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How to Build a Stair Railing with a Rustic Look

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Add Protective Stair Railing to an Existing Staircase while Preserving the Rustic Character of Its Heavy Pine Construction

Stay in step with the rustic character of your existing staircase by adding wood stair railing that mirrors its heavy pine construction. Assembled with groove-and-tenon joints and dowels, the sturdy handrail and square balusters of this simple project's design complement the roughhewn staircase while adding safety for young and old, alike.

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cutting a hole for the newel post
Step 1

Trace the Post and Cut Its Shape from the Tread

Position the newel post and trace a cutline around the post on the stair tread. Drill the four corners of the cutline to make starter holes, insert the blade of a jigsaw into the first hole and excise the shape.

countersinking bolt holes in the post
Step 2

Insert the Post in the Hole and Countersink Bolt Holes

Insert the post through the tread hole and down to the floor. Ensure it is plumb with a post level. Countersink holes through the post and into the riser, and then bore smaller shank/clearance holes inside those for the bolts.

securing the nut at the inside of the riser
Step 3

Insert Carriage Bolts and Secure with Washers and Nuts

Insert carriage bolts through the post and secure with washers and nuts on the opposite side of the riser. Cover the bolt heads with glued wooden plugs cut from dowel rods. Tap gently with a hammer to seat the plugs.

clamping the railing to the ceiling beam
Step 4

Clamp the Two-by-four Railing to the Post and Ceiling

Determine railing elevation from the stair tread. Measure with a tape measure attached to a bar level. Clamp the rail to the post and ceiling beam at the correct elevation on the second step and one of the upper steps

cutting the tenon for the post top
Step 5

Trace the Bottom Angle of the Rail around the Post

Trace the bottom angle of the railing as a cutline around the perimeter of the post top. Draw a second parallel line below it for the post's tenon/tab. Cut the tenon for the post top with a Japanese handsaw.

routing a groove on the underside of the stair railing
Step 6

Route the Groove on the Underside of the Handrail

Route a groove on the bottom of the handrail to receive the tenon on the post top and the tops of the balusters. Two passes through the router are required to make the groove wide enough to accept them.

hammering in a dowel to secure the railing/post joint
Step 7

Drill through the Railing/Post Joint and Insert a Dowel

Position the handrail with the groove over the tenon. Drill a shank hole through the railing and ceiling beam and secure it with a washer and lag screw. Drill through railing/post joint and drive in a dowel to secure it.

nailing a separate length of railing along the ceiling beam
Step 8

Add a Length of Grooved Rail along the Ceiling Beam

Secure a separate length of grooved stair railing horizontally on the ceiling beam to receive the upper balusters. Unlike the angled balusters in the next step, these upper supports will be straight-cut to fit flush against the horizontal railing.

using a template to uniformly drill dowel holes for balusters
Step 9

Use a Drilling Template and Jig for Baluster Installation

Angle baluster ends to fit between the tread and handrail. Make a template to uniformly drill dowel holes through each tread to secure two balusters and a separate jig to center a dowel hole in the bottom of each baluster.

hammering dowels through tread into balusters
Step 10

Secure Balusters with Glued Dowels and Nails

Apply glue to angled baluster tops. Secure two banisters per step, hammering glued dowels upwards through the tread into the baluster base. Use a nail gun to secure balusters to the underside of railing groove. Round and sand railing end.

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