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  • Writer's pictureBrian McKinnon

Making a Handrail for a toddler

We have two crazy boys constantly running around our home, and if you have kids, you know that they aren't always the most graceful. I don't mind the occasional bump and bruise, but ever since moving into a two story home, the stairs have given me quite a concern. Our five year old is tall enough to use the regular handrail, but our two year old doesn't quite have enough reach. We wanted to build the little guy his own handrail, but we also wanted it to be low profile so that it didn't catch anyone else on the way up or down. Here's how we made and installed our own handrail that actually blends in nicely with the home's existing trim work!


1" x 4" x 12' premium pine (or whatever length you need for your stairs)

1" x 2" x 12' pine (or any length matching the above board)

wood glue

brad nails

3" cabinet screws


Trim paint


Miter saw

Drill and bits



The first step was to head over to either your blue or orange store and grab a length of 1x4. I chose the straightest piece of premium pine that I could find, and well as some 1x2s.

The 1x4s have some pretty sharp edges to them, and wouldn't be very comfortable to hold onto, so I used a trim router with a round-over bit to give the edge more of an oval shape. If you don't have a router, you could accomplish the same thing with some sandpaper and elbow grease, but this tool definitely saves a lot of time.

After knocking down all four edges, I cleaned up the surface with some sandpaper to make sure there were no splinters that might catch my little guys hand.

Once everything was nice and smooth, I used a miter saw to cut the handrail down to length. I'm cutting both ends at 45 degrees to give the handrail a mitered return to the wall, which will give the rail a much more polished look as well as prevent things from getting caught on the edges when going up and down the stairs. Ill be using the offcuts as the return caps, so be sure to get a board a little bit longer than you need for your rail.

I then cut the 1x2s down to length to attach to the back of the handrail. this will be the part that actually contacts the wall, and will give enough clearance for little hands to grab onto the rail.

Next, I attached these with a little glue and brad nails, there's really no need to go crazy with securing the 1x2s to the rail, there will be much larger screws going all the way through that will sandwich all of this together later on. I did make a slight miscut here, which is why you see the 1x2 broken into two sections. I'll patch this gap with wood filler later on, and hopefully can make it disappear.

After the back was attached, I used the offcuts from the rail to measure and cut for the returns. I used some more glue and brad nails to attach these, and repeated the process on the other side.



Now that the rail was assembled, I patched up any crack or nail hole with some filler and gave it one final sand to prepare for paint.

I used Zinsser 1-2-3 primer for the base coat. This is a good all around primer that I use for most of my projects. It adheres well, and sands to a nice smooth surface. For the paint coat, I used Sherwin Williams Door and Trim paint. This matched the trim color in our home, but this step is up to you for the color. I would recommend sticking with a glossy paint application here as it will make it much easier to clean up the inevitable fingerprints.



Now the most important part of all of this is making sure you attach the rail directly to studs. I would not trust any kind of drywall anchor for this application. I'm using my stud finder to locate the studs and mark them with painters tape to have a clear visual of where i need to be drilling.

We attached the rail in the center first, and used it as a pivot point to make sure the slope followed the stairs evenly. The screws I'm using for this are 3 inch cabinet screws. These kinds of screws are made for holding large amounts of weight, and have wide flat heads to prevent them from breaking through the wood. definitely do not use regular interior or drywall screws here.

I'm actually going to be hiding the heads of the screws by creating a recess in the face of the rail. When doing this, I find it helps if you make a jig by cutting a hole in a scrap piece of wood and using it as a guide to keep the bit from dancing around while you start the cut. once the bit gets going, you can remove the jig and finish the recess.

After installing the screw, I came back with some hole patch to fill in the screw heads, and put one last coat of paint to blend it all in.

After the paint was dry, my boys gave it a test drive and their seal of approval.

This has probably been one of the most useful things we've made and we are really happy with how it turned out!


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