Answering Common Questions about our Porch Rail Systems

Our Porch Railing Systems have been developed and improved over the years using practical experience as well as feedback from customers, installers, and builders.  That is why it we believe it to be the “fastest, easiest, and best” porch railing available today.

Every design feature of the Rail Systems is there for a purpose.  And because we so often get many of the same questions from customers, we thought it would help if we compiled the most common questions into a blog post.  All our product listings on have a FAQ (frequently asked questions) tab that answer most of your questions right there on the listing.  And of course if you still have questions, you can always email or call and we’ll be glad to help out.

This blog post contains many of the most common questions regarding our very popular Porch Rail Systems:

Should I use the 6″ or the 4″ Rail System? 
The 6″ class System is used for spindles/balusters from 2 1/4″ to 3 1/2″ wide.  The 4″ class System is used for spindles/balusters 2 1/8″ wide or less.

What’s the difference between the 4-piece, 3-piece, and 2-piece rail systems?
4-piece System includes, from top to bottom: Top Rail, Subrail, Bottom Rail, and Skirt.  Adds 10″ of height with a 3″ toe space.
3-piece System is same as 4-piece, except removes the Skirt.  Adds 7″ of height with a 3″ toe space.
2-piece System is same as 4-piece, except removes the Subrail and Skirt.  Top and bottom rail only.  Adds 6″ of height with a 3″ toe space.

Should I use Flat Bottom Rail, or Sloped?
The idea behind sloped bottom rail is that the water will more readily shed off the rail, preventing rot at the base of the spindles or balusters.  However, we routinely get spindles sent to us for reproduction that have been on homes for 120+ years, and are just now needing replacement because of rot at the base.  This is why, if you use the right materials and installation care, we are not afraid to use flat bottom rail outdoors.  So while the idea of flat bottom rail doesn’t scare us, the logic of sloped bottom rail shedding water just makes sense.  This is why we continue to recommend sloped bottom rail for exterior use.

What is the skirt?  Should I order it (should I choose the 4-piece Porch Rail System)?
The skirt is the board that sits on edge under your bottom rail.  It is typically 3 to 4 inches above the porch floor.  The reasons we developed the skirt for our 4-piece Porch Rail System are several:
A) It adds height to the rail system
.  The skirt is 3 3/8″ high which means you can use a shorter spindle height.  This saves you money on  spindles, and often the shorter spindles have a more robust, more authentic look, and are more architecturally “correct”.
B) It adds strength to the bottom rail.  Because it is a 3 3/8″ high board on edge, it adds considerable stiffness and durability to the system.  This makes it stronger, feel more secure when you lean on it for example, and helps keep the porch rail from sagging in the years to come.
C) It adds a depth of look, making the rail system look more robust.  Not only does it make the spindles look better by allowing them to be shorter, the rail system itself looks more authentic and architecturally correct.

Why do you use rails with multiple pieces?  For example why use a 4-piece system instead of just a larger top and bottom rail?
There are several reasons we use multiple pieces.
A) First, it allows you to install the system with no fasteners showing.  For example, with a one piece top rail, you’d have to screw the spindles or balusters in place from the top down with an ugly screw head showing on the top of the rail.  Or you could install tenons on the ends of the spindles, requiring you to drill holes in the railing and use ugly toe-nailing or messy glue to keep them from spinning.  Much cleaner and easier to simply screw them into place from the top of the subrail, then place the handrail on top and screw it in place from the bottom up.
B) When no fasteners are showing, that also means that there aren’t any fasteners directly exposed to the weather.  When you have a screw through the middle of the top rail, for example, that penatration is a spot where water damage will begin.
C) The two part bottom rail used in the 4-piece porch rail system gives the bottom rail a thicker, more robust, stronger bottom rail with a better depth of look.
D) Multiple pieces also prevents us from having to use very large, thick timbers from which to mill the rail, keeping the cost of the system much more reasonable.

Should I order extra length?
We recommend ordering your rail sections a few inches long.  For example, if you have a 8′ 6″ section, order a 9′ rail section.  This will allow the installer a little “wiggle room” to tie into your newel, post, column, or wall.

For what lengths do I need support blocks?
We recommend you use a support block for rail sections that are 6′ long or longer.  We’ve design our support blocks to be small an unobtrusive.  It is simply a 1 3/8″ square block, 4″ high, made of strong and rot resistant Port Orford Cedar.  It does the job of supporting your rail system without attracting attention to itself and taking away from the look of the balustrade.

How do I install the railing?
Detailed installation instructions, with pictures, are included with your purchase, or can be found on our Installation Instructions Page.  We offer a Rail Installation Kit that includes all the necessary brackets, screws, and bits required to install one section of railing.  We recommend ordering one Rail Installation Kit for each rail section you order. The rail system is designed that so someone with basic carpentry skills and common woodworking tools should have no problem with the installation.

Do I need your Rail Installation Kit, or can I just use my own hardware?  Why?
Our rail system requires the use of screws and brackets of a very specific size.  For example, the best size screw for most of the installation is 2 1/4″, which is a rather uncommon length.  Most or all of these items can be found at your local stores if you look hard enough, but we had many customers asking us for a simpler way.  So we developed the Kit that includes all the right sizes of screws, brackets, and bits needed for your Rail System installation.  And, because we buy the hardware from distributors in very large quantities at wholesale prices, we are able to keep the cost to the customer very reasonable.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with buying your own hardware locally, which is why the Kits are offered as an option rather than an included item.

Does the Rail Installation Kit work for the stair rail sections?  How do I use the square (90 degree) brackets for the angled stair rails?
Yes, you can use our 90 degree brackets on your stair rails.  Simply bend them, preferably with the help of a vise.  Our railing systems are used on exterior stairs all over North America, on homes that are 300 years old, on new construction, by do-it-yourselfers, by large professional construction companies, and on a million different styles of homes.  As you can imagine, there are as many of stair slope angles as there are variations of porches.  This is why we keep it simple: just bend the brackets to fit your stair slope.  It’s that easy!

Why are the Railing Systems only offered in Cedar?
Port Orford Cedar is the very best wood for making exterior porch railing.  And we make such a large quantity of it in Cedar that there is no cost savings to switch to another wood.  It also allows us to further control costs by keeping with just one railing wood to inventory.  So, if the cost is the same, why not go with the best wood species?

Should I use sloped bottom rail on the stairs/for stair railing?
The idea behind the sloped bottom rail is that it sheds water and therefore prevents rot at the base of the spindles.  On the stairs, it is not required because the rail slopes down anyway.  However, we recommend staying consistent with all your bottom rail because it looks better to do so, and there certainly is no harm in using the sloped bottom rail on the stairs.  So if you are choosing to use sloped bottom rail on the rest of your porch railing, we recommend you also use it on the stair rails.  You will need to cut a compound notch in the bottoms of the spindles on site, which is explained below.

How do I notch the bottom of the spindles for a stair railing?
You’ll need to cut a compound angle in the bottom of the spindle.  This is much easier than it sounds.  You’ll need a table saw with a tilting blade and a miter gauge to use with slot in the table of the table saw.  Simply tilt your table saw blade to 15 degrees.  Place your miter gauge on the table saw and set it to the same angle as your stair rail.  Starting with a scrap piece of the same width as your spindle, cut a “test spindle” and fit it to your rail.  It may take 3 or 4 tries to get the angle and length just exactly right, which is why we recommend using scrap pieces first.


Still have questions?  Email us at [email protected] or call 888-459-9965 and we’ll be glad to help with your project.