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In this video, This Old House general contractor Tom Silva builds a perfect-fit handrail.

Steps for building a porch rail

  1. Measure and mark the railing height of 36 inches onto the porch posts.
  2. Use two sliding measuring sticks to determine the distance between porch posts.
  3. Lay the measuring sticks on the cedar handrail and transfer the distance between the posts to the handrail.
  4. Use a profile gauge to capture the rounded shape of the porch post. Set the gauge onto the handrail and trace the rounded shape onto the handrail. Repeat for the opposite end of the rail.
  5. Cut the handrail to length with a jigsaw. Repeat to make an identical bottom rail.
  6. Use table saw to rip ⅜-inch-thick x 1½-inch-wide nailing strips from a cedar 2x4.
  7. Stain all parts of the railing system, including handrail, bottom rail, balusters, and nailing strips.
  8. Arrange the railing parts on a flat surface. Take a long strip of elastic banding and draw a line every 2 inches along its length.
  9. Set a nailing strip against the ends of the balusters, then stretch the banding across the balusters until the lines on the banding are slightly less than 4 inches on center from one baluster to the next.
  10. Transfer the lines from the banding onto the nailing strips. Align the balusters with the lines.
  11. Use a pneumatic stapler to tack the nailing strips to the ends of the balusters.
  12. Securely fasten the nailing strips to the balusters with 2-inch-long ceramic-coated screws. Drive one screw into each end of every 2x2 baluster.
  13. Install the bottom rail between the porch posts and secure it with 3-inch-long ceramic-coated screws.
  14. Set the baluster assembly on top of the bottom rail.
  15. Install the top handrail between the posts and secure it with 3-inch-long ceramic-coated screws.
  16. Staple the baluster assembly to the bottom and top rails.