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How to Install a Cable Railing

Ask This Old House Tom Silva travels to Utah to help a homeowner replace his traditional stair railing with more modern cable railing.

Steps:

  1. Start by removing the old stair railing. If it’s a more traditional wooden railing, this will probably require removing screws and cutting some of the railing away with a reciprocating saw. For structure, it might be possible and helpful to keep the newel post in place.
  2. Place the newel post cover over the existing post. Measure to determine its height.
  3. Cut the newel post to size using the miter saw. Cut the regular newel post to the same height.
  4. Put the newel post cover back over the post and scribe it to the floor on all four sides. Be sure the post is level and plumb as you scribe.
  5. Cut along the scribed line using an oscillating saw and a hand saw. Clean up any of the cuts as needed with a chisel and then sand it smooth with a palm sander.
  6. Lay the 5/4” stock poplar on the floor to act as base. Place the other newel post against the wall and then mark the 5/4” to determine its length.
  7. Cut the 5/4” poplar to size. Tom suggests cutting a rabbet with a router on the 5/4” so that the floor can slide perfectly underneath the base of the railing for a smoother transition.
  8. Assemble the entire railing configuration using mortise and tenons and wood glue. Be sure to use a framing square to ensure the configuration stays true. Tom finds its easier to assemble this separately and then move it into position on the stairs rather than just putting it altogether in position.
  9. Screw the railing configuration together with a few wood screws just to hold it in place while the wood glue dries.
  10. Slide the railing configuration over the old newel post and against the wall. This will require two people in order to keep it even as it’s being lowered down. If it gets stuck, try gently tapping it into position with a rubber mallet.
  11. Place the 5/4” stock on the floor. Secure it to the floor with construction adhesive and some wood screws.
  12. The cable picket can be used as a template to determine where the cables should be placed. Hold it up against both newel posts and mark the location of the holes on the posts.
  13. Drill pilot holes on the template marks.
  14. Screw the picket into the railing every 3’ along the railing to act as a support for the cables.
  15. Secure the cable fasteners on both newel posts.
  16. Insert the provided cable on the non-adjustable end of the fasteners, run the cable through the holes of the picket, and into the adjustable end of the fasteners. The cables will need to be cut to length with wire cutters.
  17. Tighten the cables on the adjustable fasteners using a wrench. Start with the middle cable and then alternate every other cable as you work your way out. This ensures the newel post doesn’t get pulled out of plumb/level.

Resources:

The poplar newel post that slips over an existing newel post and the other wood hand rail sections were fabricated by a local mill shop in Utah.

The cable railing system was manufactured by Feeney.

Other tools and materials for this project, including wood glue and construction adhesive are available at home centers.

Expert assistance with this project was provided by Woodcraft.

Tools: