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Installing handrail in wall with no studs

I'm having trouble hanging a hand rail. Here is the scenario.
I live in an old house, portions of which were built ca. 1900 that was heavily remodeled in the late 1940s. The walls are thick plaster, covered with paint, wallpaper, and then another coat of paint. I have a section of stairway running from one level up to a landing that needs a hand rail. The problem is that the wall is only about 25.5" in width and there appear to be no studs in between the edges of the wall.
I've tried to upload a picture but without success, so let me try to describe the situation. On the left edge of the wall as you face it is a door frame that intrudes about 2 inches. On the right side of the wall is a a corner, in which there is probably a stud, but it appears to be oriented facing with its narrow side towards the wall.
See if this link will work for viewing the picture.
I have tried every trick I can think of to locate the studs: drilling, pounding on the wall, stud finders, strong magnets, and opening the light switch up to see where its mounted. None have given me any indication. The light switch box appears to be floating, as I can see no screws attaching it to a stud on any side.
So, my problem comes down to this: I must install a hand rail in this narrow section of wall. To do that, I would usually just anchor the rail to the studs, or screw a board to the studs and then screw the hand rail into the board. But there are no studs, so I can't anchor to anything. Any ideas?

Re: Installing handrail in wall with no studs

It looks like the plaster needs some serious patching anyway, so maybe you can just open up that section of wall, put in the proper backing, patch the wall, then you'll have something to fasten the handrail to? Not sure how much work you want to get into here.

What's on the other side of the wall? If it's a closet, opening up the other side may result in a less conspicuous patch. You could even run bolts all the way through the wall to support the rail from the other side. There are lots of options, but most of them are ugly. :(

Another option is to use some kind of hollow wall anchors, but I'm not sure how well they will work on a plaster wall. Remember, whatever you use needs to be able to support the full weight of someone grabbing onto the rail to break a fall. That means it should probably be able to support 300-500 pounds (dynamic loading).

Re: Installing handrail in wall with no studs

I would secure a hardwood 1x4 to the framing you have, essentially run the strip wall to wall, so the ends are screwed into framing, see? then you mount your stair rail brackets on the strip. You will want to have the 1x4 run up the same angle/parallel to the stair stringer, IOW.

Re: Installing handrail in wall with no studs

The proper approach would be to install solid and sufficient backing INSIDE the wall. Whichever way you choose to frame it must be capable to support the weight as mentioned above. You don't want accidents climbing up.

Not sure? hire a framer and a drywall/painter guy to finish.

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