Railings are both attractive additions and vital safety features for a deck. Learn how to build and install one in just six steps.

Put down the phone—there's no need to call a professional for this project. For a small amount of time and money you can build a distinctive and handsome deck railing. None of the steps in building this railing requires special woodworking tools or skills. All the pieces can be cut with a circular saw, though a power mitersaw or a radial-arm saw will make the job easier. The pieces are attached with screws or nails; fancy joints are not needed.

Our deck posts are made of 2x4s and 1x4s that in combination are much less likely to develop cracks than a standard 4x4 post. A built-up post also lends a handcrafted appearance to the deck.

Before you begin, consult local building codes to determine the required overall height of the railing and how far apart the balusters must be. Working with a helper, expect to spend a day constructing about 60 feet of railing.

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What You Need

  • Tape measure
  • Hammer
  • Drill
  • Circular saw
  • Layout square
  • Post level
  • Ratchet and socket wrench
  • 2x4
  • 1x4 for posts
  • 2x4 for top, bottom rails
  • 2x6 or 5/4 decking for rail cap
  • 4-inch lag screws
  • 2- or 3-inch deck screws or nails
  • Angle brackets

Step 1: Make a Regular Post

To make a regular post, cut two 1x4s and one 2x4 to the height of the railing, minus the thickness of the rail cap. Cut another 2x4 to the same length, plus the combined width of the outside joist and the decking thickness. Fasten by drilling pilot holes and driving screws or nails.

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Step 2: Make a Corner Post

Make a corner post with three 2x4s and one 1x4. Use a scrap of 1x4 as a guide for the 3/4-inch reveal along the edges of the boards. Join 2x4s with 3-inch deck screws.

Step 3: Attach Posts

For each post, notch the decking so the longer 2x4 can attach tight to the joist. Position the post with the short boards resting on top of the decking. Hold the post plumb, drive pilot holes, and attach with lag screws or carriage bolts.

Step 4: Attach Balusters

Measure the distance between the posts and cut two 2x4 rails to fit. Mark on the rails for balusters that are evenly spaced; you may choose a paired pattern as shown—an alternating spacing of 1-1/2 inches and 3-1/2 inches. Set the rails on a flat surface, and lay two pieces of decking as spacers next to them so that the 2x2 balusters will be centered within the width of the rail. Attach the balusters to the rails with one screw or nail driven into each joint.

Step 5: Place Baluster Section

Set some 2x4 scraps on the deck to temporarily hold the baluster section up so its top is flush with the tops of the posts. Slip the baluster section into place and clamp it. Drill angled pilot holes and drive nails or screws as shown.

Step 6: Add Reinforcements and Rail Caps

Reinforce the top rails with angle brackets. Attach a rail cap to the top of the railing. One advantage of this approach is that the whole railing section can be removed for future maintenance—especially helpful if you choose to paint it.

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