Porch railing ideas and how to build a porch railing

Porch railing ideas and how to build a porch railing

The porch railing is the final touch on your new porch.

Sure, safety and maintenance are two important factors to keep in mind, but when you’re looking at railing, there’s undoubtedly an aesthetic component.

It’s highly important that you choose wisely from the various styles you’ll run into.

When we’re discussing deck railing, or even porch railing for that matter, we’re talking about the whole unite placed at the edge, posts, handrails and panels.

The system works in a very similar manner for both front porch railing, and deck railing. Below, you’ll find plenty of information that will help you get the most, and find the best option for your project.

Material options


You can choose between plenty of materials. Just like you’ll find metal porch railing, aluminium porch railing, wood porch railing, or even glass, you have more or less the same materials for your deck. You can choose between them, or go for a combination of materials.

If you want something traditional and easy to work with, wood is great, as it lets you create designs and patterns that you want to match with your deck
If you’re after something durable, yet easy to maintain, iron is your choice. There are many different design, and if you have something specific in mind, you can have it custom made
If you want something that won’t rust, is easy to clean for, and can withstand any weather conditions without the need of treating or staining, go for vinyl deck railings
If you need something that’s unique, yet trendy, go with glass. Glass railings and balusters are usually tempered to prevent damage, and you can choose between opaque or frosted glass.
These ideas work for both porch railing ideas, and deck railing, so make a choice and go for it.

1. Typical builder deck railings

These are bevelled 2×2 wood pickets, which are then fastened to a 2×6 on edge at the top, as well as to the rim joist of your deck.

2. Custom wood deck railings

Wood can give you any size and shape you can imagine. It will take someone who knows what he’s doing, but you can get pretty much anything. The only thing to remember when you’re going for the design is that the end result should be functional, not just fanciful.

3. Pre-made vinyl extrusions with metal inserts

As a solution for a DIY metal deck railing without the need to weld, aluminium inserts in wood deck railings are very popular. You just drill holes in two 2x4s on the vertical, press them together and add a cap handrail.

Aluminium pre-made railings can be bought at most lumberyards. They will commonly use Plexiglas or tempered glass inserts. You can either use those on an as-is basis, or custom make them for your project.

Metal deck railings go from welded metal railings which are then painted, to architectural aluminium with a powder coat finish. Be careful when using metal with red cedar, you might get black stains. However, aluminium works great here too.

4. Composite deck railings

There are a couple of options here, and most come with metal reinforcement. They tend to look like wood, and are a great option if you like the look of wood, and you’d prefer metal’s ease of installation and maintenance.

Deck and porch railing design options

Most of the pre-made designs are either modern or colonial in style, such as minimalism that is pretty stripped down and void of any real style.

These are styles that are usually pretty popular, and metal deck railings tend to be very simple and standard looking. For a custom look, go for a custom metal and/or wood option. When we’re talking custom, only your imagination is the limit. For custom deck railings, ask an exterior designer to help you out.

When you want something that doesn’t impose on the view, a glass or metal railing is much less obstructive. If your house is a natural cedar, or wood-trimmed, you’ll enjoy a semi-transparent deck railing in finished wood.

If you have a vinyl-clad house, go for a solid-color deck, either stained or vinyl. There are plenty of styles, just like there are with homes. Enjoy choosing what fits you best.

Things to know about maintenance

When you’re looking into how to build a porch railing, or deck railing, or anything else of such scale, maintenance is a thing. Since they’re exposed to the elements, aging over time is inevitable and you’ll need to maintain them.

Different materials will age at different rates, and require different upkeep as well. For example, composite railings have color that lasts long, some products might fade a tad quicker than others.

Do your research, and see what works best in your climate

A powder-coated aluminium deck won’t last more than a few years before you need a re-coat, and the paint finish will discolour over time. However, if it’s white metal and powder-coated, it might even break during installation, and you may get rotten drilled parts after a couple of years. And, many of these railings look like aluminium.

Wood varies a lot. Poplar lasts around 9 months, but pine deck railings might go for up to 5 or 10 years. If you go for heart red cedar, ipe, mahogany or old-growth redwood, you may get around 20 to 40 years without a stain.

Your contractor should tell you what kind of material will work for your project, but doing your research might come in handy. An inexperienced contractor, or even carpenter for that matter, might make a mistake that will cost you thousands.

Consider your local building codes

A lot of building departments will have strict specifications as far as deck railings go, and local home inspectors usually know them well. Drop by your local building department and inquire about the codes before you begin building your project.

These codes may affect anything from your railing’s height, to the spacing. What is and what isn’t allowed in your town is something you should know. Pool decking also has different specifications, for example.

A short tutorial on deck railings

These apply for installing the typical builder deck railings, and will come in handy to any DIYer.

1. Build the steps and deck frame, put them in place and clad with the decking. The decking should be trimmed off flush to the rim joist.

2. Cut pieces of 2×6, the upper deck railing, so they mimic the shape of the outer frame member when stood up around the outside of your deck. Each piece has an upward curvature when on the edge, make sure it’s placed with that curvature up.Use screws or finishing nails to put them in place, but keep in mind these will be removed later on. Use suitable deck screws or spiral ACQ nails to fasten them to each other. The base posts should be no less than 3’ deep, and keep the concrete in the hole’s bottom half. For durability, backfill with gravel. You will fasten the railings to these posts when it’s necessary, but give the concrete a few days to settle first.

3. Use a framing square and mark out the baluster positions with a line every 5”. Make a mark on the line’s side, to know which side the baluster will be mounted on.

4. Fasten the balusters at the corner of the upper railing with the appropriate screws.

5. Get someone to help you and lift the upper deck railings into place while you elevate the upper deck railing into place by fastening a screw through the bottom.

6. As you put in the other balusters, the deck railing will get stronger. Use a level to keep things vertical. When you have them all on, use a 3” deck screw to fasten them to the posts.

You can add a 2×6 on the top, as well as a row of 2x2s or 1x1s below the cap. Consider the view, as if you want to enjoy it while you’re on your deck, make sure you can easily see through your railings. Your privacy is important too, so you should consider the railings and whether they’re protecting your privacy.

As far as the installation goes, you should either get railings that you can easily install properly, or get someone to do them for you. And, consider your budget. Deck railings can vary greatly as far as price goes, depending on the design and material, so keep that in mind.

For a custom solution, talk to a builder. Whoever installed your deck might have an idea for the rails, but if you have a specific look or design that you can’t find on the market, try to have them designed for you.

Is it time to paint the porch railing again?

If you want to add style or elegance to your home, and you’re considering front porch railing ideas, maintenance free railing is amazing. Maintaining your home is a time consuming process, and vinyl or aluminium railings can decrease that time.

Unfortunately, most of these solutions only come as a pre-packaged design that might not fit with your home’s design. There are also some lesser brands that aren’t really well made. You could opt for a high-end company that gives you custom designs and colors, but that company is just half of what you need for a successful solution.

You’ll need a company that can employ talented installers. You will need someone with experience, and having someone that’s learning as they go, on your installation, isn’t something you can use.

On older homes, you’ll run into homes with porches and stairs that aren’t evenly spaced, which is a complicated situation for a lot of installers. However, an experienced one shouldn’t have problems with this.

Ending thoughts on porch railing

When you’re choosing railings for your deck and porch, make sure they’re both functional, and decorative, just like you have imagined them. The railings should be both structurally strong, and be an attractive part of your landscaping and deck design.

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