What are Handrails?

Handrails are supported by newels, balusters, or posts, and are often held onto as someone ascends or descends a staircase. While handrails are typically clutched with the hand, they also serve additional safety purposes. There are two main types of handrail used in the construction and home improvement industries: grab rail and guard rail. Grab rail is what it sounds like: the handrail that you use to support yourself when traveling up or down a staircase. Guard rail is a protective barrier that connects with the rest of your railing system. Within these two main categories of handrail, there are dozens of styles to choose from to make your handrailing your own. Here, we’ll explore some terminology related to handrails and provide tips and tricks for ordering the right railing for your project.

Grab Rail & Guard Rail Stair Handrails

A cable railing project with straight, grab and guard stair handrails.

Grab Rail, Guard Rail, and Code Compliance

In some regions, code only requires guard rail. Others regions require both grab and guard rail. In addition, code stipulations regarding handrail width and height vary from state to state and, sometimes, county to county. That’s why we strongly advise investigating your local code requirements before purchasing handrailing for your home.

Straight vs. Wall Mounted Handrails

StairSupplies™ manufactures high-quality straight and wall mounted handrails. Both straight and wall mounted handrails can use handrail brackets to mount to a wall.Straight Handrails have ends that are simply left as they are cut. They can be used as the guard rail for a railing system or a graspable railing that supports you and your guests. In addition, straight handrail is often attached to box or turned newels on a stairway.

Returned End Handrails

Returned End Wall Mounted Handrail

Quarter Turn Handrail

Quarter Turn Wall Mounted Handrail

45 Degree Mitered Handrail

Mitered Wall Mounted Handrail

Wall Mounted Handrails are grab rails with ends that have a polished finish. StairSupplies™ produces Straight and Wall Mounted Handrails from 25 different wood species in lengths of up to 20’. Wall Mounted Handrails are available in returned end, quarter turn, and 45 degree mitered designs.

Handrails with one or more rounded ends are Returned End Handrails. This classic design gives any handrail a smooth, elegant finish. For a handrail with gently curved ends that rest against your wall, select a Quarter Turn Handrail. The 45 Degree Mitered Handrails have ends that turn on an angle, providing a sharp, clean finish. All of our Wall Mounted Handrails come with their specific ends attached and can be “Pre-Finished” so that they’re ready to install upon arrival.

 Handrail Profiles

The profile refers to a wood handrail’s shape. Handrails can be rounded, curved, thin, thick, or rectangular. Profile options are nearly endless. We offer wood and metal handrails in dozens of shapes, sizes, and materials in the hopes that you can find one that meets both your code needs and your design preferences.

Wood Handrail Profiles

Popular Wood Handrail Profile Diagrams

6710, 6610, & 6800 Handrails

Elegant Iron Baluster Design

A wood, 6710 handrail using handrail fittings to make smooth transitions on a stairway.

A staple in the building industry, the 6710 Prestige Handrail has a wide top and bottom with a narrow middle. It’s a classic, elegant design that adds graceful, traditional beauty to any home. For those who love the look of the 6710, but prefer smaller railing, there’s the 6610 Handrail. With the same shape as the 6710, but a slightly narrower design, the 6610 is an excellent choice for those who prefer more subtle stair railing. The 6800 Handrail has the same design as the top of the 6710, but it stops there, giving you a handrail that is about an inch shorter than the 6710 or 6610.

6910 “Breadloaf” Handrails

Commonly referred to as the “Breadloaf” handrail, the 6910 features a rounded top with a narrow waist and a wide base. While it is a large handrail, it maintains a sleek design that is popular in homes and commercial buildings.

Colonial Handrail with Ash Grey Iron Balusters

An example of the colonial 6010 handrail.

6010 and 6210 “Colonial” Handrail

With a wide top and a narrow base, the 6010 handrail has a style that’s perfect for colonial homes. The 6010 and 6210 Handrails have the same design, though the 6210 handrail is built slightly wider to accept larger plows. A small lip runs just above the bottom of both handrails, adding subtle detail to a graceful design.

6000 & 6002 Mission Handrails

Mission Handrail is popular with contemporary cable railing systems and homes with a modern aesthetic. StairSupplies™ offers two versions of mission style handrail. The 6000 Handrail is frequently paired with cable, rod, or glass railing systems. It is generally manufactured from two pieces of wood face glued together to achieve the correct design and is available in a wide variety of wood species. The 6002 Solid Handrail has the same profile, but is manufactured from one solid piece of wood. It is available in Red Oak, White Oak, Ipe, Hard Maple, Poplar, Walnut, & American Cherry.

6000 Handrail with Cable Railing

6000 Mission Handrail that adds beautiful contrast to a metal cable railing system.

6040 & 6004

The 6004 Graspable Handrail and the 6040 Round Handrail are favored options for grab railing. The groove in the 6004 makes it easy to grasp while the round shape of the 6040 is a comfortable fit for nearly any hand. Both the 6004 and 6040 handrails are great for commercial projects or residential areas with more strict code requirements.

Metal Handrail Profiles

Popular with our Viewrail Railing Systems, metal handrailing is a contemporary alternative to wood handrail. We offer both rectangular and round metal handrails that can be powder coated in over a dozen colors to match your design preferences. Further, you can order them with one or both ends finished by our Metal Handrail End Plugs.

Metal Handrail 1”x2”

Ideal for guard railing on a cable, glass, or rod railing system, the metal 1”x2” handrail is crafted from stainless steel or aluminum that adds beauty and strength to your project.

Round Metal Handrail 2”

This round metal handrail is built from 316 stainless steel, allowing it to stand up to salty coastal breezes and other harsh environmental conditions. In addition, it’s round shape makes it perfect as either a guard or grab rail. Connect it with a Viewrail railing system for a spectacular, modern banister.

Bending Handrails

Expertly milled and able to bend easily for most curved stairways, bending handrail can be manufactured from our 25 wood species in 8 of our most popular profiles. Bending handrails are created using state of the art machinery and custom dedicated tooling so your wood handrail will match the corresponding fittings.

Plow

When you order a handrail from StairSupplies™, you’ll notice that most profiles include the option to plow the handrail. A plow is a groove that is cut into the bottom of the handrail so that wood balusters with a square top can connect to the railing. When ordering a plow for your handrail, make the width of the plow the same as the width of the square portion of the baluster you’ve selected. For example, the Imported 100 Wood Baluster is 1 ¼” square, so it would require a handrail with a 1 ¼” plow. If you are not ordering wood balusters with a square top, your handrail will not need a plow.

Shoe Rail

To mount balusters on the rake of a knee wall, you can use a shoe rail. A shoe rail can be plain or plowed to accommodate all kinds of balusters.

Handrail Accessories

StairSupplies™ has a complete line of brackets made from iron and stainless steel. From classic and long-reach designs to styles suited for modern applications, StairSupplies™ offers an expansive handrail bracket selection that’s sure to meet your needs.

Interior & Exterior Handrail

Whether you’re working directly with one of our representatives or ordering online, it’s extremely important to let us know when you’re using your handrail for an exterior application. Handrails intended for outdoor use will need wood and glue that can stand up to the elements, bugs, and other environmental factors. Cypress and Sapele are examples of wood species that make excellent exterior handrails. Metal handrail is also a great option for exterior use.

Metal handrail with Cable Railing

Metal Handrails contribute to the modern elegance of Viewrail cable railing.

Handrail Fittings

It’s common for handrails to turn a corner or change directions. Handrail Fittings are used to make these transitions smooth and continuous. Most profiles have handrail fittings that can help your handrail follow the direction of your stairs without leaving any gaps in the railing. Goosenecks, upeasings, and S-curves are all common handrail fittings for stairways. Turnouts and volutes add a decorative touch to the end of your staircase by bringing your handrail to a curved end. When ordering a handrail fitting, be sure that the fitting number you’ve selected corresponds with the handrail profile of your choice. We’ll make sure the tolerance on our fittings will match your handrail within 1/32” once the fitting is centered.

Handrail with fittings

A Gooseneck Handrail Fitting can help your handrail transition to steep, elevated platforms on your stairway.

Tips for Installing Handrail Fittings and Bending Handrail

Get a good, clean cut on the handrail fitting by using clamps and blocks to hold it down. To calculate the angle needed for cutting upeasings, measure the angle of the stairway with a protractor, or set the fitting on a step and use a plumb bob to mark the angle.

Once you have a good fit for the handrail fitting, use a rail bolt kit to attach the fittings to the handrail. Find the center of the fitting and drill a hole. Insert the rail bolt into the fitting. Then, drill a hole in the center and bottom of the handrail (the bottom serves as an access hole for tightening).

We offer image-based installation guides for bending handrail and handrail fittings. Please email us at order@stairsupplies.com or contact a local contractor with additional installation inquiries.

Handrail Q&A

When do I need to plow my handrail?

If you’re using wood balusters with a square top, you’ll need to plow your handrail. Match the width of the plow to the width of the square top of your baluster.

When do I need fillet?

Any time you need a plow, you’ll want fillet to fill in the gaps between the balusters. You can order short sections as you’ll cut it down to 3-4” sections.

Why is my handrail oversized?

Handrails are oversized to be cut down on site because no walls are perfectly straight, and it’s always better to have more than you need than not enough. We oversize our handrails by approximately 3 inches. However, the oversized amount is not standardized. If you need a 7’ 2” handrail, we suggest ordering a 8’ piece, as the handrail might arrive precisely at 7’. Mitered ends and quarter turned ends are also slightly oversized so that they can be cut down to fit the slant of your wall.

If I order returned end or mitered end handrail, will it still be oversized?

Returned end handrails will be sent at the exact length specified on the order. Mitered end handrails will have the ends oversized so you can trim them to the slant of your wall.

How do I attach my handrail to my box newels?

Use a rail bolt kit to attach handrails to box newels and handrail fittings. You can also check out our step-by-step guide for connecting handrails to handrail fittings.

How do I install balusters into my handrail?

Take a look at our baluster installation guide for tips on installing balusters.

Why is shipping my handrail so expensive?

Carriers charge significantly more any time an item exceeds 6’ in length. Because we surround our handrails with foam to protect them in transit, even a 5’ 6” handrail will likely come in a box larger than 6’, which will drive up the freight charge.

What size hole do I drill in my handrail for my balusters?

Drill your hole the same size as the top of your baluster.

Are there fittings for metal handrail?

Currently, we offer a Metal S Curve for our Metal Handrail 1”x2”. Otherwise, we do not have metal handrail fittings at this time.

How do I cut metal handrail?

Check out our tips on cutting metal handrail.

Is my handrail up to code?

Because code varies from region to region, we ask our customers to become familiar with their local code before purchasing a handrail. However, we strive to make handrails that can accommodate a wide range of common code requirements. Once you know your local code, you’ll likely be able to find a profile that fits your needs.

Can I order longer lengths than 20’ or shorter lengths than 3’?

Freight and molding restrictions prevent us from creating handrails longer than 20’. For some profiles, we are able to manufacture handrails in shorter lengths than 3’. Due to the moulding process involved in creating smaller handrails, the shorter railing would cost the same as a 3’ handrail.

Why is the 6002 handrail only available in lengths up to 10’?

The 6002 handrail is solid. Unfortunately, getting quality pieces of solid lumber in lengths that exceed 10’ is extremely difficult.

How do I order exterior handrails?

If you’re ordering over the phone, be sure to let your sales representative know which handrails are being used outdoors. If you’re ordering online, let us know via the “Customer Notes” section that appears during the checkout process. Please note that we do not stain or clear finish exterior grade handrails. We’ve found that it’s best for customers to select a stain or finish that will hold up to their location’s environment.