Photos by Andy Olenick
Wall-mounted handrails aren’t a new safety feature. However, they’re often taken down for patching, painting, and other repairs through the years, and sometimes don’t make their way back. If you have a stair rail that’s gone missing—or was never there in the first place—here’s how to get it back where it belongs.
Gather the following tools: stud finder, tape measure, a few screws, a length of as long as the stairs, pencil, level, drill, clamp, and screwdriver. Each bracket should be installed in a stud, so start by using the stud finder to locate the first one.
Next, measure the locations for the brackets—local building codes determine required rail height and generally offer a small range (in New York, where this project was photographed, the range is 32" to 36"). Figure out where the rail feels most comfortable within the range—remember that brackets sit an inch or two below the handrail, so be sure to account for the rail’s height in your comfort check. Hold the end of the tape measure against the corner of the nearest step, measure up, and mark the spot where the top of the bracket will hit.
Repeat these steps for each bracket, spacing them about 3' apart—distance will vary depending on the length of your rail and the number of brackets; the goal is to space them evenly. Once you’ve marked each spot, lightly place three screws (one at each end of the stairs and one in the middle) and lay a string line to help determine whether your marks are even.
Remove the string line and hold the brackets over your marks; use a pencil to mark inside the top holes. Then use the level to ensure the marks are level (so the brackets will be). If they’re not, adjust accordingly.
Screw in the brackets and perform the string line test once more. Make any necessary adjustments to level things out.
Time to attach the handrail to the brackets. Start by clamping the handrail onto the middle bracket (buffer the clamp with wood blocks to avoid the rail); use additional clamps if necessary. Check for positioning—the handrail should extend approximately the same distance the first and the last bracket. Once the rail is properly aligned, screw it securely into place.