Saturday, August 23, 2008

Dirty Little Secret

EDIT: Many thanks to Randy who commented and told me how to move this post up! Thanks so much Randy; it was very easy which is why I couldn't figure it out. Ha!
Randy is a very talented local (Birmingham) artist and you may view his work here,

Ok, I finally got my photos to load so here we go. A lot of people have asked me about how I did this handrail and various other questions so I'm going to try to expound on the subject. I don't feel sometimes like I describe processes very well so if this is not clear please ask me to clarify. I will probably include some superfluous info but I don't know the skill or experience level of those wanting the information so I'm just trying to be helpful.
Basically, I first determined at what intervals I wanted the posts, which was determined somewhat by the lengths of my rebar, since it was scrap. I found an acceptable, equal spacing (about 4.5') that also utilized as much of the rebar length as possible. My rebar came in 8' pieces, I think, so I did have to cut some of it. I cut the rebar so that the ends, obviously, are concealed within the posts. Keep in mind also that too long of a span on your rebar might cause it to sag if someone were to prop their foot up on it or some such, as people are prone to do. Also, consult your local building codes for handrails. I used #5 bar (5/8") but I think a thicker bar would look nice too. I don't know that I would go thinner. Anyway, once you have your materials ready, install only enough posts that your first set of bars can go through. If you put all of your posts up and it has a corner in it you will never get the rebar in. Even if you have a straight run but with short pieces of rebar, it's just easier. Loosely attach the posts because you want to be able to plumb them after you get the rebar threaded in. My first set of rebar runs through the first post but butts into the house so that holds the rebar in place. If you don't want to butt the structure just drill only halfway through your post to form a cap of sorts. When you "cap" the other end, this is what contains the rebar and it cannot slide out. This is sort of like threading a necklace except that the beads (posts) stay stationary and you move the thread (rebar) through them. Once you have that first run in, install your next few posts and thread the next set of bars. After I have installed about 3 posts I would plumb them and snug up the connection.

The corners were done with bars I found already bent. These are very common on construction sites because they are the bars that are placed in footings and protrude upward for a wall to be build around later. They had a 9" "foot" so I just went with that and put both corner posts at that dimension. So, the long end of the bar runs through 2 posts and the short part just goes halfway into one. I think it would be very hard to try to get both ends through more than one post. Leave these post very loose because you have to lean them way out to get the foot started in the one post. Run the long end into it's posts first. Once it starts into both sets of posts you can slowly draw the posts inward. Then plumb these posts and keep going!

Here's some info about rebar. If you have read my blog long you will know that if I catch you buying rebar from Lowe's I will smack you. Those places are going to rip you a new one on that kind of stuff. There are many alternatives. If you are going to do a handrail similar to mine, you are going to need a fair amount of steel. My first suggestion is to try to salvage it off construction sites. You may know somebody, who knows somebody, that works in the field. They always have rebar left over on jobs. Always. The guys don't like to have to fool with it at the end of a job because it's nasty. In most cases they will gladly give it to you to get it out of their hair. If you can't scavage it, go to a rebar supplier. They will sell to the public and in most cases, don't have a minimum order. They will also cut the exact lengths you want and bend your corners for you. One note about this. If you are using rebar that has it's original end on it, it will be slightly crooked on that end for about 1 1/2". Rebar comes in giant spools and the suppliers just pull off the length and shear it, so the force of that kinda crimps that end a little. For reinforcing concrete, rebar is technically not supposed to be cut by heating, say with a torch. So, because of that kink, it may not go through your hole in the post very well. I trimmed my ends off because I didn't want the post hole to be any bigger than necessary. Also, rebar is nasty-dirty whether it is new or old. If it's new, your hands will be black; if it's old, your hands will be brown and if your nose begins to itch your face will turn the same color. If you pick up several bars at once, it will pinch your hands and it's very painful. So, wear gloves. I sealed the rebar (and the deck) with linseed oil. You can do this before or after and use Thompson's or whatever you use on your deck. Linseed oil and beeswax (50/50) works very well to seal metal and lasts a surprisingly long time outside. Seal it immediately or it WILL stain your wood.
An auger bit works best to drill your holes in the posts. Paddle bits are OK but will bog down a lot. A drill press is nice to keep the holes straight but it can be done without one. I mark both sides of the post and start drilling on one side until I feel I have reached about midway. Then flip the board over and drill completely through. This straightens your hole up if you were off any and also prevents you from busting out one side of the post, which sometimes happens as the drill bit exits the wood.

I hope this helps and I explained everything well. Please feel free to ask any questions if I still didn't cover all of it or have got you confused now.

*All American Rejects


Floridacracker said...

Thanks Annie!
I know I was one of those who wondered about your technique on this project.
I think you covered it well!

Do you think rebar could be primed and painted?

Chieftain of Seir said...

Great article.

Will people really still give away rebar scraps in your area?

In these parts, the high price of scrap metal seems to have changed how leftover rebar is viewed.

Maya said...

Thank you so much for posting this. The post of the completed deck railing was one of the first posts I read on your blog and I immediately sent it to my boyfriend saying we should do this! I think it is gorgeous and an excellent use of scrap.

molly said...

ER, I love the look of the rebar, you have done an amazing job!


edifice rex said...

Hey FC! Thanks! Yes, you could paint the rebar easily once it was cleaned. If you get new rebar it has this greasy-like coating on it. that's what turns your hands black. so that would have to be removed to get good adhesion on your paint. Mineral spirits should cut it fine. Older rebar, of course, is usually a little rusty but a wire brush will take care of that.

Hey Chieftain! Thank you, sir. Well, we still give away our drop but I guess I can't guarantee that everyone does. We try hard to give away or whatever so that leftover material, of any kind, does not go to a landfill. Many companies now (mine included) are implementing recycling programs these days also, so that might change some of what we do. Scrap steel still does not bring a big price here, although more than it used to, so rebar and such is still not highly sought after like aluminum and copper.

Hello Maya! Thanks so much! I thought it came out well myself and was happy to get to use scrap material.

Hello Molly! Thanks bunches! And all that rebar was free!

Jenn said...

I'm going to reiterate your warning:


Be a devil to do all that work and then have your local inspector tell you to tear it down.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I have been a secret admirer of your railing. Thanks for the detailed article on "how to".

I assume the spacings are such that some little child cannot get his head caught!

edifice rex said...

Hey jenn! Yes, even though we don't really have any codes enforced because this county just does not have an inspection system, insurance companies now sometimes require their own inspections!

Hey Philip! Yes, the international code states, that "a sphere of 4 inches in diameter shall not be able to pass through the handrail in any area".