Deck 2: Deck Railing

In the previous article I discussed building a raised backyard wood deck. For safety reasons and to abide by the building codes in our local areas, we must install a deck railing around these decks to contain those people enjoying the deck.

For heights over 2 feet above the ground, we must install a deck railing or guard as the building codes call them. A deck railing should be at least 36" high, although 42" is more of the acceptable standard. The deck railing should be vertical barriers, rather than horizontal, where a child cannot climb up on them. They should also be less than 4" apart so that a toddler's head could not fit through and get stuck.

A deck railing is comprised of posts about 6' apart with a 2x4 top and bottom rail, a 2x6 cap and vertical pales. Building supply dealers usually have a choice of pales for a deck railing in different shapes and styles. You can also make up your own design of deck railing from 1x4 or 1x6 stock. Some choose for their deck railing a 2x2 plain balusters or fancier turned spindles, similar to the indoor newel post and spindles.

Photo of a guardrail.In this picture of the deck railing around my second story backyard wood deck, notice the following features: The pales of the deck railing were designed and cut out of 1x6 stock using a jigsaw for the arcs and a hole saw for the circles. The top and bottom rails were dadoed out to form a groove in which the pales of the deck railing could be slid into to hold them in place. Between the pales in the dado, I cut and installed spacers. Drawing of how to secure a handrail post using lag bolts into a box or run joist.Notice the vertical 2x4 on the right completing the deck railing. The bottom 2x4 is within 4" off the deck. This is the only horizontal member allowed on the deck railing as well as the top rail and cap. I like to have the bottom rail raised, like this, so any rain can run off and it is easier to keep clean. These units will be tied into the supporting posts by screwing into the posts through the 2x4s of the deck railing. The posts are 4x4 lag bolted into the box joist or rim joist of the deck. I usually notch out 1 1/2" from the post leaving 2" of wood to bolt onto the joist.

Another choice of deck railing is the 2x2 baluster:

The 2x2 baluster deck railing is supported only by the 2x2s screwed to the box joist of the deck. The 2x2s on 5" centers make this deck railing strong enough.

Diagram of baluster handrail showing cap, box joist and ballustades with measurements.

The alternate choice of deck railing is using the 2x2s, but with the support of 4x4 posts about 6' apart, as shown.

Diagram of alternate 2x2 baluster handrail, showing cap, post, rail and box joist with measurements.

Diagram of a 4x4 corner post notch with measurements.The corner 4x4 post of the deck railing is a bit of a trick since we have to cut the 1 1/2" notch out from the corner. Just set the circular saw blade to 1 1/2", cut out the top and sides. I use a chisel to pry out the piece, which usually splits away. I then clean up the cut with the chisel.

Always miter the cap in the corner of the deck railing for a nice looking fit. Galvanized nails and screws should be used in any outdoor finishing work, such as backyard decks and deck railing.


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