DIY Basement Stair Railing

DIY Basement Stair Railing

I had two goals with this basement stair railing. Be simple and affordable to build, and be sturdier than the previous railing. The second goal was pretty easy to accomplish since it only took a couple of good kicks to get the old railing loose! The other goal took a little bit more creative thinking.

Basement Project Recap:

DIY Newel Post Using a 4×4

Pre-made newel posts can be quite pricey. Most are in the $200+ range, which is way more than I wanted to spend for an unfinished basement newel post! As I was looking for inspiration, I started looking at outdoor decks, I realized that I could make my own using a 4×4 post. I ended up purchasing this one from Home Depot for about $11.50!

Step 1: Cutting the Newel Post

First, you want to determine how high you want the post to be. Standard handrails are between 34”-38” high, so you want to keep that in mind. I actually went out to my back patio, and measured the height of the post out there, which seemed like a good height for me! 

I started by measuring on each of the four sides and using my square to create a straight line all the way around. Then, I used my circular saw, with the blade as low as it goes, and cut around these lines. It didn’t go all the way through, so I used my jigsaw to cut through the rest.

Next, I wanted to notch out the bottom so that it fits snug against the stair stringer. I wasn’t really following any particular guide for this, I just looked at lots of stairs and this seemed to be the standard look! It also made securing it much easier.

I set the post against the stringer and just traced out the edges of the stringer onto the post to get an idea of where I’d need to cut. This was a bit tricky because the 4×4 is a bit difficult to cut. I had to use a combination of my circular saw and jigsaw to get as deep as I could. Then, I used my hammer and chisel to get the rest out. Because part of the cut was at an angle, this was the most difficult part, but it worked and miraculously it fit pretty perfectly!

Step 2: Installing the Newel Post

Now, I’m going to preface this by saying, that the way I installed the post is not the best way. Really, you should be installing posts to the floor, and there are some very specific hardware pieces that you should be using. I really did not want to have to drill into my floor, so I did not do that.

Instead, I lined up the post and clamped it to the stairs. Then, I checked for level on all four sides. Once it was good, I added 8 construction-duty 3 ½” screws all the way around. It is actually very steady, but I will continue to keep an eye on it. If I need to add a bolt or two down the road, I can absolutely do that, but I honestly don’t think it needs it (at this point!). Again, this is not necessarily a method I recommend, but it’s worked so far for me!

Step 3: Adding Trim to the Newel Post

Now, I couldn’t just leave the 4×4 post looking all bare and naked, could I? Of course not! They sell these affordable newel post caps at Home Depot, so I secured that to the top with construction adhesive and 2 brad nails for extra measure. Then I went looking through my scrap trim pile and decided to use this trim a couple of inches below the cap.

At the bottom, I used the remaining ½” plywood from the risers to build out a base. I did have to notch out the railing on one side, and the tread nosing on another side, but it was actually pretty simple and quick! I secured this with brad nails, and then added this leftover bead molding from my bathroom on the top to give it an extra detail! 

It’s crazy what a little bit of trim can do, but this looks like an expensive $200+ post, that I spent less than $25 on. For a basement stair railing, I think this is a major win!🥰


DIY Railing Using 1×4’s

Again, I wanted this basement stair railing to be affordable, and purchasing railings and balusters can really add up! So, I again turned to the web and found some good inspiration that I thought could look good for much cheaper! I purchased three 1x4s for $7.26 each and one 1×2 for $3.55, for a total of $25.33! I also used 5 of these brackets, which came to $4.05. So, overall the railing cost me just under $30.

Step 1: Cutting the Railing

This proved to be a bit trickier than I had intended and took about 2 hours or so to actually get right. I started with the bottom rail (this was quick), which I wanted to sit right against the current stringer. If I didn’t need to cover up the raw edges of the new treads, I probably would’ve lifted this a bit to give it more dimension, but it was better to lay it directly on the existing stringer.

I knew that the angle at the bottom where it secured to the newel post would be 45º, so I started with that cut. Then, I measured the distance to the very top of the stringer, added about two inches, and cut it to length. I knew it would need an additional cut, but this made maneuvering it a bit easier! 

Then, I knew that I would have to make a tricky cut using my jigsaw because I wanted this to be as snug as possible and make for a clean finish. So, I used this contour gauge to map out exactly what type of cut I would need. You just line it up, then lock the little pieces in place. You then transfer the shape to your wood, and cut it out! It worked perfectly on the very first try! 

So, then the bottom railing was finished, and now come the tricky ones!

The hardest part about installing the second and third railing was making sure the spacing was correct. In an ideal world, everything in my house would be square, and just cutting 45º would make things line up perfectly. Well, that wasn’t exactly the case.

I started by cutting the bottom 45º on the middle piece where the railing would attach to the newel post. Then I took a rough estimate of how long the piece should be, added about 6-8”, and cut again. This would allow me to put it in place, and trace exactly where my line needed to be. I used a variety of clamps and continued to maneuver until I had the exact same spacing all the way across. 

If I could’ve stopped here, it would’ve been much simpler, but I wanted to ensure that the gap between the middle and top railing was also going to be the same. So, I did the same thing for the top railing and just had to continuously move things around back and forth until they were all the same gaps (or as close as I could get them!). 

Once they were good, I was able to cut them to length and move on to installing.

Step 2: Installing the Railing

This was actually the easiest part! I just used these brackets and attached the railing to the post for the bottom, and then to the ceiling joists for the others. 

I should mention here that the other basement stair railing was attached to the upper door trim which would’ve jutted the railing out a few inches. This would’ve been fine, but I thought that attaching them to the ceiling joists would make it significantly more sturdy, so I went that route. This does leave me with about 2 steps of no railing, so I did find a solution for that (keep reading!).

For the bottom rail, I secured the rail to the post and then added nails to secure the treads and the railing together.

For the top rail, I laid the 1×2 right on top, and secured it with construction adhesive and brad nails. This added thickness just makes it a little nicer to hold on to and is prettier!

Finishing Touches of the Basement Stair Railing

Once everything was installed, it was time for the last details of the basement stair railing. First, I used spackle to smooth out the existing stringer since there were A LOT of crevices in it. I ended up having to do two layers and it’s still not perfect (but good enough!). Then, I filled in all nail holes before sanding everything down the next day. I really hate sanding, but it’s so necessary. Once I sanded, I took my shop vac to get any remaining dust, then followed up with a tack cloth for good measure.

Then, it was time to start priming! I used my leftover Kilz primer and applied two back-to-back coats, going a bit heavy, especially on the post.


Then, once everything was painted white from the primer, I was left with a decision. I knew that I didn’t want to keep it all white because it looked too washed out, and the original plan was to have some black.

I created a couple of mockups to get an idea of what parts I wanted to paint.

Then, I started painting in a couple of sections because I still couldn’t decide!

Ultimately, I decided to go with the all-black option and I’m very happy with it! I think it makes everything pop a bit more, and the risers looked a bit too washed out with white stringers. I really love how it all turned out, although the richness of the railing does make me consider going a bit darker on the treads. Maybe one day I’ll try that out too.

Adding an Additional Handrail

Since I secured the railing to the ceiling joists, this left the top couple of steps without a railing. For my husband and me, that would’ve been ok. But, I wanted to be conscious of the fact that other people will eventually live here and may appreciate a railing, so I installed one.

I picked up two of these handrail hooks and decided to just repurpose the old railing! It was a little ugly, but with a fresh coat of paint, I figured I could dress her up!

I started by installing the handrail hooks. They came with three screws, two to secure the hook to the wall, and one to secure the railing to the hooks. The screws for the wall worked out okay so I used those, but when it came time to add the screws for the railing, they just weren’t working. So, I relied once again on my trusty Spax star head screws.

For the railing, I started by cutting it down to its approximate size (using a laser measurer), making sure to 45º miter the top so that it would sit flush with the door frame, and the bottom, just to make it look nicer. Then, I gave it a good coat of paint using the same Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black.

After it was dry, I installed it right on the hooks using my Spax screws and we were good to go! 

PS: Yes, I will be removing this wallpaper soon 😉.

My Thoughts on my Basement Stair Railing

And, just like that, we have a new staircase and basement stair railing that I actually really like! I do still think I may go darker with the treads in the future, but that will probably wait until I install my kitchen flooring, since that flooring does run into this staircase from above.

I was a little nervous about the horizontal railing at first because it was looking a bit too modern for me. My style is much more transitional but leans traditional. However, I think that the added trim to the post really dresses her up and now I think she’s perfect!

We’re getting close to the end of my basement project. I’m definitely past my original schedule of three months, but I’m ok with that! I’m excited to start working on my workshop next which I think will end up being both functional and aesthetic!

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