A few jobs back, I was doing a big house remodeling project that expanded to include fixing the large decking area out back. The number one item on my list of repairs was fixing some highly unstable handrails. Installed only a few years before, the bolts that held the brackets onto the wooden railing had stripped out and the brackets were crooked, leading to a particularly shaky handrail that no one had confidence in holding.
The thing was, I knew the people who installed the handrails, and their work was usually excellent. But installing handrails on stairs can offer challenges, even for professional builders, and especially if it’s not a task that you do every day. When installing a handrail on a slope, you’ve got to be careful that the brackets are all in their proper alignment for a tight, solid, and aesthetically pleasing fit. Adjustable brackets, which can be installed in a wide range of angles, make it much easier to get a good fit, and when the scope of the job is larger, like a multi-unit apartment complex, retirement home, or a school, the saved time from an easy installation is incredibly precious. Some easy-to-install railings don’t hold up well, but we’ll talk about finding a quality handrail that cuts down on install time and will stay looking beautiful.
Features That Make Handrails Easy to Install
There are a few areas that make a railing installation sail along a lot more smoothly and quickly. All of the time-saving action I’m talking about takes place at the joins. The first area is where you attach the mounting brackets to the railing posts. The second area is joining the bracket to the rail, whether on a flat surface or dealing with an incline. What I look for here are pre-drilled holes in the brackets, the ability to easily accommodate different slopes with as little measuring and fiddling as possible, and self-drilling screws.
- Pre-Drilled Mounting Holes: Most manufacturers I work with include these, but I have worked with systems that required you, as the installer, to take the extra time to measure and drill the holes yourself. It’s tedious work, and tacks on a lot of extra time to the job.
- Adjustable Brackets: If your handrail system doesn’t include adjustable mounting brackets, it means that you’ll likely spend more time making sure that the brackets are attached at the right angle in order to accommodate the slope of the rail on stairs, typically holding the railing in place with either clamps or the help of a friend. Adjustable brackets allow you to screw the bracket in at the proper height, knowing that you’ll be able to adjust them accordingly once they are in place.
- Self-Drilling Screws: While I have no problem installing bolts (indeed, with some jobs you might have to use a bolt or a weld) having self-drilling screws saves on time spent drilling the holes yourself. This feature, combined with the other features above, can save an hour or so on a small job, and dozens of hours on much larger projects.
Easy to Install Doesn’t Have to Mean Flimsy
Some handrails that are billed as “easy to install” aren’t especially sturdy or reliable, which isn’t a good thing when it comes to something that’s supposed to keep you safe no matter what. The biggest challenge to durability that metal handrail faces is corrosion brought on by the weathering effects of moisture. I often see railing failing at the very places where it needs to be strong the most–the joins. When installing metal handrails, it’s important to have solid protection, and I know firsthand that when you’ve gone to the trouble to find a system that saves time on installation, you don’t want to end up spending more time later wire brushing and scraping off rust, then coating and painting the bare metal. For railings that don’t rust, I look for a manufacturer that is serious about protecting their product from corrosion. You probably know that just paint won’t do it. Nowadays, many manufacturers just use a basic powder coating, but I know of at least one that makes steel handrails by applying a zinc precoat to high-quality galvanized metal, then adding a moisture-resistant e-coat before putting on the powder coating. This system offers great protection from moisture, UV rays, and the normal wear and tear a handrail encounters day in and day out.
If you are keen on saving time on installation and having a railing that will spare you tons of effort in the maintenance department, then I’d recommend a line of railing produced by Fortress Railing. They make both a square iron handrail and a round aluminum handrail which are high quality, easy to install, and come in a range of colors to match any building style. If you’re looking for sturdy, attractive railing to go with those handrails, you should also look through Fortress’ other products, which include commercial and residential railings and fences, as well as decking and hardware.