What is Stainless Steel Cable Railing?
Stainless steel cable railing is loosely defined as any railing system that uses stainless steel cables as infill. Infill is the material used to “fill” the area between posts and below the handrail.
If you picture a standard staircase with a railing you might imagine wooden dowels or posts as the infill. Stainless steel cables can add a beautiful, dramatic touch to any railing - indoors or outdoors.
Stainless steel railing systems are often used in industrial, marine, or outdoor settings but are finding their way into homes and businesses seeking a strong, unique look for their interior.
Stainless steel railings offer the open feel many home and business owners are seeking while maintaining a sense of unique style. Peruse this guide to learn what stainless steel cable railing is available, how you might obtain it, and more.
The Allure of Stainless Steel Cable Railing
Is stainless steel cable railing right for you? It is certainly worth considering the benefits below when deciding!
Types of Stainless Steel Cable Railing
Like most building materials, options and styles abound in the world of stainless steel cable railing. Here are some broad ideas of the types of stainless steel cable railing installations you could consider.
Horizontal vs Vertical Stainless Steel Cable Railing
You likely picture horizontal cables when you imagine a stainless steel cable railing system. This is not your only option! Both horizontal and vertical installations are available. So how would you choose aside from purely aesthetically?
Cost: Horizontal installations are almost always less expensive than the vertical variety. A vertical stainless steel cable railing installation requires far more material - more cable, more connections, etc.
Installation: You guessed it. Horizontal stainless steel cable railing installation is far simpler than its vertical sibling. This also impacts the overall cost.
Design: Vertical cables, like vertical stripes on a shirt, can make the space look taller and larger than it actually is. However, design options are quite limited with vertical installations as the available materials for this type of install are much less diverse.
Wood vs Metal Posts
One of the major perks of stainless steel cable railing systems is their virtually infinite lifespan. With proper rust prevention maintenance, a stainless steel cable railing could last forever as we know it!
This adds a drawback to a popular railing post material: wood. However, there are plenty of benefits of wood posts to counterbalance the less than forever lifespan of wood posts.
Wood posts can add an element of charm to a stainless steel cable railing installation. Stainless steel can feel industrial and wood helps tamp that feeling down a bit.
Selecting wood posts has ergonomic benefits. Metal posts often get hot in direct sun, making wood more user-friendly in sunny installations.
Metal posts for your stainless steel cable railing system offer obvious benefits. Metal is more durable is unlikely to require replacement any time soon. Wood is often less expensive at the point of purchase but will need to be replaced at some point, which negates the original cost benefit of wood over metal.
If you are determined to soften the industrial, monotonous look of stainless steel cable infill and metal posts, wood is the way to go. Choose wisely and select something durable that will last a long time.
If metal is not an eyesore to you, it is far longer lasting and will be the more economical choice in the long term.
Stainless Steel Cable Finishings or Coatings
Of course, when you imagine stainless steel you see, well, stainless steel. However, the cables can be coated in a variety of finishes to change the look of your cable railing installation.
Brushed finishes add a grain-like texture to the stainless steel that runs in one direction. This finish can be easily cleaned with a scouring sponge.
A mirrored finish adds an anti-corrosive property to the stainless steel cable. It is also ultra-sleek, modern, and brightens up the railing system. It is often more expensive up front but the cost can be mitigated by its anti-corrosive benefits.
Powder coating is a popular way to make a stainless steel cable railing virtually any color you can imagine. This technique features a dry powder that is charged electrostatically and then applied as a spray. It is then finished, or cured, using heat.
The Cost of Installation
Cost is always relative and it can be challenging to nail down pricing to have stainless steel cable railings installed. Price will always depend on the area you live in, current market conditions, and the options you choose for your stainless steel cable railing.
A round, average number to consider is around $3,000 for 50 feet of stainless steel cable railing. This would allow you to put railing around a deck that is about 350 square feet.
Again, this is just a round estimate and the materials you choose, the size of the railing, and your location will play major roles in the final pricing of your railing. It is worth remembering that you can always change your material choices to fit a stainless steel cable railing system into your budget.
Stainless steel cable railing comes in two primary types: 304 and 316 (marine grade). The type you choose will play a major role in the ultimate cost of installation.
The Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Cable Railing
Like any building material, stainless steel cable railing is perfect in some ways and inappropriate in others.
The most prevalent con listed by reviewers is that stainless steel cable railing feels too industrial. We have already discussed ways to mitigate this by adding softer accents like wooden posts or top rails.
The pros list is far longer than the cons list when it comes to stainless steel cable railing.
- Stainless steel cable railing is breathtaking and will not go unnoticed. This could be seen as a con if you are trying to obscure your railing for some reason but these railing systems are a statement piece.
- The railing systems come in pieces and are put together onsite. This makes transportation and installation a far easier task to take on.
- Material options abound, including some that are rated for the harshest conditions. While marine-rated stainless steel cable costs more upfront, its low maintenance requirements and infinite lifespan add immense value.
How to Install a Stainless Steel Cable Railing
So you are the DIY type that likes to take on projects all on your own? Well, you will be happy to know that it is possible to install a stainless steel cable railing yourself. If you are feeling less adventurous or prefer to leave it to the pros, you can skip this section and move on to the next one which will help you find someone to install your stainless steel cable railing.
You have continued reading this section, meaning you are the brave soul who is willing to make a stainless steel cable railing installation a weekend project. Congratulations! The good news is, there are plenty of cable railing kits that make self-installation an attainable goal.
Most kits are component based, meaning there is no major cutting and no welding required. You will need to perform some basic cuts and swages (crimping) and self-installation requires the appropriate tools for these steps.
Most stainless steel cable railing distributors offer several self-installation options. These can include full self-installation, partial self-installation, and minimal self-installation.
Full self-installation typically features long lengths of cable being sent to you, requiring you to measure and cut appropriately. The connections are also sent separately, meaning you must crimp and connect on your own.
Partial self-installation usually features pre-cut lengths of cable with connections already made on one end of the cables. This reduces the amount of cable cutting and swaging required but does necessitate some of that work by the DIY installer.
Minimal self-installation offers fully connected cable lengths that are cut to exact specifications for the installation site. Virtually no cutting or swaging is required of the installer (this option is rare and only offered for the most basic of cable railing installations).
Full self-installation is most economical but does require rental or purchase of specific tools for manipulating the cables and connections. Minimal self-installation costs the most of all the DIY options and requires a simple installation site but is the obvious choice for those with the least experience with installing cable railing.
It is also important to note that stainless steel cable railings must meet all national and local building codes. These standards are set by governments and governing bodies for the safety of public and private entities. Review all appropriate codes before self-installing any form of railing, including stainless steel cable railings.
Using a Professional Installer for a New Stainless Steel Cable Railing
If you are lacking the skills, courage, or time to install stainless steel cable railing yourself, there are plenty of installers willing to do the work on your behalf.
While the temptation to cut costs and do the project on your own can be strong, it is important to remember that special tools and skills are required for anything but the most basic cable railing installations.
One minor mistake can lead to all the DIY cost savings being spent on corrections and potentially having to hire a professional anyway. Using a professional offers the confidence of a job well done and an end-result that is both attractive and safe.
Hiring a professional poses its own challenges. Ideally, select a contractor who specializes in work with stainless steel and other forms of cable railings. While a general contractor could do the job, a specialist understands the unique qualities of the products and what choices might be best for you.
Always check for reviews and ask to see the finished work a contractor has done. The last thing you want to do is hire someone who has never done the job before.
It is also important to select someone who is familiar with the appropriate code compliance in your area. Installing to code is not only important legally but from a safety perspective.
Finally, shopping for prices or bids should always be a priority. While pricing cannot be the only consideration, it is worth noting that there can be a drastic difference in cost based on the contractor. Use our convenient tool to help look up approved, pre-screened contractors who install stainless steel cable railing in your area.
A Buyers’ Guide to Finding the Right Stainless Steel Cable Railing
The choices can seem endless when selecting a stainless steel cable railing. Use this guide to make narrowing down your options easier.
Select a Post Type: Posts bear the tension of cables while supporting a top rail. They offer both form and function, making the choice between aesthetics and application challenging.
- Engineered Aluminum: This type of post is manufactured to withstand the pressure of stainless steel cable infill without bending. These metal posts are resistant to pests, come in a variety of colors, and are usually on the lower end of the cost spectrum.
- Stainless Round: This post is ideal for carrying the modern stainless cable railing look all the way through the design with its brushed finish and round shape. Stainless posts are ideal in outdoor, maritime installations as they are resistant to corrosion.
- Stainless Square: If industrial is your desired look, then a stainless square post does the job. The brushed finish offers a bright, modern look while being anti-pest, anti-corrosion, and anti-bland.
- Engineered Wood: Lower cost and flexibility are the benefits to using an engineered wood post. They can be painted or stained to fit almost any design and offer a softer finish than stainless or metal.
Select a Top Rail: A top rail can simply be a finishing piece or serve the functionality of handrails or supports.
- Aluminum Rectangle: The squared off edges and flat surface make this top rail an attractive option for decks, overlooks, and balconies. Ideally paired with aluminum posts.
- Aluminum Shaped: Great for railings to be used as handrails on steps and stairways. The shaping can offer a nice break from the industrial look of stainless steel cable railing.
- Stainless Steel: This selection is ideal for those hoping for the best quality anti-corrosive materials. Stainless steel also carries the true industrial look through the design and is perfect for maritime settings.
- Premium Wood: Wood top rails offer flexibility in design and are a comfortable finish for top rail use. Wood also softens the sometimes harsh, industrial look of stainless steel cable infill.
Select Your Cable: There are a variety of stainless steel cable types with the most common being 1x19 and 7x7.
- Stainless 1x19: 1 bundle of 19 strands twisted together. This option offers a clean, relatively low cost look that is popular for interior residential designs.
- Stainless 7x7: 7 bundles of 7 strands twisted together. This option offers an industrial look that is ideal for uses where flexibility is important (like runs with bends, turns, or corners.)
Select Your Hardware: Fittings are the pieces that secure the cable to posts and assemblies are two fittings that make up the two ends of the cable.
- Thru-Post Fitting: This fitting is used on the first and last posts in a run. The thru-post fitting hides some of the hardware inside the post itself for a clean, attractive finished look.
- Swageless Fitting: Swageless fittings do not require specialized crimping tools, making them ideal for DIY installations. Most swageless fittings are only offered for small diameter cables and are used in specific installations.
- To-Post Assembly: These fittings attach inside the post, offering a clean finish and a unique look with exposed hardware.
Select Add-Ons: Add-ons finish your stainless steel cable railing off, serving as statement finishes or functional pieces like gates.
- Gates: Gates are often made of the same materials as the post and top rails, however, you can mix-and-match for a unique design (stainless posts with a wood gate, for example.)
- Handrails: Handrails are often added as a top rail but can be secured separately adjacent to the top rail or to a wall opposite the cable railing.
Stainless steel cable railings offer a modern, industrial aesthetic coupled with a strong, durable structure. The selection of variables is robust, making it possible to use stainless steel cable railings in myriad architectural and functional designs.