When my friend bought his A-frame home in the woods there was a lot to work to do. The house needed remodeling and the land needed some clearing. He decided to kill two birds with one stone, and after some tree cutting, debarking, and trimming, he became the proud owner of all-wood railings both inside his home and on the deck. The top and bottom rails are the debarked trunks of young trees, and the balusters are made from their branches with the bark left on. It's a unique rustic railing idea that matches my friend's style and personality well. At one point there was a brief plague of ricocheting click beetles that he decided was the result of leaving the bark on the balusters, but the beetles are harmless and they soon cleared out.
This was just one of the quirks of my friend's railings; other, more serious, problems included balusters slipping loose and splinters. When you're a bachelor, these quirks are charming. When you're a father, they're a source of constant worry. While he was proud of his railings and loved the look, he decided that for safety's sake he needed to choose sturdy railings over pride. As my friend soon found out, it's possible to find carefully engineered railings made by a manufacturer that have a rustic look-or can be given a rustic look with some minor adjustments.
What Is the Rustic Style?
My friend's railings are an example of rustic-style decor, which emphasizes not so much roughness as simplicity. It's a style largely defined by organic forms, natural materials, and a contrast between the worked and the unworked. This is a good fit for a man who loves the outdoors, but still needs to make a living while keeping his family comfortable and happy with all the modern conveniences.
Rustic Railing Ideas
When it comes to railings, the rustic style can mean different things to different people.
To some, the emphasis is on organic forms like my friend's home-built natural railings. Others emphasize solidness with broad, hefty timbers left with a rough grain. Still others use industrial metal accents that set off the softer tones of the wood. There are advantage and disadvantages to each approach. Here are some common options for rustic deck or porch railings:
- Natural railings are wooden railings, like my friend's, that emphasize their natural origins with intact bark and minimal shaping. They can also be made of reclaimed or discarded wood. The drawback to these natural tree branch railings is that if you lack the skills to work with wood, or if it's a freshman effort, you may be stuck with inadequate railings for a long time. They can also provide a vector for pests like termites, beetles, or carpenter bees to enter your home since discarded wood may not be treated.
- Timber railings are usually home-built railings that use hefty, 4-inch wide or greater rough-finished timbers with equally hefty cross-members working as balusters. These are generally made of treated lumber, so they have no pest issues. As with natural railings, they have the disadvantage of requiring some skills to create, but because the wood used is in standard dimensions and is fairly uniform, the skill level necessary to build them isn’t that great. One drawback is the extra weight of these chunky railings, which may require reinforced support beneath the posts. These railings are also prone to all the issues that wood has, like rot, splitting, splintering, and fading.
- Metal railings come in a variety of shapes and forms. They can be ornamented, twisted wrought iron-look railings, or they can be simple round or square balusters in a pre-welded, solid steel frame. To give them a more rustic look, metal railings can be combined with wood, either by adding a wood handrail to a pre-welded steel panel, or by inserting metal balusters into wooden top and bottom rails.
The aesthetics of each of these choices are very different. Natural-style railings tend to work best with a certain look that is heavy on wood-I call it the 'mountain cabin' style of decorating. Full timber railings, metal, and metal with wood railings can be used in almost any style of home, and the choice comes down to aesthetic and maintenance preferences.
How to Upgrade a Railing While Keeping the Rustic Style
For my friend, replacing his railings came down to what could be used to create a distinctive, safe railing without too much skill. The answer for him was to reuse his existing, debarked top and bottom rails and combine those with metal balusters. He wanted something with a touch of ornamentation, so he chose balusters with a basket detail. The big issue that he'd had with his wood branch railings was mounting the balusters.
This time, though, replacing the wood balusters with metal ones was simply a matter of taking down the railings, removing the old balusters, and then attaching 'shoes' to the rails with screws, making sure to place the rails side by side so the placement would match. For the stair railings, he used special angled shoes, again making sure that the mounts were in the same place on each rail. From there, it was a simple matter of sliding the balusters into the shoes. It took him less than a day, and when everything was done, the new railings resisted a basketball hurled by an eight-year-old without damage. My friend found that his new metal balusters were much sturdier and better looking than his old ones, and putting them together was so easy he was left wondering why he'd put it off for so long.
Finding Practical and Sturdy Rustic Railings
The rustic style is well suited to varying tastes and skill levels, and rustic railings don't have to be entirely handmade, as my friend learned. An easy option is to use pre-fabricated sections of railings that are cut to length. To give these a rustic feel, it's simple to add a wood cap to the top rail, or to attach the metal panels to wooden posts.
It's important to keep in mind, though, that not all railing systems are the same. My friend's experience was painless because of the thorough engineering by the manufacturer, but not all railings have the same thought put into them. Fortunately, once bitten is twice shy, and my friend bought his new balusters from Fortress Railing, which he trusted to go the distance when it came to making railings that would last.
My friend chose the Mega balusters, which are individual balusters available in different shapes and finishes. One thing all Fortress' railings and railing parts have in common is that they're tough, made with multiple coating layers that keep them from rusting, fading, or peeling. They part of a family of railings from Fortress Building Products, whose other offerings include decking and fencing.