How to Build Code Compliant Deck Railing – Part 2

The 2×2 pickets (also called balusters) are cut and installed to complete the new deck rail. This project is continued from How to Build Code Compliant Deck Railing – Part 1. Also see How to Repair a Sagging Wood Deck for the project series introduction.

How to Build Code Compliant Deck Railing – Part 2

I purchased 2×2 inch by 8 feet long #2 grade pressure treated Southern Yellow Pine lumber, measured and sawed the pickets. The pickets are cut to span the distance from the 2×4 top rail to the 2×4 bottom rail with a 25 degree angle bottom cut for a drip-edge. My DeWALT miter saw was ideal for fast and precise cuts. Each picket is fastened with four (4) Simpson Strong-Tie SD #9 x 2-1/2 hex screws, which exceeds the #8 screw deck code requirement. This design complies with the Georgia Amendments Prescriptive Deck Details based on the 2012 International Residential Code per Figure 27 “Typical Guard Detail” on page 15. I prefer screws instead of nails because screws hold better than nails and can be easily removed to replace a picket.

Wood Deck Rail with Pickets Profile Drawing

Wood Deck Rail with Pickets Profile Drawing

I chose to mount the pickets outside the rail for a smooth and nicer looking rail.

Simpson SD #9 x 2-1/2 compared to #8 x 2-1/2 Wood Screws

The galvanized Simpson Strong Drive (SD) #9 x 2-1/2 inch hex head screw embeds equally deep in the wood as a #8 x 2-1/2 exterior wood screw. The SD screw is better for fastening 2×4 rails and pickets owing to the flat hex head which won’t push apart the wood like the bugle head #8 wood screw:

Build Deck Rail - #8 Deck Screw compared to Simpson Strong Drive SD #9 x 2-1/2 Hex Screw

Build Deck Rail – #8 Deck Screw compared to Simpson Strong Drive SD #9 x 2-1/2 Hex Screw

I do install the #8 wood screws when the screw head needs to be even with the wood surface, for example in the 2×6 cap rail and 5/4 deck boards.

The SD #9 screws are easy to drive and hold firmly with a magnetic 1/4 inch hex drive. Not having to hold the screw in your fingers is highly convenient when leaning outside the deck rail and hanging on with the other hand.

Simpson Strong-Tie SD #9 x 2-1/2 in Screw with Malco Magnetic Hex Drive Bit

Simpson Strong-Tie SD #9 x 2-1/2 in Screw with Malco Magnetic Hex Drive Bit

The 2-1/2 inch SD #9 screw is ideal for fastening 2x lumber without under- or over penetration:

Build Deck Rail - Fasten Pickets with Simpson SD #9 x 2-1/2 Screw

Build Deck Rail – Fasten Pickets with Simpson SD #9 x 2-1/2 Screw


Install the Deck Rail 2×2 Pickets

I drilled 1/8 inch strain relief holes for each screw to prevent cracking or splitting the pickets.

The deck code requires the pickets to be spaced such that:

“openings shall not allow the passage of a 4 inch diameter sphere; wet lumber must be spaced such that when shrinkage occurs, the maximum opening is maintained”

A kiln dried 2×4 block is ideal for spacing the pickets with 3-1/2 inch openings. Check each picket for plumb with a level, then fasten with four screws. I set the pickets tight against the block – which holding the block here:

Build Deck Rail - Install 2x2 Pickets with 2x4 Spacer Block

Build Deck Rail – Install 2×2 Pickets with 2×4 Spacer Block

When installing pickets next to a 4×4 guard post, one side may have an opening less than 3.5 inches and that’s OK per the deck code requirements. Resume the 3.5 inch spacing between pickets on the other side of the post:

Build Deck Rail - Install 2x2 Pickets

Build Deck Rail – Install 2×2 Pickets

View of the installed pickets. A couple of the SD #9 screws drove a little below the face of the picket because some pickets were softer than others. I had to adjust the torque on my cordless drill to prevent over driving. This photo was taken after a 2nd coat of redwood stain toner:

Build Deck Rail - 2x2 Pickets Detail

Build Deck Rail – 2×2 Pickets Detail

Deck corner construction closeup. Take care the space between the pickets at the corner is less than 4 inches wide:

Build Wood Deck Rail - Outside Corner Construction Detail

Build Wood Deck Rail – Outside Corner Construction Detail

The rebuilt deck rail. A plus for the new deck rail is the leaves go under the rail instead getting caught against the pickets like they did with the old rail when using the leaf blower:

Build Deck Rail - Finished Rail

Build Deck Rail – Finished Rail

I’ll rebuild the rest of the deck rail to match the new rail after replacing those deck boards that are incorrectly installed parallel to- instead of across the joists.

I’m back to working on the new 6×6 deck post in How to Install Deck Post Knee Braces.

Thanks for reading,

Bob Jackson

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9 Responses to How to Build Code Compliant Deck Railing – Part 2

  1. Tommy February 18, 2016 at 8:43 am #

    Hey Bob! This is an epic guide! Thanks for posting. I’ve got to do basically the same thing and this will be tremendously valuable. I was wondering, do you have a ball park estimate on how much per linear foot the completed railing ended up costing?

    • Bob Jackson February 20, 2016 at 10:54 am #

      About $16 per foot for lumber and hardware only. Add another $50 for 1 gallon of premium quality deck stain to the material total cost.

      This summary is based on #2 Pressure Treated (#2 PT) lumber needed for a 12 foot rail:

      Deck Rail Material Cost per Foot Estimate

      The 1/2 inch galvanized bolts, washer and nuts for fastening the 4×4 guard posts are sold as individual pieces if you don’t need a whole box.

  2. Phil Boyer May 18, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

    Bob unless I missed it, how far is the bottom 2×4 off the deck before you put on the ballusters? Thanks Phil B.

    • Bob Jackson May 18, 2016 at 7:03 pm #

      I see now that I didn’t call out the “bottom rail to deck” dimension in the rail profile diagrams. I’ll update the diagrams. The drawing has been updated.

      The deck code states:

      “openings shall not allow the passage of a 4″ diameter sphere; wet lumber must be spaced such that when shrinkage occurs, the maximum opening is maintained”

      The dimension is illustrated in the Georgia Amendments Prescriptive Deck Details based on the 2012 International Residential Code per Figure 27 “Typical Guard Detail” on page 15. (Although this is the State of Georgia deck code it’s the same with every other State and City code because they’re all based on the International Residential Code.)

      Thus the maximum distance from the finished deck surface to the bottom rail is 4 inches. I build my bottom rail by resting it on two kiln dried 2×4 blocks laid on edge on the deck boards. This establishes the bottom rail height at 3-1/2 inches above the deck which is less than the maximum 4 inch opening with up to 1/2 inch for possible shrinkage. Then I fasten the bottom rail to the deck posts and pull out the 2×4 blocks.

      Thanks for asking!
      Bob

      • Phil Boyer May 20, 2016 at 9:24 pm #

        Thanks Bob for the update.

  3. M Hanna May 22, 2016 at 7:20 pm #

    A very resourceful guide, much appreciated! I’ve just begun upgrading my 15+ yo deck and basically following as much as this as is appropriate in my circumstances. The redwood toner looks great too. What brand did you use?

    • Bob Jackson May 23, 2016 at 7:42 pm #

      It’s Sherwin Williams Deckscape Exterior Oil Toner Stain in the Redwood color. It’s still listed online but no longer available at my local Sherwin Williams store. They said it’s been discontinued and replaced by the SuperDeck product line.

      The problem I’ve had with the Deckscape Redwood toner is it rapidly darkens after a couple of years probably due to the suns UV rays. I need to show pictures to the Sherwin Williams people to see what they recommend. Deck stains range in pigmentation content from: Clear, Toner, Semi-Transparent and Solid Color. Toner is semi-clear and only partially blocks the UV rays. I’m thinking to maintain the original color they’ll probably recommend a semi-transparent or solid color stain.

      BTW – the new railing and original deck boards were sealed with the Deckscape Redwood toner. When I bought the house the deck boards were weathered and gray having never been sealed. The open pores in the weathered boards soaked up a *lot* of the Redwood toner causing it to look more like a Mahogany color as in this photo. If you have weathered boards best to coat it with a clear sealer then apply the color stain.

  4. Reid June 1, 2016 at 6:57 pm #

    Bob, great write up. I’m in Georgia too, up in Woodstock. I’m am going to need to do a complete tear down and rebuild of my deck due to 2 of the 3 6×6 post warping and pull away the facia boards.

    My old posts are built in my patio slab like yours, but I was thinking about just cutting the posts off at patio level and digging new holes at the edge of the patio using the Quikcrete cylinder concrete barrels and squaring off the top to match the patio. Now as long as I go deep enough and add rebar, I should be ok, right? My old deck is put together with penny nails and its loose and in dire need of replacement(after 19 years).

    Are the Simpson brackets the best way to go or should I consider lag bolts or carriage bolts to tie the joists into the post at the top? Also, any suggestions for wanting to rainproof the patio by putting in an under patio roof?

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