Inexpensive Metal Stair Rail (updated)

Inexpensive Metal Stair RailThis is a metal stair rail I made for my house. It uses electrical metal conduit, a very cheap material, to create a very nice modern look.

The old staircase was a typical wood railing with turned wooden spindles, a look that is boring, overly frilly, and not at all what I wanted for my house.

Original Stair Rail New Metal Stair Rail See more pictures here
Before After

M

I reused the existing posts from the old staircase. Those posts are set into the wall and floor for strength. To change them would have meant tearing the wall apart.

I wanted to create the look of brushed aluminum, but aluminum is very expensive. The conduit is cheap, but the finish is not nearly as attractive. The conduit is galvanized steal, so it has an irregular look, sort of like flakes of metal. Also the brand I got has a long streaks along the length on two sides.

I tried a couple of things to improve the look. First I bought some aluminum spray paint. It had the look I wanted, but it did not stick well to the surface. Even with a protective polyurethane coating over the paint, I feared that it would not last since it would get quite a bit of wear.
My solution was to try resurfacing it. I lightly sanded the surface with a fine grit sand paper. This scratched the galvanized coating to give that brushed look. Be careful not to sand through the coating to the steal below or it will rust very easily. When finished, it should be sealed with polyurethane.

Materials

  • 3/4″ electrical metal conduit
  • 1/2″ MDF – strips are used to provide holes to receive the ends of the conduit
  • Black paint for posts

Cost

Approximately $100

Construction Details

StaircaseDetail1

A 1/2″ roundover bit was used with a router to smooth the corners of the existing posts. The finial was cut off the top. The posts on the slope of the stairs were cut off to match the angle of the staircase.

I used a piece of 1/2″ MDF cut 2″ wide and 27″ tall. Holes are drilled the same size as the outside diameter of the conduit at 5″ apart. On the sloped sections of the staircase, drill the conduit holes at the angle of the staircase. These pieces are needed to allow the conduit to be connected. It is not possible to make the holes directly in the posts since they are fixed and there would be no way to insert the conduit. The MDF is painted the same color as the posts, so they blend in pretty well. They are connected to the posts with common drywall screws, which are black and left exposed to stay with the industrial look.

The conduit is cut to a length just slightly less than the distance between the posts. It cannot be too short because there is only 1/2″ of material on each end to hold it. You can cut the conduit with a hack saw, but that is a lot of work. I recommend a chop saw. If you don’t have one, you can use a chop saw blade in a miter saw. Be careful, sparks will fly! Clean up the cut edges with a file or sandpaper. On the sloped sections of the staircase, cut the conduit at a matching angle.

StaircaseDetail2

To install, attach the MDF piece to one of the posts. Now the tricky part: insert all the conduit sections into the holes on the mounted MDF piece and the one still to be mounted. Get them almost all in place. Drop one of them. Try to pick it up and drop another. Curse. Repeat until all pieces are in place simultaneously.

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69 Responses to “Inexpensive Metal Stair Rail (updated)”

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  10. Dan Koehn says:

    Thank you very much for the inspiration. Like many here I was first going for the cable railing and using angle iron…weld it, drill holes for mounting and cable running and hand rails then powder coat…wow sounded like a lot of work and still was going to be expensive.

    So here is what I decided…going to to 4×4 posts with Tital post anchors. Since building code in california requires certain heights and specific size for handrails I decided to go with 1 1/4″ EMT conduit (they will be more rigid, less flexible and compliant. First rail must be slightly less than 6″ from floor then each one from there slightly less than 4″ (4 and 6″ ball tests). However I decided to use real wood to drill the holes in and attach to the 4×4’s and walls. 3 wall attachments, 4 posts, post anchors and covers and the total cost will be under $300. I will use a chop saw to cut the angles for the stairs and a drill guide to cut the angled holes. Although I am contemplating getting a drill press and using a spade bit to make clean holes. The real decision now is what color to paint the 4×4’s and if I stain the real wood to get a combination look…

    Thanks again for the inspiration.

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