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


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.


  • 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


Approximately $100

Construction Details


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.


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

  1. Stephan Mahony says:

    it must look like a cow calving pen, eh !

  2. Craig Bedward says:

    I prefer to be reminded of a clean industrial look. But I guess for some it brings up other memories! I assure you, no calves have ever been in or around our staircase. A couple of goats and several of pigs, but no calves.

  3. Rick says:

    Looks sturdy, and child proof. Nice job.

  4. Nina says:

    I love this idea! How did you set the posts into the posts? Are the posts wood? What did you do about the holes left in the staircase from the previous balustrades?

  5. Craig Bedward says:

    The posts are the existing wood posts from the old stair rail. I left them in place so I wouldn’t have to tear up the wall. I cut the finials off the top, routered off the edges with a 1/2″ roundover bit and painted them black to give them a modern look.

    The old balustrades were set into a wooden channel at the bottom, which I removed. There was drywall behind it, which I had to repair. The handrail left some nail holes, which I filled before painting.

    I attached the conduit with a strip of wood on the side of the wooden post with the holes pre-drilled. This was necessary to allow the conduit to be placed between two fixed posts. Some of the strips have the holes drilled at an angle to match the stairs. The strips are painted black and attached with a couple of black-headed screws, which I left visible to add to the industrial look.

  6. Linda says:

    This is the look we are after, cable railing was going to cost around 2K for a very short run, we are going to try this first!

  7. Bri says:

    We were looking into cable railing, but it was going to be monstrously expensive! This is the perfect alternative, and we still get that clean modern look!

  8. Philip says:

    What would you think about this for outdoors?

  9. Craig Bedward says:

    I think it should work outdoors. Electrical conduit is steel, which will rust, but it has been galvanized on the outside, which should slow the rust down a lot if not eliminate it. You may also want to coat it with a clear poly to help seal out water. One of the original inspirations for the design was a similar railing that I saw on a deck.

  10. Jeff says:

    Thanks for posting. I really like the look! I would love to remodel my staircase like that, but I am concerned about its strength. I fear the 3/4” conduit, although rigid steel, might flex or sag noticeably over a 10-foot run from the top of the stairs to the bottom. And if held in place with only 1/2″ holes at each end, I suspect it could be pulled out accidently. But maybe I am thinking of the flexibility of 1/2″ conduit. More importantly, the building code here (Calif.) and probably in most regions requires a hand rail to be 1-14” to 2” in diameter. The 3/4″ conduit has an outer diameter of only 1”. Any thoughts?

  11. Craig Bedward says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the strength, although the conduit does flex somewhat, it doesn’t bend nearly far enough to move the end out of the hole. Also, on the angled pieces, there is more than the 1/2″ thickness of the material, since the conduit goes through at an angle.

    Another thing to consider is adhesive. I put some gorilla glue on the conduit pieces on the landing (because my kids keep turning it and it can make an annoying squeak!) Just use a little gorilla glue because it expands as it cures and will run out all over, and it can be very difficult to clean up.

    As for the building codes, I have a couple of thoughts. I have seen this building technique used on deck railing. I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that it is alright because it has a top rail made of wood. Perhaps the wooden rail is seen as the strength and the smaller conduit is just “filler” like the turned wooden spindles, which could be broken much easier than conduit. I did consider (and may still add) a top rail made of conduit. I actually have a piece of 2″ conduit ready for the job, but I have not decided on how to execute it to keep the sleek look. I also entertained the idea of a wooden top rail, probably just a 4″x2″ flat piece to keep the simple design. But I am concerned that it may be too much in the way visually.

    It may also be related to the span. You might consider a vertical piece with holes that would be in the center between to posts. Even if it was not connected to a post, it would keep the conduit linked together, so they would strengthen each other and prevent movement.

  12. Brandon says:

    Could you get the conduit powder coated?

    I just got an $11,000 estimate for a similar railing with horizontal tubing and Brazilian walnut posts and hand rail. For that price, I’d rather make my own.

    Does anyone know any other links for DIY instructions on how to construct railings?

  13. Craig Bedward says:

    Powder coating should work fine. I would cut them to size and make sure it all fits first, then have them powder coated. It may not be completely smooth, though. Depending on the conduit, there can be lines and texture. Some of that texture may be enough to telegraph through the powder coating.

    For a smoother look, you could use aluminum tubing (available in a small metal section at Lowes). It is much more expensive…but not $11K!

    I have not found any other sites with DIY info on railings. If you find one, please share it here.

  14. Tommy says:

    The first look at the project I was impressed. It is charming and modern. I am no expert in stair railing or anything, but does this violate some sort of building code? For me, I dont’ think it is safe; especially for the children. When you have horizontal bar like that they will climb and they will fall. I think that was the reason why the old rail you got there had the vertical spindles.

    Just my $0.02.


  15. kim says:

    You indicated that the cost was $100.00. What length does that cover. I am interested in doing this in my new home. Do you know if the cost would be greater than the basic wood rails. I have a large area, staircase is approximately 13 feet from 1st to last step plus we have an open loft off the staircase that would require railings.

  16. Craig Bedward says:


    Conduit is very cheap. It generally comes in 10′ lengths (rather than 8′ like a lot of building supplies). There is actually a fair amount of waste since you cut a span to go between each of the posts. My posts were about 6.5′ apart, leaving several feet left, but not enough for another run. I was able to use some of it at the small landing at the top of my stairs.

    The lengths of 3/4″ conduit are about $5 apiece. I needed 10 pieces.

    I definitely recommend using a polyurethane sealer to give a protective surface. The coating is pretty durable, but constant touching by hands can really wear it.

  17. Ashley says:

    I would love to see some more photos of how this looks. Maybe I’m missing a link, but I can only see one small and dark “after” photo. Do you happen to have any other photos of this project, ideally from farther away and close-up? Thanks for much for sharing your project!

  18. carmel says:

    Yes please are there more photos we could see?

  19. Matt says:

    This is exactly what I am planning on doing. However, I was considering using a plumbing floor connect and a conduit set screw (unsure about the names) to connect the conduit to the wooden posts.

    Craig, my only confusion is how you were able to install these pieces so everything fit tight. Did you construct the MDF and conduit section before securing it to the posts? Any help, and if you have more pictures, that would be wonderful. Let me know and I can contact you with my e-mail. Thanks!

  20. Craig Bedward says:


    I like your idea of the floor connect, but how would it work on the angled pieces? I went through a lot of different ideas as well. Ideally I wanted to just drill holes in the posts and run the conduit straight through for a cleaner look. However, that and some other ideas don’t work because ultimately the conduit butts up to the end post, so there is no starting point. (It is the same problem as trying to run conduit for wiring through a stud wall that is already in place. You end up having splices everywhere.)

    Using the floor connect is a metal version of what I did with the MDF mounting blocks. The block holds the conduit and then the block is attached to the post. I cut the conduit to length for the span. For the angled pieces, I cut the ends at an angle so they end up flush to the post. The holes in the MDF are cut at an angle as well. If you cut them straight, the mounting block would have to be larger. I fed all the conduit pieces through the holes in the MDF then attached the MDF with a couple of screws.

    As far as tightness, it is probably looser than you may expect. I didn’t really try to make it rigid. Conduit is pretty thin, so it flexes quite a bit. The conduit sort of floats. It is retained by the MDF blocks, so it can’t fall out, but it does rotate and move a bit. I put guerrilla glue on a couple of them to try to stabilize it, and that sort of worked. I suppose I could put in set screws through the MDF, which would have a similar effect. But honestly the fact that it is not tight was never much of an issue for me.

    You are not the first to request more pictures. I intend to post more at some point. I wish I had taken more pictures during the construction process, since there is so much interest in this topic. When I have some time I will post some. At present I am in process of a huge remodeling project of my master bath which is consuming most of my DIY energy! :)

    Keep me up to date on your project. I would love to post the results when you are done. And feel free to post or write with any other questions or comments.

  21. Matt says:


    Thanks for the response. I am a “late night” away from finishing my project and I crafted up a different solution than both of the ideas listed above! I’ll quickly explain.

    First, I thought about it again and again and opted to NOT use the floor connect concept. Like you said, it was going to be a bit tricky and I had no idea what to do on the angled section… and ultimately I was going for the most simple way to create my rail. One thing I did have going for me was my posts were not completely set. I had them secured with temporary screws but I eventually have to place lag screws in to secure them. So, I suppose the “butting up at the end” maybe could have had a work around. But never the less.. I kept thinking.

    I too wanted to drill straight through the posts. However, I don’t have a drill press and/or the know how on how to make those precise angled drillings on the posts on the stairs. Add that to the face that I couldn’t ruin my custom posts via experimentation and that idea went out the window as well.

    I was pretty close to using the MDF concept that you illustrate, but I just didn’t want to involve additional wood. I am using a beautiful Douglas fur pine and keeping them natural. Adding MDF boards to the inside of them would have destroyed that look and I would had to of either painted, used real wood (much more money) or not at all. So, I went with the not at all.

    Well, I was out of options so far… until I came up with this idea. This is the one I am nearly complete with and it’s going GREAT! I loved it so much I had to share.

    Items are:
    1. 1/2 Conduit
    2. 1/2 Conduit Brackets (double screw)
    3. 1/2 Pull Elbows for Conduit with set screws.
    4. 5/8 Chrome Caps (found in the hardware section of Lowes, used to cap of the conduit)

    What I did was run the conduit along the outside of the posts and fastened them to the posts using the brackets. I found out later that the brackets do NOT snugly hold the 1/2 conduit at all. They can be pulled right out. So, I purchased clear plumbing tube, I think it was 1″ or so… cut it into slices and wrapped it around the conduit so it acted like a rubber washer around the conduit. The bracket was then placed over the conduit (which had the tubing around it) and fastened down. It fit so snug I couldn’t even turn the dang things. I used the pull elbows to wrap the conduit around the posts at the 90 degree corners. I wish there was a way to post photos because that explanation was terrible. If you would like to see some. I can send them.

    Let me know and thanks again for the help!


  22. Christy says:

    First of all Craig you did an excellent job. I am trying to do this in my home. Matt can you send me pictures I would love to see.

  23. Deirdre says:

    I have conduit in my house now desperately trying to find a way to make a stair rail out of it. Good job. Matt, can you send me your pics? Thanks.

  24. Matt says:

    Matt, Interested in your final product. I will be installing stair rails soon. I like these ideas. Please send pictures,Thanks.

  25. Matt says:

    Hey everybody. Sorry it has been way too long! I finished this project this summer and forgot to post more infomation on it. I took detailed photos of the process to help. However, in the meantime I posted a few pictures of the final product only. Craig, if you would like me to do a post, I would love too. Here is the link. Keep me updated!

  26. Rick says:

    Do you think I really need to use the MDF board? Do you think it would look equally pleasing if I were to drill recessed holes in the posts and set them like that instead?

  27. Craig Bedward says:

    It would be great to do it without the extra board. I agree that it would look better. But how would you fit it into a hole on both sides? It could work if you were building from scratch. But this railing was built with existing posts. They are set deep into the wall, so I couldn’t easily remove them.

  28. George says:

    The way to do it without the extra boards is to drill the uphill holes twice as deep as the downhill holes. Insert the conduit fully in the uphill holes first, then into the downhill holes. Gravity will keep them in place or you can epoxy the pieces in place in the downhill holes.

  29. Deric M. says:

    This looked so good, I decided to try it myself as well. Thank you for the inspiration and details.

  30. Francy says:

    I like your idea.. I wish that you had this a year ago when I was working on my stairs. I do have a question for you in regards to the angle of the conduit. Would it be ok to cut the conduit on angle or follow your recommendation

  31. vaan says:

    I was going to put this style of railing in until I realized my kids will climb up it like a ladder = too dangerous if you have kids!

  32. Craig Bedward says:

    We have two kids, probably around 3 and 6 years old when I built this staircase. I worried about it at first and kept a close eye on them. It never appeared to be a safety hazard. Maybe you could try covering the rails with Vaseline! 😉 …or just wait a few years, they grow fast!

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