Give your home an exterior facelift by replacing worn or dated porch railings with custom wood railings topped by an overhead structure.
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Measure the porch width and depth. Also, measure the dimensions and slope of the stairs. A few fractions of an inch can throw off your design, so take precise measurements on each side where you'll install the railing and overhead structure. Check for buried utilities where you'll sink the posts next to your porch, and be sure the overhead structure won't come within 10' of any power or utility lines.
Different parts of the country will require posts to be buried to different depths, especially in climates where the ground freezes during the winter. Check your local municipality or building code for the types of footings recommended in your area and call 811 to have a professional mark the locations of buried utility lines. Then pour concrete footings with post anchors to meet these requirements.
Transfer your measurements to graph paper and lay out the posts, panels, and balusters. For the railing shown, allow a 14" width for each panel assembly plus 1-1/2" spaces on each side of the panels, 1-1/2" widths for both individual balusters and spaces between them (10-1/2" for three balusters and four spaces), and 5-1/2" for the width of the square posts.
If a combination of panels, balusters, and posts doesn’t fit one of the porch measurements exactly, tweak the design to add or subtract a few inches. For example:
Add up the quantity of parts you'll need for the panels, balusters, posts, and railings. See the Materials list for the materials you'll need. Then divide the lumber by the number of parts each board can yield, allowing a little extra for saw cuts and trimming the ends square.
Many lumber sizes come in more than one length, usually from 8' and 12' long. Arrange the spacing between your posts and plan cut lists to avoid wasting wood.
Decide on a paint or stain color scheme by choosing a primary color for the posts and rails and a complementary accent color for the brackets, panels, and balusters.
To build the panels as shown, cut to length the long narrow slats (A), short narrow slats (B), wide center slats (C), pairs of upper (D) and lower (E) mounting strips, and the two pairs of wide balusters (F) (Porch Railing Project Diagram - Panel Assembly).
For a rainy day or a winter project, make and stain or paint these panels ahead of time in the comfort of your garage or workshop and install them later. You can do the same for the overhead brackets described below.
Measure the overlap of the upper (D) and lower (E) mounting strips. Then glue and nail them in place on the inside faces of two wide balusters (F) and let dry.
Measure and mark the narrow slat (A, B) locations on the inside faces of two wide balusters (F). Glue and nail through the wide center slat (C) into the wide balusters. Repeat for the narrow slats above and below the wide slat.
Use a carpenter's square to ensure the horizontal slats are square with the wide balusters. Then use a 1-1/2"-wide spacer to locate the next and subsequent slats.
Glue and clamp the second pair of wide balusters (F) in place. After the glue dries, drill countersunk pilot holes and drive the reinforcing screws into the wide center slat (C), upper mounting strips (D), and lower mounting strips (E).
Apply two coats of the accent color paint or stain to the completed panels and let dry.
From 4"x4" lumber, cut the horizontal beam (G) and vertical mounting block (H). Then cut a piece 16-5/8" long for the diagonal support (I).
Your circular saw likely can't cut through more than 2-1/2" of the 3-1/2" actual thickness of a 4"x4" post in one pass. One solution is to use the circular saw to start the cut. Then finish it using a handsaw. Sand the cut smooth.
On each horizontal beam (G), cut a 12-degree bevel on one end. On each vertical mounting block (H), cut a 45-degree chamfer on the bottom end as shown (Porch Railing Project Diagram - Bracket Assembly). Then cut 45-degree bevels on both ends of each diagonal support (I).
Now is a good time to pre-drill lag-screw pilot holes and counterbores where needed for mounting those brackets that will hang over the porch. To avoid bumping into the diagonal support while driving the screws on those brackets, drill the upper pilot holes at slight angles.
Dry-assemble the three bracket pieces (G, H, I) with clamps to check the fit. Then drill 3/16" pilot holes and assemble each bracket.
Apply two coats of paint or stain the same color as the railing panels and let dry. Then drive 5/16"x5" lag screws to assemble the bracket. Repeat for the remaining brackets.
Determine how deep you'll need to set the 6"x6" posts (J) for your local climate and building codes. Depending on the height of your porch and the local frost line, you may need concrete footings that extend beneath the bottom of the posts. Ask a Lowe's associate for tips on ways to set posts for your area. Dig concrete footing holes as needed and set the posts, checking for plumb on two adjoining faces. Brace the posts until the concrete hardens using scrapwood supports and stakes. Then trim the posts flush with each other at the correct height.
Cut two pairs of lower (L) and upper (M) rails and one top hand rail (N) for each space between the posts, then drive angled screws through the outside rails into the posts. (Inset the rails to center the panels and balusters on the edges of the posts.)
Driving screws at an angle from the side of a board so they come out through the end can be difficult. Simplify the job and reduce the chance of splitting the wood by drilling into the end grain at about an 18-degree angle so the hole comes out the side of the wood. Then start your screws before positioning the ends of the horizontal boards against the posts.
Cut the balusters (O) to length and apply two coats of paint or stain to match the panels. Paint or stain the posts (J), lower rails (L), upper rails (M), and top handrail (N) a color that complements the bracket and panel colors. Let dry and apply a second coat.
Check the distance between posts against your graph-paper drawing and mark the locations of the balusters (O) and panel assemblies on the lower (L) and upper (M) rails. Screw the balusters and panels plumb to the rails.
Screw through the inner lower rail (L) and upper rail (M) to fasten them to the balusters/panel vertical slats and outside upper and lower railing boards. (That way, few or no screws show from the outside.) Screw the top handrail (N) to the upper rails.
Clamp a bracket (G/H/I) to the outside face of the post with the top face 5-3/4" from the top of a post and the vertical mounting block (H) centered on the post. Drive 5/16" x 5" lag screws through the post to fasten the bracket in place. For the bracket on the inside face of the post, screw through the bracket and into the post. Repeat for the other post.
Lay an overhead rail (K) spanning two brackets with equal overhangs on each end, and mark the locations of the brackets on the rail. Clamp four rails together with the ends flush and transfer the bracket marks to all of the rails using a square.
Set your circular saw blade depth to 1-1/2" and make two cuts along the bracket marks on all four overhead rails (K). Then make cuts just under 1/4" apart between the two outside cuts. Break off the waste with a hammer and flatten the bottom of the notch with a chisel.
On the bottom edge of each overhead rail (K) about 1-1/2" from both sides of each notch, drill 1/8" pilot holes diagonally so they emerge on the sides of the notch. Sand each rail to remove any rough spots. Apply two coats of paint or stain the same color as the posts to the overhead rails and let dry.
Position the two inside overhead rails (K) with their notches wrapping over the tops of the brackets and faces against the post. Drive 12d finish nails through the pilot holes to hold the brackets in position.
Mark the brackets 6" from the faces of the inside overhead rails (K). Position the inside faces of the outer overhead rails at the marks and nail them in place.
Mount posts beside the bottom step, leaving an extra 6" to be bevel-cut later. On a face of the post, mark what will be the lower edge of the bevel you'll cut. It should be as high off the ground as the distance from the porch to the top edge of the upper rails (M). Clamp a straightedge from this mark to the top edge of an upper rail and mark the bevel. Use a circular saw to start the bevel cut and finish it with a handsaw.
At the same angle, cut the ends of lower rails (L) and upper (M) rails so they stretch between the posts at a diagonal. Nail the inner rails to the posts as you did with the others. Angle-cut the top and bottom of a panel to fit between the upper and lower rails. Then do the same for the balusters.
Screw the shortened panel and balusters to the inside rails. Attach the outside lower (L) and upper (M) rails. Bevel the top handrails (N) so the ends will be plumb after installation and nail them in place.