Wood Deck Railing Reviews, Installation and Cost

If you are here to simply learn what wood deck railing is made from, it is made of wood. There ya go! For those of you looking for a little more information about whether wood deck railings are right for you, read on!

What is Wood Deck Railing?

Wood deck railing consists of several components, each made with some type of wood. There are many different ways to build wood deck railing but most share similar assemblies. 

A sampling of wood deck railings shows that most include:

  • Posts are connected to the deck. The posts are typically made from 4x4 pieces of lumber and are the primary support for the railing. The posts typically extend to the top height of the railing and below the level of the deck (depending on the attachment method). 
  • Top and bottom rails provide some support and offer a frame for the infill. You will frequently see 2x4 lumber pieces to create this piece of wood deck railing. The top and bottom rails are horizontally placed between posts.
top and bottom rails

Top and Bottom Rail

  • Top rails are generally set at the minimum height required by code.
  • Bottom rails are generally set slightly above (no higher than the maximum required by code) the level of the deck to allow for room underneath to sweep or allow water to runoff.
  • Infill is the material used to create the structure of the deck railing. In this case, the material is wood. Infill allows some semblance of creativity and design, as you can choose spindles, pickets, or balusters while mixing materials, sizes, and shapes. 
    • Balusters and spindles are typically pieces placed between the top and bottom rails. 
    • Pickets are often attached to the outside or inside of the top and bottom rails.

Pro Tip: The difference between balusters, spindles, and pickets is minimal and the terms are often intermixed or misused. Whatever material is used, it is repeated between posts (usually vertically) to create the infill.

  • Top caps are also known as drink rails. Not all deck railing features a top cap but the convenience of being able to place things atop the rail cannot be understated. Top caps are typically 2x6 pieces of lumber.

To Post Cap or Not to Post Cap

Another way to customize your wood deck railing is to install post caps atop the posts supporting the railing. Post caps come in innumerable styles, materials, and designs. You can find post caps in nondescript finishes or unique styles like animals and other designs. 

wood post caps

wood post caps

Not all deck styles allow for post caps and the height of the post will often dictate whether you can install a post cap. Securing the post cap can be done with nails or a strong adhesive. Just remember that some post caps are handled by passersby more than others - secure your post cap wisely!

Types of Wood Deck Railing

Wood is a fairly straightforward material but there are certainly some choices to be made when designing your wood deck railing. 

Your first choice will be to decide what type of wood you will use for your railing. Technically, your wood deck railing can be made from a different wood (or material) than the deck itself. 

Each type of wood has its benefits and drawbacks. Consider each before making your deck railing decision. 

Cedar offers a lighter, golden color. It is a beautiful wood that is naturally rot and bug resistant. Cedar deck railing can be simply clear coated, as its beauty need not be covered by heavy stains. 

Cypress is on the darker end of the wood spectrum, often presenting in a deep tan to a lighter red. It can be costly but is rot and insect resistant. Cypress can also be finished simply, allowing its natural beauty to shine through.

Pine is a lighter wood that is often stained rather than clear coated. Pine is often treated, helping it stand up to bugs and rot. This wood choice is often made because pine is an economical choice. 

Redwood is aptly named, as it is often a variation of red. Redwood is very high end and reflects that in the price. It is a durable wood and can last longer than most other choices. 

Tropical Hardwoods are often light to dark tan. Once treated, these woods last a very long time. They are extremely durable but do cost significantly more than any other wood used for deck railings. 

Pros and Cons of Wood Deck Railing

Wood deck railing is often selected to match wood decks. It is also one of the least expensive deck railing materials and can often be installed as a DIY project. 

The ideal look for many is a railing that matches the decking. However, different woods can be selected to create a unique look or to meet budgetary needs. 

Wood deck railing will require fairly frequent maintenance like staining, sealing, and/or painting annually. A properly maintained wood deck railing can last a quarter of a century. 

Any deck railing design is possible with wood, as it is one of the most flexible materials to use. The possibility of customization makes wood a great choice for deck railing. 

Pros

  • Cost-effective
  • Flexible for a variety of designs
  • Natural look and undeniable “real” wood feel
  • Can be altered with paints and stains

Cons

  • Regular maintenance is required
  • Can be easily damaged
  • Susceptible to weathering
  • Susceptible to insects
  • Not as long-lasting as other deck railing materials

How to Install Wood Deck Railing

Installing wood deck railings can be a do it yourself (DIY) project if you have the proper tools and requisite woodworking skills. 

This installation guide is not comprehensive but represents a typical basic wood railing installation. Use this information to judge whether you feel capable of installing your wood deck railing. 

If not, see our Using a Professional Installer for Wood Deck Railing section below for help finding an expert who can install wood deck railings for you.

The railing described here uses 2x4 lumber for the top and bottom rails that will be attached to the back of 4x4 posts. A top cop will be added and 2x2 pieces will be used as balusters.

Step One: Measure 3.5 inches from the deck surface and clamp a 2x4 for installation as the bottom rail. 

Pro Tip: Use scrap pieces measured and cut to the appropriate height to ensure the level installation of the bottom rail.

Step Two: Clamp a 2x4 for installation as the top rail flush with the post tops. It is imperative that the top of your posts is even for the top railing to be level.

Step Three: Drill pilot holes into the balusters. Secure them to the top and bottom rails using appropriate screws. 

Pro Tip: For simplicity, use the same scrap pieces used for the 3.5-inch bottom rail clearance to help with even baluster spacing (always adhere to local codes regarding baluster spacing).

Sometimes the baluster closest to the post will need to require a slightly smaller spacing. 

Step Four: Place rail caps centered over the top rail and attach. 

Pro Tip: For rail caps meeting at corners, a mitered cut is best but not required.

As always, we encourage you to find your local regulations or codes before installing any railings. 

Using Pressure-treated Woods

There are some special considerations when using pressure-treated lumber for decks and deck railing. Some things to keep in mind include:

  • There are specialized screws and nails for use with pressure-treated lumber. 
  • Pressure-treated lumber often arrives wet from the vendor. Keep in mind that it will shrink as it dries.
  • Pilot holes will prevent splitting, which is prevalent when trying to screw directly into the wood. 
  • If any portion of your railing or decking will make contact with the ground, consider using wood that is rated for ground contact.
  • Pressure-treated wood can reject stains and paints for up to a year after installation. Many recommend waiting 6 months or more before staining or painting.

Professional Installer for Wood Deck Railing

DIY projects are not for everyone. They can be daunting and require tools that many homeowners do not have. If you would prefer to have a professional install your wood deck railing, we can help you do the hard work of finding the most qualified wood deck railing installer near you.

Use our simple, convenient tool to find someone in your area who can help you plan, customize, and install wood deck railings.

Sample Costs and Comparison Guide

It is always valuable to consider the cost of other materials when deciding on whether wood deck railings are the best choice for you. Consult this comparison chart below for an idea of what costs you might expect. 

Deck Railing Materials Pricing Comparison Chart*

Material

Price Per Linear Foot

Composite

$20

Vinyl

$30

Aluminum

$55

Stainless Steel Cable

$75

Glass

$300

Wrought Iron

$90

Wood

$45

*It is important to note that these costs are estimates and many variables can impact the final cost of a project per linear foot.

Wood Deck Railing Maintenance

Wood deck railing requires significant and regular maintenance. Wood is generally susceptible to negative impacts from weather and insects, making it a material that must be kept up with. 

We are including the below maintenance costs chart to give you an idea of the long-term costs of wood deck railing maintenance.

Wood Deck Railing Maintenance Costs Chart*

Maintenance

Cost

Staining

$750

Pressure Washing

$250

Waterproof or Sealant

$750

Stripping, Sanding, and Refinishing

$2500

*It is important to note that these costs are estimates and many variables can impact the final cost of maintenance, like deck size and product quality.

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