After decades of cobbling together deck railings from various pieces of pressure-treated lumber — often to ill effect — carpenters now have new options. Following on the development of composite and plastic decking, manufacturers are offering kits that can speed installation and provide a clean, professional-looking railing that doesn’t need painting or staining. For this article, I looked at wood-plastic composite and vinyl railings, as well as a few aluminum systems.

The railing kits include top and bottom rails, balusters, and installation hardware. Screws and hardware are usually made from stainless steel and, if exposed, are powder-coated to match the rails. Post sleeves, caps, and post trims are typically purchased separately. Special hardware — usually hinged brackets that you pivot to the proper angle...

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