How to Build a Simple Wooden Deck Rail

Decks over 30″ above the ground usually require railing as a safety measure. There are many different ways to build a rail but this article will discuss the easiest, fastest, and cheapest method. This rail system uses 2″x 2″ wooden balusters and a 2″x 6″ top railing.

Use either an outdoor wood made for exposure to weather, redwood, or cedar, which is my personal favorite. I prefer cedar because it’s easy to work with, has a long life expectancy, and is almost impervious to weather.

Most building codes require a maximum of 4″ between the balusters. If your balusters are 1 ½” wide, they will need to be 5 ½” on center to maintain the 4″ minimum spacing.

To get an idea how many balusters you need, measure the perimeter of your deck where railing will be installed. Multiply that number by 2.5 and that will tell you approximately how many 2″x 2″ wooden balusters you need.

The next step is to cut the balusters to the proper length. The minimum height of the top of the rail is 36″ in most locales. The top of the baluster should be 34″ above the deck floor and extend a minimum of 7″ onto the side board of the deck. If your deck joists are larger, you could extend the baluster even further for more stiffness.

Layout the baluster positions by making pencil marks every 5″ to 5-1/2″ apart around the deck perimeter. Draw a vertical line on the deck joists using a speed square.

Once the layout marks are drawn on the deck, cut 2″x 6″ top rails to the correct lengths. Stand the top rails vertically around the exterior edge of the deck and transfer the layout marks from the deck rim joists onto the top rail. Use a speed square to draw light pencil lines.

Pre-drill two holes with an 1/8″ drill bit about 1″ and 6″ from the end on each baluster. With the top end of a baluster 34″ above the deck floor, insert two 3″ screws through the baluster into the deck side board. Make sure each baluster is plumb using a short level. Repeat this for every baluster.

Now, holding the 2″x 6″ rail vertically against the balusters and 36″ above the deck floor, fasten the balusters to the top rail with 2-1/2″ deck screws.

Repeat the same procedure above for all the top rails, screwing each baluster to the top rail. Also fasten the ends of the horizontal rails together with 3″ deck screws.