When choosing a handrail or balustrade system for a deck, stairs, Juliet balcony or a regular walk-on balcony, the shape of the hand rail can play a crucial part in your choice.
The standard shapes out there are mostly circular sections of varying diameters, starting from 40mm which is comfortable for holding onto a stair railing, going up in diameter to 55mm-70mm.
The more interesting shapes out there are more intricate and include elliptical shapes of varying sizes and rectangular or square shapes.
Stainless steel handrail shapes are very limited, due to the extremely expensive tooling require to extrude or roll form these shapes the market tends to follow what is existent and very little room is available for architects to influence the shapes of the handrails. Many times architects will choose a stainless steel balustrade system or a stainless steel balcony and will want to have a "special" shape for their project, which will soon find the cost of this to be inhibitory, as well as in many cases unavailable to be done at all.
This is not the case however with aluminum handrails and railings. In fact as opposed to stainless steel balustrades, with aluminum railroads the ability to influence the shape by the architects on the project is making these systems the preferred solution. In fact on a recent project I visited, a project in the Docklands in London, I found that the company that made the glass balconies allowed the architects to create three separate handrail shapes for three different areas on the project. One of the handrail was 120mm wide.
There is also a finish out there called "Royal Chrome" which looks like stainless steel but it is actually a special finish on the aluminum and there fore still allows the flexibility of shapes that the aluminum railing systems allow.
In summary stainless steel handrails are more limited in the availability of shapes, whereas aluminum handrail systems allow an inexpensive potential of shapes.