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PDF How to Build Curved Handrails

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From this point, use a protractor to draw a pitch line at the angle of the stair pitch, 35 degrees in this example. This creates an elevation view of the three dimensional box being drawn. Step 5 : Use a square to draw a line perpendicular to the pitch line that intersects point V. Step 6 : Locate point Bo by swinging an arc from point Vo , with the compass spread to the distance between Vo and B1.

Step 7 : Draw a line originating at point Vo that passes through point Bo to define the inclined tangents. Step 8 : Create the parallelogram that makes up the oblique plane the lid of the box by drawing lines from points Ao and Bo that are parallel to the inclined tangents. Step 9 : The next step is to determine the bevel angle for the handrail. Using point V as a center, spread the compass until it touches the intersection of the pitch line and the perpendicular line drawn in step 5, and then swing an arc to the base line. Step 10 : Draw the bevel line by connecting the arc intersection on the base line to point B.

This line represents the centerline of the handrail profile. Step 11 : Begin creating a box that will encompass the handrail profile by drawing lines parallel to the bevel line. Step 12 : Finish the box that surrounds the handrail profile by drawing two lines perpendicular to the bevel line to define the height of the profile. Step 13 : To determine the minimum required stock size for the wreath block, enclose the squared profile box with a box that is square to the level base line.


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The widths of the shanks on the face mold are determined by the squared handrail profile and the bevel angle. Use the distance measured along the base line, from the bevel line intersection to the handrail width line intersection, to offset each side of the shank center line. Finish by squaring off the shanks with a perpendicular line; the shank length is arbitrary. Step 15 : Draw ordinate lines for the plan view and oblique plane by drawing lines connecting points C and V , and points Co and Vo. Step 17 : Draw a line parallel to the ordinate line in plan.

The distance is arbitrary; it will be used as a benchmark for projecting measurements to the oblique plane. Step 18 : Draw a line from the intersection of the previously drawn parallel ordinate line and the tangent line, parallel to the height line, until it intersects the inclined tangent line above.

Step 19 : Transfer the intersection point on the inclined tangent line to the opposite inclined tangent line by using a compass to swing an arc centered on point Vo.


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  • Step 20 : Draw lines from both points on the inclined tangent lines that are parallel to the ordinate line of the oblique plane. Step 21 : Begin transferring measurements from plan to the oblique plane. Step 22 : Transfer the handrail widths from plan to the oblique plane. Mark point 4 along the oblique ordinate line measuring down from point 1 , which is the handrail width along the ordinate line in plan Red. Mark points 5 and 6 by using the distance measured from the inner to outer handrail edges along the benchmark ordinate line in plan Blue.

    Step 23 : Complete the face mold by using a flexible curve to connect points 1 , 2 , and 3 to the inner edges of the shanks, and points 4 , 5 , and 6 to the outer edges of the shanks. The blank is the actual stock from which the wreath is cut. Some of these include hand-held routers, grinders and other ways and means. Other handy tools besides the regular set of carving chisels include: Quirk routers, hand beaders, and special radius molding planes or shaves. I use a special molding machine, which I designed and had built some years ago. I rarely have to hand carve anymore, but there are times when only hand-work will do.

    As long as the profiles are fairly simple, and the wood reasonably soft, hand-carving still works well—especially for occasional supplemental stair parts. If all of this sounds way too complicated, I might agree with you, except for the fact that I have been doing this, myself, for many years—and I flunked high school algebra and never completed college. I had to figure all this stuff out on my own, down in the basement of the old Los Angeles County Library.

    Anyway, I suppose if I can do it, so can you. A complete set of drawings and templates can take a couple of hours or more—sometimes a full day. But for a single part, I am often done in an hour. The cutting and squaring of a typical wreath piece can take two or three hours, and the machine carving will add, perhaps, another hour. In short, most individual parts are completed within a day, and sometimes before noon.

    It is certainly possible to expend a full week on a custom volute. Not everyone should go to the trouble. It is difficult. It is time-consuming. This can translate into more work, and more money for your work! It can also place your company within a class of clientele who demand custom work and are willing and able to pay a premium for it. This was great fun!

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    Mike, who always asked the best questions, and fixed his own wreath after I nearly wrecked it on the band saw. Steve, who sat quietly at his computer most of the time, and then went back and did something neat on his CNC. Katz, who documented the whole mess, and continues to publish Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces like this one. Thanks Gary for putting this together. Jim, you put on a fine class. I have now taught the system to several of our guys and it all seemed to be understood. Thanks Jim. Keith, great place to come and visit thanks for hosting ,food, what can I say great.

    This is absolutely amazing stuff! Its a beautiful transition and the factory parts just look, feel clunky in comparison. I need to go back an re-read it a couple of dozen times, but its inspiring! Thank you for taking the time to pass this on and preserve an almost lost art. The magazine would be worthless without those illustrations. For me, Todd makes sense out of the insensible or is that ineffable? Great stuff!!! I love articles like this that stretch my brain.

    I think I need to break out my drafting tools and read it four more times then give it a try. Excellent graphics. Just a few months ago, I was faced with making a curved rail, and had to read all of the old texts, written at a time when language was used differently. I will most certainly file this away for future reference.

    I was taught a very similar method by a fantastic carpenter, but the trial and error method. A couple years ago, I asked Jed Dixon if he could describe this process to me. I will go over and over this article so I can be trained in a way that I will not only be better understood by me, but one that I can also pass on the the next guy. It is nice to come to a place where others are as passionate. Great article Jim.

    That was my first written intro to tangent layout. I too echo the thanks- Jim- it was a wonderful class. Even more so was and is your ongoing commitment to make sure we can pull these off. Thank you for all your time with back and forth emails and checking drawings. Thanks to you I have a very happy customer. I am thankful for the brain trust of guys who are willing to pass on their knowledge and see young guys like me run with it.

    It is fantastic that we can have such a wealth of information out there and that you are willing to pull it all together. I hope the years are good and we see a revival of the trade once again. Can I please get invited to the next get together… please! Yes Mike, Mr. I appreciate the fact that all the tangent plan arraignments are included and in a useable format. I have quite a few books myself and all of them are dog-eared and worn-out. Thanks for the great article. This is powerfully good information. And Inspiring, I might just try and make one just to see it done although my sample will be in bass or cotton wood — something easy to carve.

    In my last year of college I researched curved stairs for a Math special projects course. I poured over rare books, mostly on micro-film and micro-fishe. Thanks for filling in the blanks of how to get started carving. The class last summer was a lot of fun and it was really enjoyable to meet others who were excited to learn something about a rapidly disappearing part of the trade.

    The animated drawing goes a long way toward helping in the understanding of how everything is related. Jim wanted to cover much more ground than what we were able to just because it took so much effort to get up to speed and grasp the drawings shown in the article.

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    If interested please contact me. None of this was part of the class but perhaps should have been. Almost no one draws by hand anymore and traditional drafting skills are almost as rare as this subject I believe Jed Dixon has already addressed this issue in a prior article. Those poor guys—even ten years ago—could never do what we can do today. And back when pattern books were published, each piece of paper in a book cost a fortune.

    But today we can publish a separate drawing for each stage—an article can be ANY length. That is truly revolutionary. And that is what excites me most. Sure, I value learning how the tangent railing system works—even though I may never do it! Lucky to be alive today. Great article Jim! Had to read it a few times but it all makes a whole lot more sense now than it did before i read it! Great visual aides — extremely helpful in putting it all together in my mind.

    Thanx to you and TiC for imparting this hard earned knowledge on to the brethren of woodworkers here. Jim, Gary, Todd, I just want to echo the comments here. The article is fantastic, and I agree that the way we can show multiple step by step views is a tremendous help in understanding this stuff. So mostly I just want say thank you for sharing this with us all! All that can be said is thank you Jim for keeping this knowledge alive and Gary for providing a place for it to live.

    Would anyone know of a book or article that would show me a method for putting a profile on to a upease handrail fitting? Using a router or a shaper possibly? A handheld router can be used with care and during the class, we actually had a demonstration of the technique by a very competent stairbuilder.

    I honestly recommend however, keeping your thumb and fingers permanently attached to your hands by trying to stick with the bench vise and hand tools.. Hi, Thanks for this very informative article. Excellent article Jim and the videos make it even easier to understand the geometric concepts behind laying out these curved handrails, particularly the unfolding of the paper. You mentioned you have and use a special moulding machine. Any hints or pictures. What is the base machine? My dear old dad who was a retired machinist worked at least a year building it for me.

    This tutorial is fantastic! Clearly shows the time and effort involved vs. These wreathing components make fantastic wall returns for the ends of railings, too. Sunday is my day to indulge my interests and learn someting new. I have been building stairs, installing railing for 22 years now and it has always been a sourse of great satification for me.

    At the start I did not have a clue and just winged it. This was an eye opener for me and I enjoyed it very much. I would love to come to the class. Excellent Article- Makes us all think , probably very hard about the craft- Which we should do to learn this element of the stair Tangent Handrail. Do I understand it all no, However the excellent graphics make this an excellent challenge to reread and practice. Dear Jim Baldwin We were very pleased to find your feature on custom curved wreath handrails.

    As you will be aware this is a long steep wreath. We followed your instructions with great precision and enthusiasm, but were disappointed to find this not working for us. The main point been, the box around the handrail shows the section to be Yet on the Face Mould the end section is Only 77mm. Are we missing something? Is it possible for me to send you a PDF of our stair drawing and, Along with our drawing created from your instructions. I would be happy to look at your plan and help in anyway I can.

    My contact information is found on my website at handrailer. Please would you let me know if you are going to teach another tangent handrailing class…. This article with the illustrations and video is very understandable and make me want to do a practice wreath for a stairs i just completed using the clunky factory parts to get around the corners. Had i been able to make two corner turns with a wreath i know the client would be talking about it for years to come. Thanks for this educations, regards Paddy.

    Then the wood is cut into strips thin enough to bend around that radiused form. An exterior wood epoxy is applied to all the strips before they are bound to the form and allowed to cure. After milling with special equipment made for curved molding, the result is a rail that is very strong, has no joints, has no exposed end grain, and is identical in size and shape to the straight rail portions of your railings.

    17 thoughts on “Curved Porch Railing: the Ultimate in Exterior Architectural Millwork”

    While this method is a little more labor intensive, we think it will be worth it for our customers in the decades to come. So how do you go about ordering curved porch railing? You only need two measurements: the width of the curve and the height. From these two numbers, we can determine the other figures mathematically radius, arc length, angle subtended, etc. Note: make sure you measure to the same point on the curve for both measurements.

    Some customers feel more comfortable if they also send us a template with the curve drawn on it, made of construction paper, etc. We have made many rails by using the math only, and have never had a problem with this method. Measuring for curved stair railing works the same way.

    See this illustration. Curved stair rail is a little more involved for us to make because the rail not only curves, but also twists as it comes down the steps. This is why we need the rise over run as well. Note that we only do curved stair railing in our Polyurethane line of railing. If your stair rail is elliptical, meaning it is not a constant radius, we can do that as well.

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    So whether you prefer wood or synthetic, just take those measurements and give us a call. I have four sections of 70in length by 23in height. Thanks for the question. Curved rail is made to order, and is priced upon request specifically to your porch. Thanks for the question Wade. Yes, we can help with your curved railing project. Based on your information, your railing is as follows:. Your estimate has been sent to your email address. Thanks again for the opportunity to help with your project. I would like a price on a curved wood porch railing.

    The run is inches and the height is 83inches. There are 6 posts.

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    Thanks for the request for estimate Mike. I would like a estimate of top and bottom rails for curved section of porch. I have recovered the yr spindles and will want to re-use them. The porch is an at grade victorian so it does not meet the 30 inch high for code rails of spindles.