house with an elegant deck railing

How to Build an Elegant Deck Railing

Does your home have a deck that is need of a makeover? Learn more about this article on how to build an elegant deck railing.

Deck rails can spruce up an entire patio, making it both safer and more stylish. Plus, adding a simple railing to your deck can increase the market value of your home as well.

It’s a relatively easy do-it-yourself project but if you (or your enlisted family member) have any building experience, you’ll be ahead of the curve on this DIY project.

There are a wide range of possibilities for your deck railing, including wire/cable and wooden variations. You can find:

  • Complete rail systems to install (super easy, rather expensive)
  • Railing components (quite easy, medium expensive)
  • Or entire DIY projects (more challenging, usually less expensive)

Depending on your location, some building codes require railings for any deck a foot above grade. Keep in mind also that there is a standard rail construction – deck railing height anywhere from 36 to 42 inch high – with balusters every 4 inches to keep children safe. Any system with more than one riser will require hand rails along the steps.

Many aspects of deck remodeling and construction don’t require a permit or inspection, but in some locations, they do. Be sure to check in with local building codes as some can be very specific.

How To Build a Deck Railing in 7 Steps

Whichever style of deck railing you install, there are seven basic steps to follow to make the process as easy as possible:

1. Recycle!

Recycling and improving an existing deck.

How to Build an Elegant Deck Railing

Image via The Family Handyman

Unless you are building a brand-new deck, most likely you can reuse and incorporate pieces of your existing deck. It’s a great thing to realize you don’t need to tear everything down and start over! To evaluate what you can keep in your existing deck, consider these few points:

  • Check whether your deck footings, posts and joists are structurally sound. Look closely at the wood condition, including any warping.
  • If you notice your entire deck appears a little warped, that probably means your footings are too shallow and will need to be replaced with deeper ones. Often, you’ll be able to simply create new ones right next to the old ones, saving yourself the exhaustion of pulling out old footings.
  • Make sure your existing structure was built with treated wood for durability. It will have a green hue, and often markings like “.40 treated” or something similar. If your deck is stained and you can’t find any labels, simply cut a sliver off and look for the green tint on edges of the fresh end.
  • One way to determine structural integrity is to either bring an architectural drawing of the deck/proposed deck to your local building inspector, or bringing your building inspector out to take a look at your existing deck. They will be able to confirm that it’s solid, or guide you to what needs to be repaired to meet code and be safe.
  • Learn more about recycling your deck materials here.


2. Gather Your Materials

Various deck railing materials

How to Build an Elegant Deck Railing

Image via The Family Handyman

Depending on the type of railing system you intend to install, you will need lumber for posts, and either cable or wood boards for the railings. For now, let’s assume you’ll be working with lumber. Keep away from hardwood, including oak, maple and birch as well as typical building woods like pine or spruce.

Instead, seek out pressure-treated straight-grained soft wood like redwood, cedar or cypress. These woods have natural resins that keep bugs and mold away, resulting in better-looking and longer-lasting railings.

Assume the project will take about $500, and a weekend.

You will also need:

  • hand or power saw
  • chisel
  • hammer
  • measuring tape
  • square
  • electric drill and bits
  • screwdriver
  • adjustable wrench or spanners
  • stakes
  • shovel
  • spirit level
  • builder’s line

3. Install the Posts

Installing and securing posts for deck railing

Image via Hometime

Usually posts are made from 4×4 beams, and are installed at the corners of the deck. You can either set a single post at each corner, or use 2 posts per corner set on either side of the angle.

Secure the post by clamping it in place and plumbing the position, then using exterior construction glue, galvanized screws, or carriage bolts to hold it in place. Make sure to be accurate in plumbing and prepare to repeat the process as needed – it’s the only chance you’ll get to ensure your railing is solid.

4. Assemble the Railing Sections

Building the railing sections separately instead of one spindle at a time

Image via Hometime

After the posts are in place, you have the option to attach each rail individually to the post, or to put them together in sections then secure each unit. Usually, pre-assembling each section and then installing it is easier than doing each rail and spindle individually.

To create the railing as a unit, measure between the posts for the exact lengths of railing you need. Then lay out the rails parallel to each other on the deck. Check your local codes for any requirements before placing the spindles – many building codes require 4 inches or less between each spindle – and mark each spindle on the railing. Cut the spindles to the correct length, and nail or screw onto the rails at the pre-marked position.

5. Set the Railing Section

DIYer installing the preassembled railing sections between the posts

Image via Hometime

 Once you have assembled each railing section, secure it between the posts. Make sure to install all the sections of railing first, then set the cap railing over the top of the railings and the posts.

6. Set the Stair Rails

Two DIYers installing the stair rails for the deck

Image via Hometime

If you have steps, leave the stair rails until after the rest is in place. It is easier to put each rail and spindle in place individually in a stair railing, rather than as a unit.

Tip: Look in the lumberyards for wood specially molded on one side for gripping to use as your hand rail.

 7. Install the Stair Spindles

Stairway spindles being installed for the deck stairs

Image via Hometime

Your final step is to place the stairways spindles and secure them.

Various Tutorials

You’ll follow those basic 7 steps with any railing design, whether its cable or wood-based. Some of the details will change though, so let’s briefly look at a range of specific tutorials to help guide you.

Wire/Cable Railings

 If you’re looking to install a full cable rail system, check out this tutorial.

Beautiful cable wire deck railing installation with a blue cushion wicker chair

Image Via Cabin Living Mag

It walks you through installing the Feeney CableRail system, which takes 9 hours, and cost about $900. This includes removing the spindles from their old wooden railing system.

Pro tip: Stain and paint any new lumber before installing it!


For a DIY version of a modern, unobtrusive wire railing system that feels both open and secure, try this tutorial.

white wood and cable wire deck railing with wooden planter

How to Build an Elegant Deck Railing

Image via Sarah M. Dorsey Designs

Their total cost was $130, less than half of what the typical kit would cost ($300-$500). The project does require basic tools and some knowledge of construction, but the concept itself is quite straightforward.

You’ll want stainless steel cables, bolts, nuts and washers as well as standard home repair tools like drills and wrenches. A cable cutter is a must-have as well.

(Bonus: Here’s another handy tutorial, focused on how to bore holes in wooden posts to accommodate cable railings.)

brown wood deck railing with wire cables

Image via Fine Home Building

Standard Wooden Railing

For a great video on building a standard wooden railing, look no further!

wooden deck railing with lattice work and red door

Image via Today’s Home Owner

You’ll learn how to build deck railings from top to bottom in only about ten steps.


For another basic option, check out this video, which covers building a wooden deck rail and a set of stairs:

Finally, here’s a third option for a video tutorial that is a little more complicated, and requires a pneumatic stapler. The results are gorgeous, though!

white wooden deck railing

Image via This Old house

If you’re looking for written directions, try these two tutorials from Today’s Homeowner,

brown wooden deck railing mid-construction

Image via Today’s Homeowner

and DIY Advice.

build wooden deck railing using green screwdriver

Image via

They will lead you through building a basic, elegant railing without any special woodworking tools or skills. All you need are the wooden posts/balustrades, an appropriate saw, and screws or nails rather than any fancy joint system. Figure on the project taking about a day with a helper (or two) for approximately 60 feet of railing.


Pro Tip: Always wear respiratory protection when cutting or sanding treated lumber. Do not burn treated lumber.


Perhaps you just want to add some wooden handrails? For example, if the rest of your deck is solid and it just needs a finishing touch or two, look here.

wooden deck railing computer graphic handrails

Image via Easy 2 DIY

Fancy Additions

A few finishing touches can make your deck a thing of beauty. Consider if you want to add lattice work, or something similar at the bottom of your deck, either for the polished look it yields or to meet local code. Here’s a great how-to video.


If you are looking for a combination of wooden railing and glass, to provide safety while maintaining your view, check out the tutorial at the Family Handyman.

cedar wooden deck railing with glass

Image via Family Handyman

Sunburst Railing

For a stunning, unique look, check out this sunburst deck railing. It’s a real show-stopper, and not difficult at all to build. The trick is building each panel separately, then putting it all together.

sunburst wooden deck railing designImage via Marty’s Musings

Closing Thoughts

Every DIY project is its own animal. Depending on if you have to do structural work or demolition, it can take several weekends to build a deck railing. The good news is that it’s easy to stretch the work out without interfering with the day-to-day running of the house.

Remember to sand down any sharp edges and to call in your building inspector if local code requires it. Also, never burn treated lumber. If you have any that requires disposal, contact the local recycling center. Also, once the deck is dry and set (this may take up to a few months) add weather sealer to any wood surfaces.




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