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Things to Consider with Cable Handrails

Cable handrails are a wonderful addition to your home, both indoors and out. They replace wood or metal handrails inside. They open balconies and stairs to make your home feel more spacious. Outside, they can really expose the view. Instead of looking at posts, sit back and enjoy mountain and inlet views.

When considering cable handrails there’s a lot of information you need to know before making a decision. When looking for the right brand of cable handrails, check on information about the manufacturer and what they provide. Some may just ship a box to Alaska full of parts that you have no idea how to put together, and no easy way to find out how.

Cable handrails are generally assembled in three steps. Setting the posts, attaching the top cap, followed by threading and tensioning the cables. Posts should be set on finished flooring or stair treads. Most manufacturers can provide either deck-mounted or face-mounted posts. Deck mounted posts are on top of the flooring. Face-mounted is mounted on the facia, stringer or side of the framing, not on top.

It’s important to consider the cables themselves. Does the manufacturer sell the cables cut to length for each run that you need? Will one end of the cable have a swaged fitting? Or will the post-manufacturer expect you to figure out how much cable you need and then you must track down and purchase the cable and the fittings for the cable? In that case, you might be left to purchase the tensioning, cutting and swaging equipment for the cables. This is an expensive proposition. Check to see if your post supplier can rent you all that equipment, so you don’t have to purchase a lot of expensive single-use tools.

Cable handrails require tension, and this can be done in a couple of different methods. There’s a company that uses swaging buttons to hold the cables permanently in place for the life of the cable handrail. These swaging buttons are quick to tension with rental equipment from the post manufacturer. Swaging buttons are very inexpensive and add very little to the cost of the overall project. The other option uses expansion anchors, tensioners, mounting brackets and other parts to install cables. These parts can be very expensive and must be calculated into the overall cost of the project. Understanding the tension method means you won’t be surprised with parts you did not expect to purchase.

If you’re installing the handrails yourself, how much information does the manufacturer provide for assembling their product? Look for a manufacturer that has videos showing step-by-step how to build your handrail system. They should also offer information on how to find the angle of your stairs and how to tension cables.

Next, learn about the posts. What are the posts made of and the shape of the posts? Are they hollow tubes of aluminum, flat posts of aluminum, square stainless steel or plastic sleeves that slide over the top of wood posts? Hollow tubes will be difficult to thread cables through both sides of the tube and can be frustrating. Plastic sleeves will mean drilling both the sleeve and the wood posts and are time-consuming to put together. Flat posts are quick to thread and line up with the next post, a huge time-saving opportunity. Flat posts would be your easiest option.

When purchasing posts be sure to know where the posts are manufactured and their lead time. Most post manufacturers are in the Lower 48. And most have long lead times. Get an answer about how long it will take for the posts to be ready. If they’re manufactured in the Lower 48, don’t forget to figure in the week on the barge from Seattle to Anchorage.

Finally, be sure you have some support during the install process. Is the manufacturer available only during the week in a different time zone to help with questions? Or are they local and can pick up the phone on a weekend to answer your questions? Knowing and utilizing the resources available can make a big difference.

Cable handrails are a trend that continues to grow in popularity. They’re easily customized and can change the entire look of your home. And now that you know the right questions to ask and information to know if you decide they’re the right fit for your home the process should be smooth sailing.


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