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Banister Installation

Banister Installation

A banister is a necessary installation for stairs, as a safety measure. In here, we provide you with an easy-to-follow guide, detailing the fixing of a handrail in a wall and a balustrade.
Omkar Phatak
Banisters: Mandatory By Law
In most US states, it is mandatory by law that any staircase with four or more steps should have a handrail. Also, for safety reasons, it should be installed in wall studs, to achieve maximum stability.

A statistically high number of home mishaps are staircase falls. The reason being inadequate support on one side while climbing or descending. The installation of a banister can effectively take care of this problem. All the job takes is basic carpentry skills and skilled tool usage. There are standard codes in every region, regarding the height of installed handrails. It is essential that you inquire about them, before beginning the project. In what follows, we provide a brief outline of this DIY project.

About Stair Banisters

A stair banister, also known as a handrail, is a metal or wood railing, along the length of the stairs on one side, which serves the purpose of a support, while walking up and down. Sometimes, they are built on both sides of the stairs for greater safety. The one opposite to the wall is generally known as a balustrade.

In a house, they also provide an aesthetic value to the living room, where the stairs normally lead to. Wooden ones have always been in vogue. Wrought iron or stainless steel rails are also used. The choice of material and styling, depends on the interior styling of the house, coupled with safety considerations. It should go with interior styling of your house, without compromising on the support strength it offers.

You can either go for a prefabricated one or get one built from a carpenter. Getting a customized wooden one built, is a better idea than going for a prefabricated one, as you will get more choice in terms of styling. They can also be made to match the existing interior styling of your house.

How to Fix a Wall-attached Banister

Stairs can be tricky to climb up or down, without proper support. Especially, when you have kids around the house or old people, having a proper stair banister installed is absolutely essential. If you are a skilled craftsman, the fixing of the banister should take about an hour and the material will only cost about USD 50 to USD 100. To begin with, here are the materials and tools needed for the job.

Materials and Tools

Custom-built or ready-made wooden handrail, U-brackets, string , tape measure, stud finder, pencil, drywall screw or thumb tack, electric screwdriver, drill, wood glue, hammer, nails, miter saw

Step 1: Make Measurements

Firstly, you need to determine and mark the height at which the brackets must be installed. The standard building code in most regions dictates that the height of a banister should be around 32 to 38 inches high, if the length of the stairs happens to be 44 inches or more. Determine the exact height for fixing the brackets by subtracting the banister thickness (which could be 2-4 inches) from the total height.

The banister will be installed over the second step from the top, up to the second last step. Begin with marking the banister height and the bracket height over the second step, using the tape measure and a pencil. Do the same for the penultimate step at the bottom and mark the heights there too.

Step 2: Run a String to Mark Positions

With the help of someone, run a string from the point marked over the bottom step to the top step, at the bracket height level. Make sure that the line is taut and fix it in the wall using thumb tacks. It will serve as the guidance line for you to mark the bracket positions along the wall.

Step 3: Run a Stud Finder

The brackets need to be attached in the studs that run along the wall, to gain maximum support. Ergo, the next part of the job is to locate the studs along the wall. Using a stud finder, you can locate them and mark the positions with a pencil. Now mark out the bracket positions in such a way, that they will be equidistant from each other and won't have a distance exceeding 48" between them. Depending on the type of bracket used, you may have to drill more than one holes into the wall for each.

Step 4: Attach the Brackets and the Banister

Make sure that the banister is of the right length for the staircase. After the markings are in place, you can begin drilling holes in the wall to fix the brackets. Once the brackets are fixed, you can attach the banister to them. Make sure that the structure is firmly attached and test its strength. For stability and safety, ensure that the banister doesn't extend beyond 24", after the end brackets. With that, you are essentially done.

How to Fix a Balustrade

Now, we talk about balustrades that need to be installed, without wall support. There may be two scenarios, where you will be going for an installation. Either you are replacing an old one or need to install one for your new house. In both cases, what you'll need to do first is take measurements of the stair dimensions. Two important parameters are the length of the balustrades and the desired height at which they need to be installed. Make sure that you have both these parameters measured, before you go ahead. Installation kits are available nowadays, but you need to know the basis, before using one.

First, we talk about the installation, assuming that you are using one such kit. Make sure that the one you purchase, matches with the dimensions of your stairs. It cannot hang in air and, therefore, it has to have a support, in the form of linear wooden support pillars. Here are the various parts of the wooden framework that you need to know about.
  • Newel Post: This is the end post and also its main support.
  • Spindle: These are liner wooden rods, that support the banister, throughout its length.
  • Handrail: This is the upper linear part that rests over the spindles.
  • Dowel: It's a type of pin, which joins two pieces of wood together.
  • Stair Stringer: This is a horizontal piece of timber, which provides a framework to support the stairway.
Wear safety glasses and gloves while doing the job. Let me talk about the installation now. I assume that you are replacing an old one. If you are installing one for the first time, you can ignore the initial removal instructions. The carpentry tools and the materials that you will need are the following:

Materials and Tools

Hammer, drill with drill bits of various sizes, screws of various sizes, rail bolts, gorilla and carpenter glue, installation kit (newel posts, spindles, banisters)

Step 1: Remove the Old Banister

Firstly, remove parts of the existing banister and its support structure. This can be done using a chisel. This includes the old banister, newel posts, and the spindle. You could repaint and use the old spindles, with a new one, if they fit in well. In case, you are going to replace them, remove the old ones from the stair railing end. Next, remove the existing newel post by removing all the screws and dowels that hold it in place.

Step 2: Install the Newel Post

Begin the new installation by first placing the new newel post. You will need screws, rail bolts, and gorilla glue to fix it firmly in place. This is the main support on which most of the banister weight rests and it needs to be very firm. Normally, the newel post is fixed in the floor deeply, to give it necessary firmness and strength. Then, you must drill the newel post, for the handrail to be connected.

Step 3: Fix the Spindles

Next, you'll need to fix all the spindles, one by one. You can fix them firmly, by using carpenter's glue, dowels, and screws. Once all the spindles are in place, you will have to make markings on the handrail and drill in holes at each point, where the spindles connect. Then, fix the handrail using carpenter's glue, dowels, and screws. Test the structure for stability. With the handrail put in place, the installation is done.

This concludes our project guide. Make sure that you follow the exact building code regarding banisters and test the structural strength of the installation, to ensure safety. You need to devote a lot of time and effort to get it done properly. Of course, the safety which the banister structure provides, is worth the effort. In case, you are not very confident of pulling off the project, hand it over to a professional.