I had a friend with a frustrating problem. He was trying to install a handrail on a set of brick steps but every time he drilled into them to anchor the railing, the brick started to crack. That’s a common and annoying issue with brick. It can be a bit more delicate than other materials like concrete or wood and has a tendency to crumble when handled too roughly.
I can’t blame people for wanting to use bricks in stairway construction. It’s a good-looking material that can set off a walkway or staircase. On top of that, it’s a pretty durable material–until you start to drill into it. Despite that, installing handrails on brick steps isn’t impossible as long as you make a few adjustments. We’ve got tips that will help you install handrails with minimal fuss.
Tips for Working with Bricks
When working with brick, it helps to realize that there’s not just one kind of brick. Bricks are generally made primarily of clay, but can also contain various amounts of sand, lime or ash. The lower the quality of your bricks, the more you’ll be at risk for ‘blowout,’ in which the back of the brick cracks as you’re drilling into it. If you’re actually working with concrete, rather than brick, take a look at our post on how to install a railing on a concrete porch. For brick, though, you’ll want to:
- Drill holes with a hammer drill: While it’s possible to drill a hole in brick with a standard drill, a hammer drill will offer a cleaner, faster option for creating the hole that will hold your anchor. Use a masonry bit with the hammer drill on the normal setting and you’ll avoid blowout.
- Clean off the brick dust after drilling: Clear out the drill hole as much as possible after drilling so small particles of debris won’t cause your anchor to go in crooked. A can of compressed air can be used to clear out the hole perfectly.
- Consider using epoxy: Epoxy can fill in microcracks created when drilling to give your brick some additional stability. While it’s not a required step, it’s one that could be useful, especially if you’re working with softer bricks that crumble easily.
- Don’t over tighten screws: Over-tightening the screw holding in place your railing post will cause the brick to crack no matter how gentle you are. Tighten until the screw stops moving and then stop. Don’t try to force it in further.
Working with brick can be just as easy as working with any other material as long as you keep those tips in mind. My friend who was trying to install his handrail had a lot more luck with his bricks once he switched from a regular electric drill to a hammer drill. After that, he had much less trouble with cracking bricks.
Considerations in Installing Handrails on Brick Steps
Remember that your railing must be at least 42 inches tall and the height of your top and bottom posts must be the same. As bricklaying can result in slight variances in the rise of each step, make sure your measurements are uniform before getting started. Once that’s done, then you can start installing your handrail. For especially easy handrail installation, try using a handrail system with adjustable brackets that move to suit the angle of the stair. You’ll also want to keep the following in mind:
- Start with choosing the posts: You’ll want to choose surface mount posts as opposed to side mount when working with brick. While generally you can use any material you’d like, I find that aluminum or powder coated steel posts look good with brick and are low maintenance and durable.
- Pick a handrail and posts that work together: Handrail systems are generally designed to work with posts from the same line of products. For the best result, follow the handrail manufacturers recommendations when choosing posts.
- Anchor into the brick, not the mortar: Only put your anchors for your posts in the brick, ideally the center of the surface of a brick. Avoid the mortar, as it’s not as strong as the brick and will likely crumble if there’s an anchor installed in it.
- Aim for a 3-inch minimum depth: Drilling your screws in three inches deep will ensure you have a good solid connection with the brick without going all the way through, as most bricks are about 4 inches deep.
By keeping these tips in mind, and switching to a hammer drill, my friend was able to install his handrail without breaking any more bricks. One thing that also helped was choosing a different post design. He went with Fortress Railing’s steel posts. He anchored these with ‘Redhead’ Trubolt anchor screws, which work great with concrete or brick. Using those products, along with Fortress’ simple handrail system, he put up a sturdy, attractive handrail which his older mother now uses daily to help her get up and down the steps. As my friend learned, the combination of good products, good hardware, and good tools is crucial for making this job simple and no-stress. And if you’re working on other projects, and looking for more than just handrails, Fortress Building Products has an entire lineup of products designed to make projects as easy as possible, like durable fencing, bamboo composite decking, and uniquely stylish hardware.