Installing new handrail newel posts. Porch Renewal:

Installing Handrail Newel Posts

In This Article:

We reconfigure the newel post attachment point, drill some holes, and install some bolts and lag screws for serious structural strength.

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Skill Level: 3 (Moderate) Time Taken: 4 Hours

By , Editor


This is the deck framing during construction. The tall 4x4 posts at the edges of the photo were deliberately made too long.

When we installed these 4x4 posts, we deliberately placed them offset from the planned newel posts. It might seem logical to make the treated support posts line up perfectly with the cedar newel posts, but that can create more work than is necessary . In the above picture, the cedar newel posts were mounted on the inside of the rectangle formed by the framing lumber.

We cut off the extra length with a reciprocating saw and a long blade.


A Problem!

The flat section on the new post (on right) was much higher than the century-old porch post. The red arrow shows the point where the handrail attaches. We had to so something about the height of the new newel post so the handrail would work.

Note that building codes dictate handrail heights. But when this house was built there almost certainly was no building code. The original handrails on the house are about 30 inches high. Today's codes require higher handrails. But since we are restoring this old house, we are compelled to stick with the original height. Besides, making the replacement handrail to modern code requirements would be an onerous task, requiring extensive modification or replacement of the structural corner post.

But a handrail on a new house would have to comply with modern codes, so the following steps on shortening the newel posts would not apply.


Shortening The Newel Posts:

The newel post came with a notch, which makes it easy to attach to 2x dimension lumber (such as a deck joist).


We laid out the same notch size and shape, but 6 inches further upstream. We cut one edge with a circular saw.


The first cut was just a simple kerf.


Then we cut the second edge. Since the saw blade can only reach about 2-1/2" deep, we had to cut from both sides.


We finished the last bit of cutting with a hand saw.


Newel posts being test-fitted to deck framing. The shortened newel posts were test-fitted.


The photo at right shows how the post looked before cutting.


Installing The Newel Post:

Before installing the newel posts we did two things:

1. We dipped the cedar posts in our home-made water repellent, and let them dry.
2. We gave the posts a coat of oil-based exterior primer on all sides and ends.
We used some 3" deck screws to install the newel post to the deck front joist.

But this is just the beginning of the attachment procedure.


We clamped this small block of treated 2x4 to the back side of the newel.

Why? First of all, the flooring needs support here. But more important, we wanted to try a different approach to making an extremely sturdy post-to-joist connection.


On the face of the front joist we drilled a pair of 1-inch diameter holes with a spade bit. These holes are just deep enough to submerge a 5/16" bolt head with a washer.

The deciding factor in the diameter of the counterbore is often the width of the socket that will be needed to tighten the bolt.

Before you pick a drill bit, locate the socket that will be used to tighten the bolt and make sure the spade drill bit has a bigger diameter.


Then we drilled the holes all the way through (the joist, the newel and the block of treated wood) for the long bolts.


We inserted the 5/16" x 6" long hex head bolts through the three layers of wood.

We installed large washers followed by smaller washers. The big washers (for 3/4" bolts I believe) distribute the compression forces and prevent the wood fibers from being crushed.

Then we tightened the nuts firmly with a 1/2" wrench (with a socket on the bolt head).

Fastening a newel post or handrail post to the deck structure.

But Wait, There's More...

Additional fastening of post to deck. To make this post ultra-secure in two directions of motion, we added lag screws to clamp the small 2x4 block to the adjacent beam.

Here we drilled a 5/16" hole through the 2x4 block.


This long (about 12") 1/4" diameter drill bit came in handy to drill the pilot hole (the hole that the lag screw threads actually bite into).


We used 5/16" x 6" long lag screws with washers. (Always use washers with lag screws.)


We used a 1/2" socket and ratchet to drive in the lag screws.


The newel post after fastening. 


On the face of the front joist, the bolt heads are buried below the surface. This wood will get covered with trim later.


But... How Secure Was The Post?

I have made numerous post-to-beam attachments over the years, but this double-bolted approach really impressed me. I can grab the newel post and push or pull with all my strength, and all I can feel is the post flexing. I can detect no motion between the post and the floor structure. I'm sure I could break the cedar post before the connection would come loose.

I figured that the lags screws and bolts would work their way loose after a couple of months of wood shrinkage. But these newel posts have been in place for 18 months and they are still as sturdy as the day we installed them. (Update: 5 years after installation in 1999 these posts are as tight as the day we installed them)


The newel post after painting.


We carefully caulked the bottom gaps to prevent water from getting under the flooring.

 Continue to Laying Porch Flooring



Tools Used:

  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Quick-Grip Clamps
  • 2-Foot Level
  • Circular Saw
  • Reciprocating Saw
  • Hand Saw
  • 1" Spade Drill Bit
  • " Wrench, 
  • " Socket, Ratchet

Materials Used:

  • Turned Newel Posts
  • 5/16" x 6" Lag Screws
  • 5/16" x 6" Bolts with Nuts
  • Large Washers: ", "
  • Misc. 2x4 Blocks


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Copyright 2001, 2005

Written March 15, 2001
Revised January 5, 2005