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How to Install a Metal Railing

Ask This Old House mason Mark McCullough installs a custom metal railing using anchoring cement

Steps for Installing a Metal Railing

Fall 2021 Ask TOH, Mark McCullough
Mark says that a sturdy, long-lasting railing should be made of solid steel and have solid-steel posts embedded at least 6 inches into stone or concrete. To embed these posts, he uses a red coring drill attached to an orange, diamond-tipped coring bit; both can be rented. The water around the bit’s tip helps keep it cool.
Colleen McQuaid
  1. Locate a local welding company to make the railings for the steps. This process usually takes up to three weeks.
  2. Measure roughly 4” from the wall and 4” from the edge of the steps to place the railing. Use a marker to trace around the edges of the railing. Use the coring drill to drill out holes for the railing. A scrap piece of stone can be used to guide the drill.
  3. Use the masonry drill to clean out the hole made by the coring drill.
  4. Dry fit the railings to ensure a correct fit.
  5. Pour a small amount of the anchoring cement into the mixing cup and add water. It will immediately begin to cure, so work quickly.
  6. Pour the anchoring cement into each hole. Clean up any excess cement with a damp sponge.
  7. Check the railing for level before the cement cures. Let it set up for 30 minutes.
  8. Add a bead of caulking around each hole to protect it from water.

What to Know About Anchoring Cement

Fall 2021 Ask TOH, anchoring grout Courtesy Sakrete

Anchoring cement, also known as nonshrink grout, is formulated to expand as it cures and form a tight bond with the railing post and surrounding hole.

To prevent the cement from cracking, the hole has to be big enough to allow a ½-inch clearance between the side of the post and the side of the hole at every point.

Resources

A custom metal railing can be purchased from a welding shop. Mark recommended using one with solid steel posts. The one Mark installed was made by Mike’s Welding Company.

All the materials Mark used for this installation, including the caulking gun, the anchoring cement, and the coring drill, can be found at home centers.

Expert assistance for this segment was provided by MJM Masonry.

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