How to Install A Handrail

Handrails are essential safety features installed alongside staircases and ramps to help provide support and stability, especially for people with mobility challenges or balance issues. 


In this detailed guide, we’re going to walk you through the precise steps of installing a handrail to help you enhance the safety and accessibility of your home's stairway. From the initial preparation to the final adjustments, each section is designed to equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to successfully install a handrail. 


Regardless of whether you're a contractor, a DIY enthusiast, or you just want to better understand the process, this guide will provide some much-needed guidance.

*(All writing on the wall is done on painters tape, that you apply before marking the wall)

Step 1: Locating and Marking Studs

To securely attach the handrail brackets, you have to properly anchor them directly into your wall’s studs. 


Begin by using an electronic stud finder to scan the area where you've marked for the handrail height to find your studs. After that move the stud finder horizontally across the wall, starting from one end of the tape line to the other, and mark each spot where the device indicates a stud's presence.


For additional accuracy try to use a magnetic stud finder that detects the metal fasteners in the studs. All you have to do is pass this tool over the marked areas to confirm the stud’s locations; the magnetic pull will be noticeably stronger when directly over a drywall screw.


Once you finish marking your studs along the staircase, identify which studs you will attach your handrail brackets to. Make sure to choose the studs that are going to be evenly spaced along your handrail. 

Step 2: Proper Preparation

The next step in installing a handrail is determining the correct height to help ensure safety and compliance with building codes and ADA standards. 


According to these codes and standards, handrails should typically be about 34 to 38 inches tall from the nose of the step to the top of the rail. 


For example’s sake, we’re going to work with a height of 36 inches, which is optimal for most adults and helps provide stability and support as they ascend or descend stairs.


To begin, mark the height you want on the wall from the nose of the step. Since handrails are about an inch thick, you'll need to mark the wall an inch below the finish height that you want. Do this for the steps that are on the left and right side of the stud closest to the bottom of the staircase and the stud that is closest to the top. Has to be studs that will have the bracket attached to it.   


Next, use a strip of painter's tape to connect the 2 marked heights from the lower part of the staircase and the top part of the staircase. This will act as a visual guide to help you maintain the angle of the staircase and the top of the bracket of where the handrail sits will be at the same level as the guide. 


Step 3: Installing the Brackets

Once you've marked the stud locations accurately, the next important step is aligning and securing the brackets to these studs. For the handrail we’re working with in our example we’re going to be installing a total of 4 brackets. The top and bottom bracket will be the first to be installed. 


When positioning the brackets it's essential to align the top of the bracket with the guide marked by the tape to ensure that the handrail will be at the right height and evenly supported along its length. After confirming that it’s properly aligned, mark the wall through the bracket's hole to pinpoint exactly where you will drill.


Drill pilot holes, using a ⅜ drill bit, into the studs at your marked points, and then secure each bracket with the ½ inch lag bolt. Do this for the top and bottom bracket. The brackets in between will be installed once the handrail is up and will help as a guide, to determine the height of the brackets. Leave the ½ inch lag bolt a little loose to allow the brackets to swivel into place once the handrail is placed on top. You can tighten once they are in place and at the exact angle of the staircase (tighten during step 4). 


Step 4: Drilling and Securing the Handrail to Brackets

Selecting the appropriate drill bit is essential before drilling into the handrail, and it should correspond to the size of the screws you'll use to attach the handrail to the brackets. For #14 self-tapping sheet metal screws, we’re going to use a 3/16 drill bit.


Before drilling make sure that you carefully align the handrail on top of the brackets and check for even spacing and alignment throughout. If you need to, don’t be afraid to use clamps to hold the handrail in place to free up both hands for more precise drilling and placement of your handrail. Also note, that there should be a 2 inch gap between the handrail and wall. 


Begin attaching the handrail by drilling a pilot hole underneath the handrail of where the bracket is at. The 2 holes at the top of the bracket will serve as a guide, as to where the pilot hole will be drilled. 


Start with the top bracket and drill one hole and then screw in the sheet metal screw with a drill. Make sure no to overtighten so that the thread doesn’t strip. Go to the bottom bracket and repeat the process. Now you can do the remaining holes from the top and bottom bracket. 


If you’re finding it difficult to hold the handrail while drilling, try to mark the screw locations on the handrail. After marking, you can drill pilot holes in the handrail on a stable surface, and then align these holes with the holes on the bracket. 


After completing the top and bottom Bracket you can go ahead and repeat steps 3 and 4 for the middle brackets. This time the Handrail itself will work as the guide. One thing to note is to make sure your handrail isn’t hanging, meaning that it is straight from one end to the other. You can see this by going to one end of the handrail and looking at the outer edge of the handrail while closing one eye. If it looks straight just place the brackets where the handrail is at. If there is a curve, lower or raise the bracket accordingly. Also remember to keep the 2 inch gap between the handrail and wall. 


It’s Easy to Have a Handrail in Your Home

Remember that a handrail is much more than just a safety feature; it's a piece of your home's character, uniquely blending functionality with style. Armed with these steps in mind, you're all set to enhance your staircase to help make it a safer and more inviting space. 


Whether you're diving into this project solo or guiding a pro, don’t forget that a sturdy and stylish handrail speaks volumes about the care and attention to detail that goes into your home.