Cable Railing DIY Success, Part 1

Cable Railing DIY Success, Part 1

When tackling a DIY cable railing, you need to know the basics. There are 3 basic rules that should guide you through the designing and installing of your cable railing. Keep your cable spacing to 3 inches or less, keep you post spacing to 4 feet or less (unless using a cable stabilizing device) and limit longer runs to a maximum of 50 feet.  None of these basic rules are meant to restrict you. They are meant to protect you.

Other than following these 3 simple rules, knock yourself out in designing your unique and personalized cable railing. 

Pre-Design Considerations

Answer these 3 questions before designing your project.

  1. Why do you want cable railing? Is it because cable railing will allow you to maintain your unique view, or maybe it’s because you have a modern home and your old wood railings just don’t look good on the stairway? Cable railing can lend itself creatively to a variety of different situations, so define it and picture it before you go any farther.
  2. What is your budget? Maybe budget is not the main reason you are choosing cable railing, but since you are doing a cable railing DIY project, there is likely some consideration given to cost. Are you willing to sacrifice the look you want for price or is cost and design of equal value? Think this through so you have perspective.
  3. What have you seen that you like? Places like the DIY Cable Railing photo gallery are excellent sources for viewing amazing real time railing projects. Get an idea what you like and what you want before trying to decide how to go about it.

Material Considerations

This is where it gets fun. Keep a few things in mind here as you think through how you will achieve your perfect cable railing.

  • Cable Stabilizers: When using a cable stabilizing device, you can only use 1 cable stabilizer in a maximum 7 foot section. Cable stabilizers are commercially available from a variety of suppliers with cost as low as $35 retail. Cable stabilizers are small and are not a structural component like a post so you cannot count on them to support your top rail.
  • Cable: Cable railing can be safe if installed right with the best materials. That said, cable is flexible and will deflect when pressure is applied, thus the 3 inch maximum cable space and 4 foot maximum post space. Doesn’t it make sense to use the stiffest cable available to limit the deflection and create a safe railing. You should use only 1 x 19 cable in minimum 1/8 inch thickness.
  • Post and Rail Material: This is where your vision and budget come into play. There are several frame systems available for cable railing, but 60% are still made of wood. Wood is usually one of the lowest cost materials to build a cable railing system, but not always. Many low cost aluminum cable railing systems exist. Combining stainless posts with wood top rails is a great option. Wood posts and rails require that you ensure your posts and rails can withstand a minimum of about 2,200 pounds of pull. Minimum 4 x 4 post and a braced top rail are very important if using wood.
  • Cable Connectors and Tensioning Devices: These components don’t need to be complicated or hard, but they are important so you should only use components made by reputable manufacturers. There are 2 ways to do your cable connections and tensioning; surface mount or through post. The simplest method it usually surface mount, but through post is the least expensive method.

Now you have some basic knowledge to start your DIY cable railing project. In our next posting we will discuss how to successfully build a wood frame for cable railing.