How to Build a Deck Railing

Cedar deck and railing

August 3, 2021

Installing deck railing and learning how to build a deck railing isn’t as easy as the pros make it look, though it also isn’t as difficult as you’d think. Like all building projects, it’s about measuring twice and cutting once. That adage applies to more than actually measuring. You want to make sure you’re using the right materials in the right way, know how to make the structure safe, and build a deck railing for you to enjoy visually. 

Different kinds of deck railing material require different sorts of installation, but in this article, we’ll focus on wood as it’s the most common when building a deck railing yourself. If you’re interested in using a different kind of railing, like metal, it’s best to have a professional install it. 

First, the Deck Railing Posts

For this section, the deck itself must be completed. No use building a railing when the floor isn’t put down, after all. 

Count how many posts

If your deck is supported by posts, if it’s covered for example, then you’ll already know how many to use. If not, you’ll need to install them to support the railings. You’ll want to space them around the perimeter of your deck evenly.

Measure and Cut

Measure out the posts so they will be a little higher than the railing itself and hang below the deck planks a bit. For example, if your railing is going to be 36 inches, then your posts will need to be cut at 44 inches. Next, you’ll mark a line that goes up the side of the bottom of each post a few inches up and another that is perpendicular to the first line’s end. The purpose of this is to outline the section of the post that will be cut out to fit on the deck.  

Mount the Posts

After removing the sections that will connect with the deck you’ll want to hold them at their positions. Make sure to have help and a level to ensure it’s straight and flush. Use a drill to drill pilot holes through the overhang and into the deck joists before using either drill lag screws or carriage bolts. 

Congrats! The posts for your deck railing are done!

Cutting and Measuring for the Deck Railing

Now that you have the “frame” and support for the railing, the next step in how to build a deck railing is to measure and cut the wood. 

Mark the Railing Height

The first thing you’ll want to do for building a deck railing is to measure and cut the wood. Using a tape measure, mark with a pencil in the center of each post according to your preference and any building codes. While measuring and marking where you want the railing, make sure to consider if you want space at the bottom or between the rails. For example, if you want some space below the bottom rail and the floor, set the railing height mark a bit higher than the height of the railing itself.

Measure the Distance Between Posts

This step depends on if you installed the posts yourself or not. If you did, then you already know the distance between them. If, on the other hand, someone else installed them, then you need to do the following:

  • Have someone hold the measuring tape in place at the center of a post.
  • Stretch the measuring tape to the center of the next post tautly, and make a pencil mark.
  • Write down the distance between the post
  • Check the distance between where you want the top and bottom rails. If the posts are straight then the distance should be the same. If they aren’t, change the length of rails to match the actual distance.

Get the Wood

Make sure to go to a lumber store where they can cut wood for you if you’re unable to do it at home. If doing it yourself, you’ll want to cut a 1×3 or 2×4 lumber into lengths that are equal to the distance between your posts and have two pieces for each length of railing. Also, while at the store you’ll want to pick up a lot of 2×2 balusters for the railing, remember that they can’t be more than 4-inches apart and their length needs to be the approximate height of your railing. 

Apply the Finish

When putting up the posts for your deck railing, you may or may not have applied the finish. If not, no big deal as now you’ll be applying the finish to all the wood. Of course, it’s easier to do the posts before attaching anything. So, be sure to apply the finish before putting it in your railing.

How to Build a Deck Railing Home Stretch

Attach the Balusters

Space the balusters evenly along the strip of a thin strip of wood, but begin with 2 at either end. Then drive screws that are 1.5 to 2 inches through the strip and into the ends of the balusters. Repeat the process with the other top strip of wood to secure the balusters. 

Install the Railing

To help hold up the railing, take a scrap piece of wood to keep it up at the height you want. Then pre-drill holes at an angle through the bottom of the scrap wood towards the post so it’s easier to drive long screws through them to secure the bottom rail. Once this is done, position the balusters on the bottom rail and drive in a few screws through the thin strip into the lower rail. Be sure that the screws aren’t longer than the thickness of the bottom railing. Repeat this for the top railing, minus the scrap wood to hold it in place. 

Building a Deck Railing with Professionals

Looking at how to build a deck railing can seem overwhelming, especially with the precise cuts. Any wrong measurement can mean a costly do-over. If after knowing how to build a deck railing, you’re unsure if you want to do it, there is nothing wrong with hiring professionals to get the job done. 

We at PCF Custom Outdoor Living have specialized in building deck railings and deck installations since the beginning of our company. We strive to provide you with the most professional experience possible and are committed to quality, reliability, safety, tidiness, integrity, and communication.

If you’re looking to have a beautiful and secure deck railing, you’ve found the right group to get it done. We offer free estimates to make sure you know exactly the price range to expect, another way demonstrates our commitment to integrity and communication. We look forward to helping you secure your deck and taking the direction for how to build a deck railing off your plate.

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