If you have patio steps, you may need a railing for safety or to satisfy building code requirements. Follow these steps to construct and install a railing for wood patio steps for an inexpensive, one-day job.
Step 1 - Check the Code
Most building codes have strict requirements for railings on decks and steps, setting out not only the height of the railing (usually 42 inches), but also how far apart pickets must be (if required). There are also requirements on the size of any grab rail for stairs. Make sure that you build to meet the code. Ask if you need a permit before building.
Step 2 - Make a Drawing
To help you visualize the project, make a scale drawing of the steps and proposed handrail.
Step 3 - Measure
Measure the total length of the stairs, from top to bottom where you plan to install newel posts. You will need to install a 4x4-in. handrail post every 3 to 4 feet to ensure stability. Your building code will tell you the maximum distance allowable between posts.
Step 4 - Finish First
Before you install posts or rails, run over them with a sander to make sure they are smooth. If you’re going to stain or paint them, it may be easier to do it before installation, and touch them up later.
Step 5 - Secure Main Posts to Stringers
Pre-cut newel posts are available. This saves you the trouble of cutting a notch to secure to the stringers.
Get a second pair of hands to hold the post in place while you secure it. Secure the main posts to the stringers (weight-bearing boards that hold up the treads). Use non-rusting lag screws or bolts for this, and make sure to use washers to help spread the load and prevent gouging of the wood.
For extra stability, secure the newel post at the top of the steps to both the stringer and the rim joist. You do not want any sway in these posts. Use a level to make sure that the newel posts are plumb (straight upright).
Step 6 - Cut the Rails
Double-check the measurements now that the posts are in place. Use your miter saw to cut the 2x6-in. railing to the correct length and angle. Use a measuring square to get the angles right.
Step 7 - Connect the Rails
Drill a pilot hole in the rail at an angle. With someone supporting the railing, secure to the post with a three-inch screw. Repeat at the other end.
Place a second set of 2x6-in. railings at the bottom of the rails. Check your code to see the maximum distance allowable from the treads.
Since your posts are plumb, make sure that you affix the bottom rails at the same distance from the treads on each post. This will give a smooth run.
Step 8 - Cap
For a smoother finish, you can nail (or screw) a 2x4-inch board along the top as a cap. Make sure that the surface available for grabbing does not exceed code.
Step 9 - Attach Pickets
Many codes require pickets to prevent children from falling through the openings. These must be no more than four inches apart. You can buy pickets and screw into place, or use 2x2-in. boards. Make sure they are plumb.
If you have concrete patio steps, you could make your railing from wood, but metal is a more permanent option. Also, with concrete you will need to make sure that the torque is handled, so use a core drill to set the metal pipes into the concrete several inches, bolt in with concrete anchors, then build concrete back up around the base of the pipes.