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How to Build Deck Railings

Instructions From a Pro


Continuing on from Page 3, on this page Lawrence Winterburn concludes our interview by providing instructions for DIYers on how to build deck railings.

Q: This final question is meant to help the do-it-yourselfers out there. Let's say I've been building a deck for myself, and I've made it as far as finishing the decking. All that's left for me to do is building deck railings. Can you give me a brief step-by-step tutorial on how to build deck railings?

A: The simplest instructions for the do-it-yourselfer would be for installing "typical builder deck railings," as shown in this deck railing picture:

Step 1.The steps and deck frame should be built, in place and clad with decking -- trim the decking off flush to the rim joist (outer frame member that encircles the deck).

Step 2.Cut pieces of 2x6 (upper deck railings), so that when stood up around the outside of the deck, they mimic the shape of the outer frame member. Each piece of wood has an upward curvature when on edge -- this is known as "crown." Make sure the pieces are placed crown up for better strength and visual appeal. Tack them in place temporarily with small screws or finishing nails. Keep in mind that these will be removed later when this becomes the upper part of the deck railing. Now, fasten them to each other using 3 suitable 3" deck screws or spiral ACQ nails per connection. If you need or desire to install 4x4 posts at the entrance or base of steps, this is the time to do it. The posts at the base of the steps should be at least 3' deep and keep the concrete in the bottom half of the hole. Back-fill with gravel for durability. When the time comes, you will fasten the deck railings to these posts -- but allow the concrete to set a couple of days first.

Step 3.Using a framing square, mark out the baluster positions by drawing a line every 5". Make a mark on the side of the line (normally a line or x), to indicate which side the baluster will be mounted.

Step 4.Fasten the 4 balusters at each corner of the upper deck railing with 2 ½" deck screws (for pressure-treated, use ACQ rated fasteners only; for cedar use hot-dipped galvanized fasteners).

Step 5.You will likely need a friend or two to help with the next step. You will need to have them help you lift these upper deck railings into place while you fasten a screw through the bottoms to elevate the upper deck railing into place, 42" above the deck (blocks cut to size will help hold the deck rail up).

Step 6.As you fill in the other balusters confirm vertical with a level. You will notice the more balusters are in place, the stronger the deck railing will get. When the balusters are all on, fasten to the posts by piloting a diagonal hole and using a 3" deck screw.

Think about adding a 2x6 on top and a row or two of 2x2s or 1x1s below the cap to add a functional drink rail -- and a horizontal lattice look.

About Our Expert on Deck Railings:

A career carpenter, writer and designer, Lawrence Winterburn is becoming well known in the landscape architecture field as an innovator of details and formidable designer. Lawrence is the founder of GardenStructure.com and is based in Toronto, Ontario.

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