deck railings. Building deck railings is a fun project for any diy-er, as you have the chance to use many woodworking techniques and to freshen up the look of your house. In this step by step diy project we show you how to build deck railing and how to install bottom rail and handrails. This project is not very complex, provided you use the proper tools and material, as to get the job done in a professional manner. In order to build deck railings in a professional manner you have to use pressure-treated lumber, designed for being used for decks. If you aren’t accustomed to these materials, just go at your local store and you will find the right ones.

We used 3×4 lumber for the bottom rail and for the handrail. When purchasing these materials (they come in several length 10′, 13′ or greater – just choose the most convenient one for your project), make sure they are perfectly straight, otherwise you will have a hard time aligning them into position. In order to make sure the lumber is not bowed or crooked, just look from one end to the other on all 4 faces. If it has the slightest defect (including knots, splits, twists or wanes) don’t buy it, it would be very hard to build a proper deck railings with it.

Before building the deck railings, just draw a detailed plan, including the dimensions of your posts, rails and the design of your balusters. It is essential to know what you are going to build, as to buy the proper amount of materials and tools. You have to build and attach deck posts before building the railings. If you are going to install deck posts on concrete using post anchors, you should take a look on our related article.

 

Made from this plan

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Materials

  • 4×3 lumber
  • Long wood screws (around 8” long)
  • Wood screws (3” – to fasten the balusters)
  • Wood primer, wood glue
  • Dowel pegs

 

Tools

  • Level, rubber hammer, hammer, measuring tape
  • Circular saw / jigsaw, drill bits
  • Clamps, Drill machine
  • Electric screw driver with torque control
  • Framing square, Carpenter pencil

 

Tips

  • Read safety and disclaimer pages
  • Select with great care the lumber, otherwise the railings would look bad
  • Before fastening the posts, make sure they are plumb

 

 

Building the bottom rail

Building deck bottom rail

Building deck bottom rail

 

First we have to build the bottom rail. Consequently, position the 3×4 lumber between the deck posts and mark the cutting line, using a carpentry pencil. Make sure the the lumber is perpendicular on the posts, otherwise your bottom rail will be longer than you actually need. In addition, use a level over the lumber, as to make sure the bottom rail will fit between the posts.

Smart Tip: Use a L-square to draw the cut line, as to perform a proper cut, using a power saw.

 

Cutting deck bottom rail

Cutting deck bottom rail

 

Next, we have to cut the bottom rail using a jigsaw or a circular saw. Make sure you use a sharp blade, otherwise you won’t be able to make a smooth cut.

Smart Tip: When cutting the lumber, make sure the blade of your jigsaw is exactly over the mark line, otherwise you will end up with a poor cut. In addition you have to wear safety equipment and ensure the lumber is locked into position, before using the power tool.

 

Installing the bottom rail using a level

Installing the bottom rail using a level

 

After you have cut the bottom rail, you have to lock it into position between the deck posts. The distance from the deck to the bottom rail it usually varies from 5-10”, but it depends according to your needs and your local code.

Smart Tip: If the bottom rail doesn’t sit by itself between the posts, use 2 C-clamps to lock it into position. Use a level in all directions to make sure the bottom rail is level and not twisted.

 

Marking the holes for fastening the bottom railing

Marking the holes for fastening the bottom railing

 

Next, we have to fasten the bottom rail to the posts with 6-8” wood screws, but first we have to mark the spots where we have to drive in the screws. Consequently, make 2 marks on the post, making sure you leave at least 1” from the edges (to prevent wood from cracking).

In addition, you have to make sure the screws will go in the median of the  bottom rail.

 

Drilling holes in deck post

Drilling holes in deck post

 

Next, use a god drill machinery with torque control, as to make sure you will make proper holes. The size of the drill bit has to be chosen according to the screws you are using. In addition, make sure you drill only in the deck posts, otherwise the screws won’t be able to squeeze the 2 components together.

Smart Tip: Make sure you drill holes perpendicular on the post surface.

 

Fastening the bottom deck rail with screws

Fastening the bottom deck rail with screws

 

Next, we have to drive in the screws by using an electric screwdriver with torque control.

Smart Tip: When inserting the wood screws, you have to use low speeds at first and then you could increase it a little. In addition, as to make a proper job, you have to hold the screwdriver firmly and to apply constant pressure towards the screws, until their heads are aligned with the post surface.

 

Bottom rail locked with screws to the deck post

Bottom rail locked with screws to the deck post

 

After we have inserted the wood screws in the deck posts, as to fasten the bottom rail, we got the result you can see in the picture. Remember that it is recommended to countersink the heads of the wood crews, as we will install another bottom rail over them.

Smart Tip: Make sure you leave at least 1” from the edges of the posts and between the screws, as to prevent the wood from splitting.

 

 

Building the floating post

Measuring the middle point of the bottom rail

Measuring the middle point of the bottom rail

 

This step is optional, if you install regular balusters, but in our case we will build x-shaped balusters. As between the posts we have a distance of 5′, we considered that it was necessary to install a floating post over the middle of the bottom rail.

Smart Tip: Use a tape measurement to mark the middle point of the bottom rail, using a carpentry pencil and a L-square.

 

Marking the footprint of the floating post on the bottom rail

Marking the footprint of the floating post on the bottom rail

 

Next, use the carpentry pencil and the l-square to draw the footprint of the 3×4 floating post. Consequently, mark the contour, making sure it is highly visible.

Smart Tip: In order to connect the floating post to the bottom line, we use a dowel joint, as we consider it is more resistant over time. In addition, the dowel joint looks much better than a regular joint with screws.

 

Smoothing the edges of deck post

Smoothing the edges of deck post

 

After you cut the floating post with a jigsaw, we have to smoothen the edges, as to give it a nice appearance. The length of the floating post, varies according to the design of your project, but in our case it is around 28”.

Smart Tip: When cutting the floating post, you have to make a proper cut, so you have to lock it into position and then use a circular saw / jigsaw.

 

Drilling holes in the bottom rail

Drilling holes in the bottom rail

 

Next, we used a sharp drill bit to dill holes in the bottom rail, as to attach the floating post. Consequently, two dowel pegs will be enough to secure the floating posts.

Smart Tip: Install a depth stop on the drill bit, as to dill a proper hole. Without the stop, it is hard to tell how deep you should drill the hole.

 

Installing dowel pegs

Installing dowel pegs

 

Next, install the wood dowels in the holes, using a small amount of wood glue. Consequently, pour glue in the holes and then tap the dowel pegs gently with a rubber mallet.

Smart Tip: After you install the wood dowels you have to hurry up. You should attach the floating post as soon as possible, as after the excess wood glue dries out, you will have to remove it from bottom rail.

 

Installing floating deck post

Installing floating deck post

 

When installing the deck post, you have to make sure it is level and plumb, by using a level. This aspect is essential, otherwise it won’t align when installing the handrail.

Smart Tip:  After you install the post over the dowel pegs, you should wait several hours until the glue has dried out. You could learn more on how to make a dowel join, by reading our dedicated article.

 

 

Building x-shaped balusters

Drilling in deck balusters

Drilling in deck balusters

 

Next, after we have cut the balusters as to fit between the posts, we drilled several holes as to fasten them with screws. Consequently, use a sharp drill bit and make one hole for every end of the baluster (one screw for every end of the balusters is enough).

Smart Tip: When making the drills, just make sure you leave at least 1/2” from all edges, otherwise you risk damaging the wood (it might crack).

 

Fastening deck balusters

Fastening deck balusters

 

After we have made the holes, we have installed the wood screws (the screws must be at at least 3” long). The wood screws must be driven in, using an electric screwdriver with torque control. Remember that you have to use the electric screwdriver at low speeds, otherwise you might damage the screw heads.

Smart Tip: For a nice appearance, before installing the wood screws, you could countersink their heads.

 

Installing x-shaped balusters

Installing x-shaped balusters

 

In this image you should notice that we installed one baluster on each side of the floating deck post. In this way we make sure, the post will stay on position, as the forces are evenly distributed.

Smart Tip: Building deck railings require a lot of patience and attention. If  you face issues during the project, just take a break to cool your mind.

 

Marking on the post the bottom of the handrail

Marking on the post the bottom of the handrail

 

Next, in order to install the other components of the x-shaped balusters, we have to mark on both posts the bottom edge of the handrail. Consequently, use a carpentry pencil and a level, to be able to draw a straight line.

Smart Tip: This line will help us to mark the cutting line on the baluster.

 

Marking the x-shaped baluster joint

Marking the x-shaped baluster joint

 

After we have cut the other x-shaped baluster, we have to mark the joint over it, using a carpentry pencil. While in most of the cases you won’t have to do that, there are situations in which the width of the two balusters is greater than the width of the post. In our case we have to cut in 1/2 in one baluster, as to fit the width of the posts.

Smart Tip: Before marking the cut lines, we have lock the x-shaped baluster in position, aligning them properly.

 

Cutting in baluster

Cutting in baluster

 

Next, we have used a jig saw to cut several parallel lines in the area described by the two marked lines. Consequently, you have to work with attention, as not to cut too much in the balusters.

Smart Tip: When making the cuts, you have to make sure the baluster is well fixed into position, otherwise you could damage it or worse, injure yourself.

 

Carving in baluster joint

Carving in baluster joint

 

Next, we removed the wood by using a wood chisel and a hammer. Work attentively, and position the chisel over the marked line, as otherwise you risk damaging the wood (it can easily crack or tear more wood than necessarily).

Smart Tip: Try to use the chisel on both side of the baluster. In this way you can control how much wood you are removing from the wood joint.

 

X-shaped balusters joint

X-shaped balusters joint

 

After we have used the chisel, we also had to use a grinder as to make a proper operation. By using these woodworking tools and techniques, we got a nice result. It is essential to smooth the surface, otherwise the wood joint will be poor.

Smart Tip: Work with patience as not to make mistakes. In addition use proper safety equipment.

 

Installing x shaped balusters

Installing x shaped balusters

 

After you have curved in the balusters, to make the wood joint, you have to set the x-shaped balusters in the position, by using a C-clamp.

Smart Tip: Make sure the x-shaped balusters are aligned with the edges of the deck posts, otherwise your deck railings won’t look properly.

 

X shaped balusters

X shaped balusters

 

Next, use a good electric screwdriver and wood screws to fasten the balusters in the deck posts. When installing the x-shaped balusters, pay attention to the marks on the side posts. If you install the balusters above the marks, then you won’t be able to install properly the hand rail.

Smart Tip: Countersink the heads of the screws for a nice appearance. To fasten the balusters use 3” wood screws, after you make pilot holes with a drill machinery.

 

 

Installing the handrail

Dowel joint

Dowel joint

 

Next, we have to install the deck handrail. Here there are several schools of thought, one claiming that it is better to use screws, other recommending a dowel joint. From our experience, we can say that both are very efficient, but definetly the second technique looks much better.

Smart Tip:  By installing wood dowels, you secure the hand rail without exposing any ugly-looking screw head. Learn more on how to make a dowel joint in our article.

 

Installing deck handrail

Installing deck handrail

 

Next, you have to drill the mating holes in the handrail as to be able to lock it into position. You also have to use a level, as to make sure the handrail is set into position properly. Use a rubber mallet to connect the wood joint properly.

Smart Tip:  Pour wood glue in the holes, as to make sure the joint is firm. In addition, you have to add a weight over the dowel joint, as to make sure the handrail stays into position.

 

Fastening handrail with screws

Fastening handrail with screws

 

Last but not least, we have to fasten the handrail into the posts, by driving in two screws in each side. Consequently, pre-drill two pilot holes  on each end of the handrail, using a good drill machinery and a sharp drill bit.

Smart Tip: Use again the level, to make sure the posts and the handrail are properly aligned.

 

 

Thank you for reading our article on how to build deck railings, and we recommend you to check out the rest of our projects. Don’t forget to share our projects with your friends, by using the social media widgets.

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