Terracotta Balustrade and Railing – Typical Assembly and Restoration Methods

At one time, balustrade and railing systems were frequently fashioned using terracotta. Not surprisingly, then, the goal of many terra cotta renovation projects is to restore these elements to optimal condition. Terracotta balustrade and railing systems can be assembled in a number of different ways, which can make terracotta restoration extremely complex or relatively straightforward. This article outlines some of these configurations and the corresponding terra cotta renovation method for each.

Balustrade Systems

Like balustrade systems crafted from modern materials, those made from architectural terracotta are comprised of balusters or spindles, the top rail or coping, the base rail or plinth, and several piers. The main difference is that terracotta balustrade usually consists of many different segments. The following description of a terra cotta balustrade system represents a typical configuration. Each individual baluster is a two-piece unit, and the railings are composed of many short pieces attached with steel pins and mortar. In addition, the top rail of the balustrade is supported by a steel bar and anchored inside the terra cotta piers.

Terracotta restoration for this type of balustrade system involves producing single-piece balusters and rails composed of 12 to 14-feet units instead of many tiny segments.

Caps and Coping

Coping is another word for the top rail of a balustrade system, while caps are used to cover piers. Although terracotta coping and caps can be assembled in many different ways, most configurations require the use of numerous joints. The reason for this is simple: the manufacturing processes for architectural terracotta did not allow large pieces to be produced.

Terra cotta renovation for deteriorated caps and coping usually involves replacing several individual terracotta units with a single piece, which reduces the possibility of water infiltration.

Architectural Terracotta Railing: Threaded Rod Assembly

Unlike terracotta railings that are assembled using mortar, this method involves using threaded rod to attach sections of the railing to the structure below.

Terracotta restoration for threaded rod systems involves unbolting the damaged sections of the terra cotta element, removing them, and then replacing them with a terracotta substitute and (if necessary) stainless steel or galvanized steel supports. The terra cotta renovation process for this type of architectural terracotta railing system is more straightforward than for fully-mortared systems.

These are far from the only assembly methods for architectural terracotta railing and balustrade systems, and a company specializing in terracotta restoration will be able to work with most configurations.