Building a Curved Handrail

The author lines the bending mold with shrink-wrap to keep glue from sticking to the rail and bending mold.

The author applies an even coat of glue to each lamination with a 2-inch roller.

The author lightly mists the glue with water.

A few quick wraps with plastic at the ends and in the middle secures the bundle.

A bar clamp helps the author twist the rail to conform to the curb; bar clamps on the bottom and top forms prevent the rail from jumping over the forms as it is pulled into shape.

Deep-throated C-clamps are needed to clamp the bottom of the rail to the forms.

It takes a lot of clamps and sometimes a little bit of force to bend and twist the rail into position.

The rail is clamped in place.

To minimize springback, rail sections should set at least 72 hours before they’re removed from the form.

Cleanup is done with scrapers, sanders, and Tadpole profiled sandpaper holders for the beads and hollows.

Pieces of scrap rail are used to test for fit and to set up the miter saw.

Before making a cut, the author clamps the cutoff end to the saw, supported by a piece of bending mold.

As he fine-tunes the cut, the offcut records the angle of the last cut and serves as a registration for the next cut.

The lower, middle, and upper rail sections are bolted together with rail bolts.

The author won't glue the joints until the entire rail has been positioned and the lower volute and upper tandem cap have been installed.

After the rail is assembled, the author positions it above the curb with the help of adjustable rail jacks.

The author adjusts it at various points on the stair until its height is as uniform as possible and falls within the 34- to 38-inch range specified by code.

Since the rail conforms to the curb, its position is determined with the help of a plumb laser placed at the joint between the lower handrail and the landing.

Rail heights also need to accommodate the balusters.

With the up-easing cut to the rake angle, the author plumbs the volute down to the centerline of the starter step, clamps the fitting in place, and scribes the cut on the handrail.

A shooting board fastened to 2x4s clamped to the handrail will help guide the cut, which is made in place with a circular saw.

Then the lower volute is fastened to the handrail with a rail bolt.

The handrail transitions to a 42-inch-high level balcony rail.

After cutting the miters and fitting the newel post, the author joins the rail sections together with a small biscuit and epoxy.

A pair of angled blocks attached to short pieces of plywood create leverage points for the pipe clamp used to draw the joint together.

The tops of the iron balusters fit into 1-inch-deep holes drilled in the handrail and are held in place with clear adhesive caulk. The shallower curb holes are filled with epoxy as the balusters are installed.

The bar balusters, which go in deeper holes and reinforce the balustrade, get fitted first. Because of the curb's steep rake angle, the bottoms of the balusters can't be finished with rake shoes.

The author patched the holes in the MDF curb cap with Bondo before handing the project over to the painters.

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