How To Make A Handrail General Woodworking

With just a few small details left to wrap up in my house renovation, the largest of these was to put a railing on the stairway that goes down to the family room from the main floor. This is a short run of steps, with seven total rises.
Since the other railing is made from spruce, I would need to make this one from that as well. I had some pieces of 2″ x 6″ that were in my workshop since last summer, and had dried enough to use:

the lumber

Looks rough, but when machined down to size this will be perfectly suitable.

The pieces had some twist and to correct this, I clamped one end down to the workbench and used the electric planer to flatten them:

planing it flat

It’s not difficult to do and fairly accurate. It does pump out a large amount of shavings to clean up, though.

With one side flattened, I put that against the fence and cut about 1/8″ off:

cutting it down to thickness

The final thickness of this part of the handrail needs to be 1-1/4″. After cutting it on the table saw, I started planing them smooth on my thickness planer. Unfortunately, the infeed on my planer broke before I was finished and I had to put the project on hold until I bought a new planer.

Even though I wanted the railing as simple as possible, I did make it return to the wall on each end. This adds some complexity, but I think the results justify this. To form the returns, I glued shorter pieces on to make the ends wider. I then drew a radius for the inside and outside:

marking the curves
the curved parts finished

I cut these out on the band saw and smoothed the cuts on my disk sander and spindle sander. A 1/2″ round over bit in the router table was used to round the edges.

To attach the return to the wall, I needed to come up with an anchoring system. I thought that a good way to do it would be to slot out the rail for an eye bolt, screw the eyebolt into the wall and glue the eye into the rail. I drilled the slot on my drill press just wide enough for the eye:

drilling the end
fitting an eyebolt in the slot

I then located the mounting point and screwed the eyebolt into the wall. To make the bolt screw in easier and to fill any gap between the bolt and the drywall, I coated the bolt with polyurethane construction adhesive:

screwing the eyebolt to the wall
mounting the upper curved part

I then put more adhesive in the slot and slipped it over the eye. After checking to make sure that this section was level, I left it to dry overnight.

Before mounting these, I cut them to length and the correct angle. I also cut a slot for a #10 biscuit, as seen in the one at the bottom of the stair:

mounting the lower return
clamping in the straight rail

The next day, I carefully measured and cut the straight rail that connects the two. I used my 22.5 degree clamping dogs to pull the joint tight together. Once again, I’m using polyurethane construction adhesive to glue the joint. Along with a longer open time, I have found this outperforms wood glue on butt joints, especially end-grain to end-grain.

After the glue had set overnight, I removed the clamps and sanded it smooth:

the sanded rail
marking the bottom part

To thicken the rail and match the detail on the other railing, I cut and milled 3/4″ thick pine to the same curve. Here I’ve laid the one for the bottom return on the top one, to check to make sure it lines up properly.

The straight section is glued in place first:

gluing on the bottom part
gluing on the return

I then glued and clamped the piece for the return. I took the time to stain these pieces beforehand, thinking it would make it easier.

Masking tape on the wall to protect it from the finish:

staining the rail
the finished rail

The rail finished, with three coats of clear polyurethane.

I added three metal handrail brackets to the straight section. I usually don’t like to use this type of bracket, but these are fast to install and my greater interest is in getting the job done:

the finished rail

Some paint touch ups to do to cover my pencil marks from laying out the railing, and it will look like it’s always been there.