Handrails for tall deck stairs. Deck Details:

Building Handrails
For Second-Story Deck Stairs

Part 2

In This Article:

Handrail posts are installed, 2x6 side board is attached, top cap is installed, and balusters (spindles) are fastened at proper spacing.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 3-4 (Intermediate to Advanced) Time Taken: About 12 Hours

By , Editor

Installing Handrail Posts:

I attached a 4x4 post to the corner of the extended deck. To match the original post height, I made the top of this post 36 inches above the top of the joists.

The original posts, which were not notched, were bolted to the inside face of the outer deck joist.

Since this joist had to be doubled-up, I cut a 1½" deep notch in the bottom part of the post so it would be aligned with the existing posts.

Handrail post installed in deck framing.


Once the handrail posts were installed I fastened the deck boards to the small extension I had built at the beginning.


I replaced the old handrail corner post with a new 4x4.

But... I needed to cut back the original handrail board so the new top rail could attach to this post.


I cut the old top rail on a bevel, using a circular saw and a lot of caution.

Then I attached a new bevel-cut top rail, so the old and new boards would overlap at the middle of the post.


For the stair handrail, I placed the 2x6 in position and held it with bar clamps.

Then I drew lines to mark the cuts on the posts. I removed the top rail and cut the posts with a circular saw, which requires two passes to cut through the 3½" thick post.


Building stair hand rails. I replaced the top rail and secured it with 3 inch deck screws.


I installed the top cap. On the north edge of the deck I replaced the old board. I made a scarf joint (overlapping beveled joint) wherever two boards met, instead of a simple butt joint.


At the corner I mitered the top cap.

I pre-drilled the holes near the ends of these boards, to prevent the screws from splitting the wood.


Below Deck:

The handrail on the "inboard" side of the stairs was kinda tricky because the 2x6 needed to overlap the deck rim joist. I hadn't carefully planned this detail before I started the project.

I clamped a 10-foot 2x6 (red arrow) to the handrail posts to establish the post heights.


But this board isn't long enough to reach the deck joists, so I had to run out and buy a 12-foot 2x6.


However, I could determine where this 2x6 would intersect the deck rim joist. The spindles from this intersection point to the top of the stairs will need to be removed and replaced with longer ones.


Wait a second...

The existing handrail still didn't have a newel post to provide support at the end of the railing.

I cut a square hole (using a drill and a reciprocating saw) in the deck board, right at the corner where the nearest deck joist intersected the rim joist.


I installed a 4x4 post and fastened it with 3" deck screws. *

First I fastened the 2x6 top rail to the post.

Then I clamped the bottom of the post to the deck rim joist, but... the post was leaning outward, and needed to forced plumb with some shims.

I drove two screws through the rim joist into the lower part of the post. Then I pushed on the post until it was plumb, and I shoved some synthetic shims into the gap between the post and the rim joist. I installed four more deck screws to secure the post.

* I prefer to use 4½" Simpson Strong-Drive lag screws to fasten 4x4 posts, but my local Home Depot doesn't sell them anymore. Home Depot will discontinue a product if it's not generating enough profit. Great.... Do you see why I call them "Handyman's Disappointment"? Or "Headache Depot"?


With the post installed, I removed the old deck spindles with a pry bar. Removing old deck balusters or spindles.


Extra-long spindles used where stairs approach upper deck. I installed these extra-long spindles.


View from below:

The ends are cut on a 45-degree angle. I made these spindles so the bottom corner was about 2 inches (measured vertically) from the lower edge of the stair stringer.


I clamped a 12-foot 2x6 to the handrail posts, so I could mark the end cuts.


At the top I decided to crop the 2x6 so it was flush with a spindle.


I cut the ends of the railing and fastened it to the posts and the spindles at the top.

Note the block of wood clamped to the post, just below the 2x6. This is a scrap that was the same angle (just under 37 degrees) as the stair stringers, so it made an ideal positioning guide.


At the top, I screwed the 2x6 to two spindles.


Deck handrail - Post to rail connection. View from the bottom, looking up.


I attached the top cap, which was just a 12-foot 5/4x6 deck board.


Top Detail:

To avoid having a top piece with small gaps, which could be a problem with small children, I ripped a scrap of deck board to a narrower width and cut notches to go around the spindles.

Note that I removed another spindle. I replaced this with a new 2x2 that extended all the way to the top cap.


The Far Side:

Previously, I had installed this top cap on the flat section of handrail. Where the cap met the stairs, I cut it with an 18 degree bevel (about half of the 37 degree stair angle).


To provide a backer for the sloping top cap, I attached a block of 2x4 to the post.


The top cap was set in place and held with clamps while I fastened it with deck screws.


The railings so far:

The top rail and top cap have been installed. I used two 8-foot boards for outboard top cap. The boards overlapped at the middle post.

All that remains is to install the spindles.


Spindle Installation:

First I installed the spindles on the flat section of handrail. These are 2x2's cut to 42 inches long. The ends are beveled to 45 degrees.


On the stair handrails the spindles needed to be a bit longer. These were 46 inches long.

At the top, I used a 4-inch spacer block to obtain the proper spacing. Then I secured the top with one 2½" deck screw.


I used a level to ensure that each spindle was plumb.


Then I screwed the bottom in place. I used two screws at each end.


The finished spindles. This went pretty quickly once I established a "system".


Grab Rail:

Building codes require a "graspable" handrail on all stairs taller than two steps.

The stair railing has a 5½" wide top, which is definitely not "graspable".


At the top of the outer handrail I installed a cleat made from a scrap of 2x2. I used pieces of wood with clear grain and no knots.

I placed these blocks about 4 feet apart.


At the top I cut the cleat and the grab bar at a sharp angle... 53 degrees from a cross-cut. The miter saw can't cut this, I had to place the board perpendicular to the saw fence, against a block of wood, and set the miter saw to 37 degrees. Be careful... this cut is awkward. Make sure the workpiece is supported adequately.

Fastening grab rail to top surface of stair handrail. I screwed an 8-foot-long 2x2 to the cleats. I pre-drilled the holes near the ends to prevent the wood from splitting.


I placed a cleat under the joint between boards.

These cleats are about 6 inches long.


Finished handrail, viewed from below.


The completed stairs and handrail. Stairs for a high deck.


View from another angle.

Click here to read about building the stairs.




Tools Used:

  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Basic Carpentry Tools
  • Bar Clamps
  • Miter Saw
  • Table Saw

Materials Used:

  • Treated Lumber:
  • 2x6
  • 5/4x6
  • 2x2 Spindles

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Written November 14, 2005