8 Staircase Railings(Guardrail), Handrails, & Materials

8 Staircase Railings(Guardrail), Handrails, & Materials

Posted by Rick R on Jul 03, 2022

Handrails and railings prevent falls and injuries on staircases. These stair parts can be made of metal, wood, or glass for different visual effects. Stair railings and handrails are a great way to instantly affect a staircase's appearance.

Handrail and railing are often confused. So what’s the difference between a handrail and a guardrail?

A handrail, or banister, is the part of the staircase people hold onto for support. Stability and guidance is provided by the handrail. Handrails come in many materials and can be attached to a wall, extend from a stair rail, or sit on a staircase's balusters.

Guardrails, on the other hand, prevent people from falling off stairways. To put it simply, guardrails are safety devices first and foremost. Guardrails are designed to keep people from falling and are resistant to pushing and breakage. Railings can be made of different materials and styles, from simple vertical posts to modern cable railing.

Which material is best for stair handrails?

The best material for stair handrails depends on the staircase's environment and desired look. Steel, aluminum, and wrought iron are popular in commercial and industrial settings, while wood is more classic. Glass is used when the view is important. We like steel. Why?...

Steel - Steel is popular for commercial egress and industrial stair handrails and railings. Steel stair stringers are best for this occasion. Galvanized or stainless steel prevents rusting. Zinc-coated galvanized steel protects handrails from corrosion. Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant because of chromium, nickel, nitrogen, and molybdenum.

Steel handrail uses - Steel handrails are versatile. Powder-coated or galvanized steel handrails are popular in prefabricated industrial stair applications. Stainless steel handrails look modern in homes and businesses. Modern designs can combine stainless steel and glass handrails.

Steel stair rails - Industrial, commercial, and residential settings use steel railings. Steel railings are functional in industrial settings. Stainless steel railings give homes and offices a modern look and can even be used with different handrail materials, such as wood.

Advantages and disadvantages of steel stair railings


  • Steel is strong and durable, making it one of the safest handrail materials.
  • Powder coatings, liquid paints, and primers improve steel's performance.
  • Galvanized and stainless steel require little maintenance and are easy to clean.
  • Steel is a weather-resistant, versatile indoor/outdoor material.


  • Steel buckles and weakens in extreme heat.
  • Steel handrails are more expensive than wood.
  • Steel's weight makes it a difficult DIY material.
  • Steel is heavy and requires special equipment for installation and on-site adjustments.


Aluminum handrails- Aluminum's low density makes it lighter than steel. Reflective aluminum looks like silver. Aluminum is naturally rust- and corrosion-resistant. Aluminum handrails are also common and can be used indoors and outdoors, in commercial and industrial settings.

Aluminum stair rails - Outside steps and decks often have aluminum stair railings. They can also be indoors.

Advantages and disadvantages of aluminum stair railings


  • Aluminum is strong, durable, and can create a safe environment like steel.
  • Aluminum is durable and low-maintenance.
  • Aluminum is easier to install and more DIY-friendly than steel.
  • Aluminum is lighter and easier to cut and shape than steel and is available in more designs and patterns compared to other options.
  • Powder-coated aluminum handrails and railings offer color options and textures.


  • Aluminum handrails are more expensive than steel.
  • Aluminum handrails and railings dent and scratch easily.

Wrought Iron

Wrought iron contains little carbon. Mid-1800s demand peaked for this malleable, decorative material. Wrought iron is no longer mass-produced but is used for restoration, replication, and custom projects. Most products that look like wrought iron are made of low-carbon mild steel.

Wrought iron handrails - Wrought iron handrails are used indoors and outdoors in homes and businesses. Straight and curved stairs can also have wrought iron handrails if a custom wrought iron welder is within budget.

Iron railing uses - Many residences and offices have wrought iron stair railings. They're used indoors and out. Wrought iron balusters combined with wood handrails create a dramatic effect.

Advantages and disadvantages of wrought iron stair railings


  • Wrought iron is versatile. Because it's malleable, it can be used to create a variety of looks, from modern to elaborate. Though, this requires a very skilled welder.
  • Wrought iron's strength makes it ideal for stairways.
  • Powder coating can color wrought iron handrails and railings.


  • Wrought iron is expensive because it's often custom-made.
  • Welded iron is heavy and difficult to install, which increases labor costs.
  • Weather exposure can rust unmaintained wrought iron.
  • Wrought iron must be repainted and recoated to prevent rust.


Wood handrails - Traditional handrails and railings are made of wood. Popular woods include varieties that are easy-to-stain, sand, and finish. Red oak is harder and more water-resistant than white oak. Mahogany, ash, cypress, cherry, and other woods are also commonly used for stairs.

Wood handrail uses - Residential buildings often have wooden handrails. Decks, garage stairs, and grand staircases in older homes often use wooden handrails. Wooden handrails can be combined with metal or glass for a unique look.

Wood stair railings - Traditional homes and buildings often have wood railings in entryways. If properly treated, they can be used outdoors on decks and other structures. Wood railings can be combined with other materials to create a modern staircase.

Wood stair railing pros and cons


  • Wood handrails and railings are environmentally friendly and beautiful.
  • Wood can be shaped to achieve many looks. Wood can be stained or painted to match the decor.
  • Wood is an affordable material for DIY remodels.
  • Easy to maintain and clean, wood handrails and railings.


  • Wood interior handrails and railings can look dated in certain environments
  • Not as strong as other options


Glass Railing - Glass may not seem like a safe material for stair design, but if the right type of glass is used, they can provide more strength than one would think initially.

Clear, semi-transparent, tinted, frosted, and etched glass are available.

Glass handrails - Glass handrails aren't common. People will usually opt for wood or metal when constructing handrails.

Glass stair rails - Modern commercial buildings and homes often have interior or exterior glass railings. Glass stair railing panels can be fully or partially framed with stainless steel or aluminum, or frameless.

Glass stair railing pros and cons


  • Glass railings protect without obstructing views.
  • Because they let in light, glass railings make a room seem bigger.
  • Glass railings can block wind outdoors.
  • Glass railings are easy-to-clean.


  • Dirt and fingerprints show quickly on glass, so they must be cleaned often.
  • Transparent glass railings can be hit by birds, animals, and people.
  • Unhandled glass can crack during installation. Professional installation is recommended.
  • Glass railings can cloud when used outdoors.

Types of stair railings

Metal, wood, and glass are used to make staircase railings. There are many stair railing designs, from classic picket to modern cable or panels.

Staircase pickets - Vertical posts support the handrail in the picket railing. Posts are attached to the base rail or stair treads. Wooden or metal pickets are used. Simple ornate posts are also available.

Picket stairs - Picket staircase railings are used in industrial plants, commercial buildings, and homes. Indoor and outdoor picket railings are available.

Picket stair railing pros/cons


  • Picket railings are cheap and easy to install.
  • Picket staircase railings require only occasional wiping after installation.
  • Picket railing comes in many sizes, styles, and colors to match any decor.


  • Picket stair railing has a common, and sometimes dated look.
  • A picket fence isn't a closed-side barrier. Small objects can fall through picket railing, but not people. Don’t drop your phone.

Multi-Line Stairways

Multi-line stair railings have horizontal rods or tubes from post to post. The rods or tubes can be of different styles, sizes, and materials.

Multiple-line stair railing

Multi-line railings are common on egress and equipment access stairs in commercial and industrial buildings.

Multi-line stair railing pros/cons


  • Clean-looking
  • Multi-line railing rods and tubes can be easily modified for different projects.


  • Children can climb multi-line railings, posing a safety risk. Picket railings are preferred for public areas, and some building codes prohibit them.

Cable stair rail Cable-railing

Instead of pickets or panels, cable stair railings use horizontal or vertical metal cables. Cable railing works with steel, aluminum, and wood handrails and newels.

Cable stair railings - Cable railing gives homes and commercial buildings a modern look on interior and exterior staircases.

Cable stair railing pros/cons


  • The thin cable in cable railings provides an unobstructed view.
  • The cable railing is strong, durable, and easy to maintain, requiring occasional cleaning.
  • A cable railing can be configured to fit any space using a variety of tension kits, post types, and finishes.


  • Cable railing costs more than glass, aluminum, or wood.
  • Some cities ban horizontal railings like cable railing. Code-compliant cable stair rails are allowed.
  • Due to safety cables, these railings can look busy.
  • Since these railings require tension, professional installation is best.

Mesh stair railing

Mesh railing - Wire mesh infill railings are welded to a 4-sided frame; Attaching these panels to the railing. Stainless steel and aluminum are used to make wire mesh infill railings. They can also be custom-made to meet mesh or opening size, wire diameter, and panel size.

Wire mesh stair railings - Industrial and high-traffic commercial areas like stadiums, colleges, and shopping malls use wire mesh infill railings. Residential deck stairs can also have wire mesh infill.

Wire mesh stair railing pros/cons


  • Wire mesh infill railing provides a strong barrier, visibility, and ventilation.
  • Wire mesh infill stairs require little maintenance.
  • Natural metal or painted wire mesh can be used for infill.
  • Copper creates a sophisticated look.


  • Custom-made wire mesh infill railing is expensive.
  • Incorrect installation can damage the mesh.

Staircase panels Railings

Like wire mesh infill railing, panel stair railing is installed in sections. Glass or metal bars are used to make panel railings.

Panel stair railings - Glass panel railings can be used indoors and outdoors. Residential and commercial buildings use metal panel railing.

Panel stair railing pros/cons


  • They are great outside - glass panels offer a great view and wind protection.
  • Metal panels can be customized in many ways.
  • Panel railings are easy to maintain regardless of material.


  • Glass panel railing costs more than other materials upfront.
  • Unless frosted, neither glass nor metal railings offer homeowners' or businesses' privacy.

Types of stair handrails

Handrails are made of wood and metals. Only integrated and wall-mounted handrails exist.

Mounted handrail - Guardrail-mounted handrails extend from the guardrail into the path of egress to provide a separate handhold.

Guardrail handrails - Open side of the staircase has a guardrail-mounted handrail. Both sides of the staircase can use them.

Wall handrail

Wall-mounted handrails replace an integrated handrail with railings and are attached to the wall. Steel wall-mounted handrails are made of round tubes or pipes. Wall-mounted pig's ear and mopstick wood handrails are popular. Pig's ear handrails are shaped like the animal's ear and attached to the wall without brackets. Mopstick handrails are bracket-mounted and decorative.

Mounted handrails - Closed staircases have wall-mounted handrails. They can go on either side of a staircase.


Integrated handrails form part of the balustrade on stair railings. Handrail ends are supported by newels. Grooved or ungrooved wood handrails are integrated. Grooved handrails contain the railing. Ungrooved handrails are bracketed or screwed in.

Most building codes, including IBC, ADA, and OSHA, prohibit integrated handrails.

Stair railings and handrails - Conclusion

Handrails and stair railings provide security and prevent accidents and falls. These stair parts affect the staircase's appearance.

Metal, wood, and glass are commonly used to make stair railings and handrails. Each component can be made from a different material to achieve different looks.

So what stair railings and handrails are best for you?! Deck Expressions are always here to help!