Install Wood Stair Railing

Installing wood stair railing is a very common do-it-yourself project that improves the safety of your home.
Tom Silva of This Old House shares some tips for installing a wood stair railing.
Any stair without a handrail is dangerous, so I’m glad you’re taking action. You’re also right to anchor it to the studs. If someone starts to fall they’ll put a lot of weight on a handrail, and anything less than a solid framing connection will rip right off the wall.
wood stair railing Install Wood Stair Railing
A stud finder might not work over paneling, so you’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way — by detective work. Search for a line of tiny nail heads hidden in the panels’ vertical seams. Once you find one line, measure 16 inches to the right or left. You’ll probably find another set of nails in a groove, which means you’ve found your studs.

According to building codes, a handrail must be continuous. Its top must be no less than 34 inches above the stair’s nosing and no higher than 38 inches. Heights on the low side of the range are better if there are small kids in the house. A stairway handrail also has to offer 1 1/2 inches of clearance from the wall and be no more than 2 5/8 inches thick, so that you can get a good grip if necessary. Those are standard code requirements; local codes may be different, so give your local building inspector a call just to make sure.
You can find metal stairway brackets at the hardware store that attach to the underside of the rails. Be sure to anchor them to every other stud using #10 steel screws at least 1 1/2 inches long.
Here’s a photo of a gorgeous wood stair railing.
install wood stair railing Install Wood Stair Railing
railing Install Wood Stair Railing
illustration: Ian Worpole (courtesy of This Old House)

  • Steve

    I appreciate your posting. I’m looking for replacing my own railing too!

  • Timothy

    Hey Steve – good luck with your railing project. Send us photos when are you finished.

  • Val

    I appreciate your posting. Could you please show in details how you installed the post. Especially how you secured it to the floor.

  • Nancy Tesnohlidek

    Thanks for the great information. You took the mystery out of this project.

  • Paul G. Brandon

    I just took a railing down separating our kitchen from the family room. Underneath the upper rail was a thick metal bar, cut to length, with right angles welded to the ends. From underneath, I removed three screws that held the up rail on. Once the rail was removed, it revealed the metal bar with screws holding the spindles. Each spindle has a 3/4″ dowel that goes through the floor. Screws also went through the right angle metal pieces welded on to the wall and the end spindle. I have to wait until my daughter wakes up before I can look at the method of securing the end piece. Note that there are no toe nails.

  • Bob

    How did you attach the newel posts to the finished wood floor and at the bottom of the stairs?

  • Ray Clor

    I’m working on a friends home and they would like to have an oak stair railing assembly. My question is how do you go about attaching the oak hand rail to the wall and the post. Is there a special fastener that has to be used in this project. This is on the stair well and everything is on an angle. If you could even give me a web site or picture that I could use to start this project would be most helpful. This is my first attemp at putting up this type of stair rail.

  • Louis

    That’s funny in the south people are changing their wood to metal not metal to wood. Looks like you did a very nice job.