Stair Railings – The Gateway to Your Home

Are the stair railings or hand railings in your home portraying a beauty of craftsmanship and functionality as they are meant to? Take a good look when you walk into your home. If you have a stair railing going to another level in your home more times then not it is the first thing people will see when they walk into your home. The craftsmanship of a wood stair railing often tells the story of quality for the finish carpentry work throughout the house. Like it or not sometimes this craftsmanship and quality is compared to the type of person you are by some people the same way as being judged for the tidiness of the house or yard or even the type of car you drive. I would venture to say pride means a lot to the vast majority of us and we like to be judged favorably no matter what it is.

Safety First

With all the ways people are being sued these days safety of a hand railing is critical. The railing first needs to meet some standards of strictly enforced codes. These codes are set and enforced by OSHA. OSHA stands for: Occupational Safety and Health Administration and its role is to promote the safety and health of America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards; providing training, outreach and education; establishing partnerships; and encouraging continual process improvement in workplace safety and health.

A few of these important OSHA codes that you could easily check with your stair railing to be sure it is in compliance are the height of the railing and the correct spindle spacing. Let’s say for example a railing which is built next to a stair way. OSHA wants the very top of the hand railing to be no lower then 36″ and no higher then 38″. The way to measure this height is to put the start or end of a tape measure at the very outside point of a stair tread next to the railing and measure exactly straight up from that point. Be sure to be going up exactly straight or plumb and the use of a level is recommended to get an accurate reading of the tape measure for this distance between the stair tread and the top of the railing.

The next code that is critical and should not be over looked and also is strictly enforced is the spacing of the balusters or spindles. This is an important one especially if there would be little kids around. OSHA wants these balusters or spindles spaced at no more then 4″ apart. For turned or round spindles that means 4″ between the skinniest part of the spindles.

Another safety item would be to make sure the stair railing is sturdy and not wobbly. Unfortunately this is not as easy to fix as one would think. Depending on the situation with a little understanding of how a railing is built and a few strategically placed screws you can get it firm within reason regarding this aspect. The use of the right sized screws and how it is screwed is also important in this situation. Sturdiness is one reason why the use of glues and construction adhesive is used in the process of building a hand railing today.

Craftsmanship and Beauty

To enhance the beauty of your stair railing there are a few things you can do. A real easy way is to clean the wood with Murphy’s oil. Furniture polish will also work well just be sure the wood is sealed and the directions are followed with these products.

Another way is to give the wood another coat of varnish. There are many types and brands of varnish out there and different application methods. It would be highly recommended to do some research or just talk to people who sell or work with products in the painting industry. These people are usually pretty knowledgeable and can help out tremendously for the correct amount to buy and the application method for your particular situation.

Other things you may run into with your hand railings are small gaps at the joints of the railing. An example of this may be where the hand railing meets the newel post or other various joints throughout the railing. These small gaps are a result of a multitude of contributing factors and not necessarily bad craftsmanship. To get a better understanding of these factors I recently wrote an article about understanding wood shrinkage and this explains some of the variables which concern these problems. To fix these little imperfections I recommend a wood filler that matches the stain of the wood. The right color wood filler makes these little imperfections virtually invisible.

In conclusion, stair railings create the flow that leads into your home. Be creative while giving attention to the beauty and safety of your hand railings and your efforts will be appreciated and felt for years to come.

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