Installing Rope Deck Railings

Lead Image for Installing Rope Deck Railings
  • 8-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 100-200
What You'll Need
Railing posts
Wire rope
metal or hardwood top rail
What You'll Need
Railing posts
Wire rope
metal or hardwood top rail

Rope deck railings are suitable for areas where the view of the surrounding landscape would be obstructed by other types of railings. If your deck faces the ocean, it would also be better if you have rope railings. If you are going to use wood or metal railings with spindles they could impair an otherwise perfect view whereas a rope can almost disappear. Some decks have been constructed with glass railings and these provide the same function. However, glass railings have higher maintenance costs and you would have to contend with sun glare. Rope rails were first used only on modern construction but because of the various rail post designs that are now available on the market, rope railings can now be done in every architectural design.

Step 1 - Construct the Posts

Rope railings need to have frames that are much stronger than other kinds of railings because of the sheer force that is applied to the end posts when the ropes are tensioned. This must be done to give a rigid condition that will satisfy the specification mandated by local building codes. Common kinds of frame construction that you can use are made from steel, extruded aluminum, wood, or stainless steel. Posts that will provide support for the top rail are called intermediate posts. These have a series of holes where the cables would be passed through to support them. The spacing between the posts is important for there to be tension in the ropes so be sure that they are from 36 inches to 42 inches from each other.

Step 2 - Choose the Rope

The best kind of rope for a railing is the cable and strand type, which is also called wire rope. For residential application, 1/8 inch and 3/16 inch diameters are best. These are available in type 304 stainless steel, galvanized carbon, and type 316 stainless steel which has a high resistance to corrosion. If you are living in a coastal area, this wire rope would be the best choice.

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Step 3 - Tension Your Rope Railing Properly

The flexibility of the wire rope is an essential aspect of designing a rope railing. Building codes require that a 4-inch ball should not pass through any of the rope rails when thrown against them. So in tensioning the wire ropes installed on your railing, consider the spacing of the posts, the spacing of the ropes, the material for the top rail cap, and the tension of the ropes.

Step 4 - Space the Ropes

The spacing between the ropes is essential in keeping rope deflection at a minimum. The usual recommendation is an opening of 3 inches between ropes. The vertical holes that are on the vertical posts may already have this spacing so you just have to pass the ropes through them.

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Step 5 - Install the Top Rail

Once you are done with the installation of the posts and ropes for your railing, you can install the top rail. Be sure that the material you have chosen is strong enough to withstand the combined forces of the ropes. Hardwood or metal is best for this purpose. Never use composite lumber.

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