A Unique Stair Railing Made of Repurposed Materials

Part of a prized collection of old tools becomes a very cool stair rail.

Tools became art! Decker suggests that the idea could be used for, say, a shelf bracket, something small and simple; email him for more at deckerjrekced@gmail.com.

Josh Decker

Both of Josh Decker’s grandfathers passed along to him their old wrenches, hammers, saws, and pliers. Working favorites went into a toolbox, and the rest of the collection grew into the hundreds as Josh came across old tools at recycling yards and salvage stores. When he decided to add an interior stair going to the basement, the old tools came to mind. With the help of two welder friends, he built a sturdy railing that turned tools into art.


Decker began by assembling a frame and posts with 1 ” steel pipe frames and 4′ inch posts, welding them together on a flat steel-top table with a wire feed machine. He designed the railing by laying out tools within the railing framework, holding them in place with magnets, experimenting with placement and pattern until he was satisfied.


Individual tools were first de-rusted and cleaned with a wire brush using high speed on a drill (or grinder); a mini Dremel tool was used for smaller pieces and surfaces. Such adjustable tools as wrenches were cleaned and oiled so that working parts remain movable, even after assembly.

After cleaning, each tool was welded in place. Each weld was carefully brushed and dressed (welding droplets chipped off with a cold chisel) to make the assembly smooth and seamless, to avoid catching on objects or hands. Each tool was then brushed down once again with old motor oil, which was burned off with a welding torch to create a uniform patina. When it was done, the railing was sprayed with Krylon’s matte clear finish for protection.


Anchor points for the posts in the wooden floor were carefully marked and fixed with antique, square-head bolts and lags as well as two-part epoxy. Half of the anchor points were in concrete and required setting with a rock drill and specialized anchors. The completed railing was carefully lifted into place. It weighs 435 lbs. and so required a crew of helpers to position.

Tags: DIY OHJ December 2018 salvage stairs tools

By Brian D. Coleman

Brian D. Coleman, M.D., is the Editor-at-large for Arts and Crafts Homes and Old House Journal magazines and has written numerous articles on home design. His work has appeared in magazines ranging from Old House Journal to Period Living in the U.K. 

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