Oak makes a wonderful handrail, smooth to the touch and sturdy enough to support the weight of a person when installed correctly. Adding a handrail to a long hallway or to a flight of stairs offers measurable safety for those who need a little extra support. You local building codes may regulate the height of your handrail and other safety features but, if not, there are general guidelines, presented by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) and by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Install your handrail a minimum height of 30 inches from the surface walkway up to a maximum of 37 inches, in accordance with OSHA safety guidelines. For nursing homes and in places where the elderly or disabled will use the handrails, 34 inches is a common height.
Place the handrail a sufficient distance from the wall to allow the user to comfortably hold onto the rail without brushing her fingers or knuckles against the wall. To qualify as ADA compliant, make sure there is at least 1 ½ inches of clear space between the oak handrail and the wall.
Position your oak handrail in a single line, without breaks, to provide a continuous gripping surface. While an oak handrail is fine for hallways and straight stairways, it is not as flexible as a smooth, fabricated steel railing that extends around curves in hallways or around switchbacks in staircases. If you must meet ADA regulations and you have a walkway configuration with turns, you may have to install additional handrail segments in these areas.
Read the manufacturer’s specifications for installing the supporting brackets for the handrail. This includes using the suggested size of bolt and locating the structural studs beneath the surface of the wall into which you will install the supporting fittings. If you are unsure where to place the supports, use a stud-finder.
Check your oak handrail to make sure it does not rotate in its fittings. Wooden rails may be round, making them smooth and easy to grasp but the fittings for a round handrail may consist of end caps into which the railing fits and supporting hoops through which the rail threads before securing it on both ends. Occasionally, the rail may rotate in the fittings, creating a safety hazard. Secure the rail at the ends and at the supporting points, if necessary.
Inspect an oak rail for roughness or splinters. While most handrails are very smooth, the wood may swell and contract and any wooden rail may develop a split, creating the possibility of a splinter. The surface should be sanded, sealed and varnished to protect the handrail surface.
Tips and Warnings
- Use proper safety precautions when operating any type of power tool, including a drill or screw gun to install the handrail supports.