One of my childhood friends has been the first to do everything: the first to go to college, the first to graduate, the first to land a job, and the first to start a business. Now, he’s the first to retire. When he did, he moved to a home by a lake in an exclusive subdivision. It’s a custom built house in a Tuscan revival style, and it’s been dubbed ‘the castle’ by his friends.
To celebrate his success, we all gathered on the huge rear deck—one of three stacked vertically—for a catered party. I’d like to say that I was enjoying myself, but in fact, I was eating my heart out in envy, nitpicking his house and lightly kicking things when no one was looking. This is how I discovered that his balcony railings were stucco-covered foam, and not stone. This led to a conversation with my friend about how he was unhappy with these railings, and how he was considering replacing them with decorative cinder block. I suggested that he consider deck railings with metal balusters instead, since that would fit with the Tuscan theme better. During the course of our conversation, it became apparent that he’d deferred the design and construction of his home to someone else. He really didn’t know that much about his new home or the style it was built in. This was how he’d ended up with faux concrete railings that were surprisingly flimsy–and a little tacky.
Deck Railings with Metal Balusters Match Any Style
In the U.S., homeowners tend to break down their homes by features without paying much attention to the home’s overall style, and there are a lot of home styles. When we hear rustic style, we have a tendency to think of the clapboard farmhouses we see in movies about the Great Depression. This is a rustic style to be sure, but there are dozens of rustic styles to be found around the world. My friend’s Tuscan revival home is the Italian version of a farmhouse, and hence a rustic style. Along with rustic styles, there are also modern styles, from mid-century modern to ultramodern cubes, and revival styles, which bring architectural styles from the past back with modern twists. All of these styles can be difficult to update without the improvements clashing with the style they’re built in, and this includes the railings.
Metal balusters between wooden or wood-look rails, however, is a versatile style that can complement and sharpen up nearly any style of home. I believe this is because of the combination of two materials that are proven winners. Black steel is a classic, with wood posts, rails, or both softening the railing into something homey. Whatever the reason, this combination of wood or composite and steel looks great with everything from farmhouse-style porch railings to the railings on Victorian homes. In my friend’s case, these types of railings would certainly be a better look than the existing fake stone ones. They’d also be easy to install.
Types of Metal Balusters
Installing a deck railing that mixes metal balusters with wood or composite railing starts with deciding on a style. In my friend’s case, this ended up being a toss-up between metal balusters with baskets and twists in an alternating pattern and belly-style balusters that bend outward. Either type can be installed to wooden top and bottom rails made from two-by-fours with a wooden handrail cap, and they’re both types of railings often found on Tuscan-style homes.
My friend also had to make a choice between installing the balusters between the rails and installing them to the exterior face of the rails. The difference is that placing balusters between the rails requires careful measurements to match three separate dimensions as well as precise drilling. Installing to the face of the rails is easier, requiring just a screw gun and the ability to measure on one plane. The big drawback, as far as my friend is concerned, is the visible attachment on the face of the rail. It doesn’t appeal to him.
I told him that these exterior face attachments can be hidden by sandwiching the attachment point of the baluster. The baluster screws into one two-by-four, and another two-by-four covers it. My friend didn’t like this, and also didn’t care for the gap left between the two-by-fours. This left us with balusters that install between the rails.
Installing Metal Balusters Between Wooden of Composite Rails
Installing metal balusters between wooden rails is slightly more involved than attaching them to the face of the rails, but it isn’t hard.
- You begin by placing the top and bottom rails side by side to ensure that the top and bottom holes match.
- While the rails are next to each other, measure the spacing between the balusters and mark this spacing in the center of each piece.
- Once the rails are marked, use a drill to drill the holes to the appropriate depth. A block on the drill bit will help keep you from going too far.
- Once the holes are drilled, place the balusters into the holes on the bottom rail. This step can vary by the manufacturer, with some balusters being designed to slip into holes, and some being made to slip over mounts that are screwed to the narrow face of the rail.
- When the balusters attached to the bottom rail, this rail is then mounted between the posts.
- The top rail is then attached to the top of the balusters and screwed to the posts using a bracket.
- The railing section can then be finished with a top cap rail, or left as is depending on the tastes of the homeowner.
I explained all this to my friend, but he’ll have to familiarize himself a little with the options and manufacturers that are out there before making a final decision. It wouldn’t do to replace the railings a second time in his first year living in his ‘castle,’ so he’ll need something that lasts.