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How to Make Log Railings for Your Rustic Cabin Stairway

My husband and I built a log railing for our cabin. It was a fun project and we saved money by doing it ourselves.

DIY Log Railing

DIY Log Railing

Clearing Land: Make Use of All Those Trees

When we built our cabin, we first had to clear our wooded lot of all the trees on the building site. We had lots and lots of pine trees to make use of. We also had to make a stair railing going up to our loft. These two issues came together when we decided to build our own log railings. However, this was no small task!

There was one thing that kept us motivated throughout the entire project—money! It wasn't going to cost us a thing in materials or labor. My husband already had the tools from other projects, so we were all set.

I must say that the project did go much smoother than we had imagined. There were a few little snafus, but since we were only working on the cabin on weekends, we could go home and start fresh the next weekend with renewed vigor.

Tools You'll Need

To do a project like this, there are a couple of important tools that you will need:

Rustic Railings

Rustic Railings

How to Build a Log Railing

Step 1: Cut and Tool Spindles and Rail Pieces

Before starting the actual process of putting together the railing, we cut all of our spindles to size and tooled the ends with the tenon cutters. To determine the size, we calculated how far the bottom rail would be off the ground, the width of the rails, and the building-code requirements.

Step 2: Drill Rail Holes

In our cabin, we have an open loft and figured the best place to start was right at the top. After cutting and tooling the ends of our first rail pieces, we drilled two holes into the wall at the height that we wanted the rails to be. The rail height needs to be in accordance with your local building code. These holes were easy because the rails were going in straight across.

Step 3: Assemble Rail Sections

Our next step was to assemble our first rail section. First, we laid out the two premeasured rails on the floor. We then spaced the smaller tooled pines evenly across, making sure to not have any more than four inches of space between the spindles. Once we were happy with the spacing, we marked on the rails where to drill holes.

Keeping the spindles laid out on the floor, in order, we took the rails out to drill the holes. This part of the job actually became difficult with a hand drill, and we ended up taking rail sections home to use the drill press as the job went on. It can be done with a hand drill, but it definitely becomes tiring.

Step 4: Insert Spindles

When we brought the rails back in we inserted the spindles in the same order. This is important because the spindles all varied in width, by just a little, and could mess up the spacing if they were switched around. We had to put straps around the rail section to hold it in place because we weren't ready to secure it with screws until we knew how everything was going to fit between the wall and the log post.

Step 5: Install Rails

Now we inserted one end of the rail section into the two holes in the wall. The whole section had a little give because it wasn't fully secure yet so we could fit it into the holes easily. Next, we inserted the other end into the log post, putting wood glue under the post. We picked larger pine trees for our posts and opted to skin the bark for a unique look. Once we had the whole section in place, we secured the whole thing with screws and nails.

We continued this process all the way down. The only difference with the remaining sections was that we had to drill the holes in the rails and posts at an angle so that the spindles would stand straight. This is where the angle gauge came in handy for marking.

Step 6: Clean and Varnish Rails

The final step was to first clean the peeled logs with a mixture of bleach and water since they were pretty sappy and then polyurethane over the entire stair rail.

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We had to make little adjustments here and there throughout the process since it was a little tricky with spacing and angles, but overall the project went well. The money we saved was well worth it and we can now say that our stair railing came right off our property.

Applying Finish to Softwoods

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2011 Renee Hanlon


Amy on July 16, 2017:

Love it! This is similar to a project I'm working on. But I'm surprised that your posts are so secure - am I understanding correctly that all you did was glue them to the floor, and all other stability comes from connections to the rest of the railing? It seems like the whole thing would wiggle side-to-side substantially. I think I must be missing something.

Thanks for posting!


mecheshier on January 21, 2011:

Beautiful. I love your craftsmenship. Great info. thank you.

Stephanie Marshall from Bend, Oregon on January 21, 2011:

Totally love the photographs and what a beautiful addition for your cabin! I live in Oregon, and can imagine a staircase like this in several locations (Sunriver, Black Butte Ranch, etc.) Lovely and great explanation, as well!

Renee Hanlon (author) from Michigan on January 21, 2011:

Thanks Schneider! We are glad the job is done but are happy we tried it and if we had to do it all over again, we would do it just the same.

Schneider on January 21, 2011:

You did a terrific job on your log railings for your stairway. They can be challenging, but you did a good job with explaining the proceedure. Kudos to you.

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