The most important visual aspect of any deck or stairs is the railing. This is the part that will be most noticeable and requires the most attention. There are many types of materials you can use for railings, such as treated wood, glass or aluminum balusters.

Wood is the cheapest option by far but requires more maintenance throughout the years. Glass paned rails are much more expensive, are usually installed by a professional, and do require minor maintenance on a routine basis to keep the glass clear of debris.

Therefore aluminum balusters are a good compromise if you are looking for something more durable, more elegant than wood, and less expensive than iron posts and glass paned railing.

Benefits  of Aluminum Balusters:

  • Affordable
  • Easy to install on your own
  • Gives a high end look without breaking the bank
  • Requires virtually no maintenance

Three years ago, I looked into ways to upgrade the deck railings on the deck I had built back in Wood Baluster2005.

Initially I had gone with traditional pressure treated wood balusters that you see on most homes, particularly builder packages on new homes. If you have not noticed, builders tend to put the cheapest options in all of their homes.

After doing research, I decided on black aluminum balusters, but I knew that would require essentially tearing down the old railings and starting from scratch by repositioning vertical posts to get the correct “run length” between each. I will admit, when I first built the deck, it was my first time building anything like that, so by the time I got to the railing, I just wanted to get it over with, so I cut corners.

However, this time I was determined to do it right and make it look even better.

Designing the Railing

Aluminum Balusters

The first thing I did was map out the deck on paper with the appropriate dimensions. Then I divided up the length making each “run” between vertical posts no more than 5 feet. Anything more than that is not recommended because it can affect the stability of the railing (they will bounce) and the strength of the railing. The last thing you want is to have people over and someone lean on the railing and it give way and they fall off the deck.

So after taking measurements, I determined how many black balusters I would need. Since they come in packs of 10 each, I went to the local home improvement store and bought 10 packs initially figuring that I would probably need more later. But at roughly $24 a box, I decided to spread the hit to my credit card out a bit.

From my calculations, I determined that each 5 foot run would require roughly 13 rods to make it to the next vertical support post. I came to that conclusion by calculation dividing 60 inches (5 feet) by 4.5 inches. In most areas, the code states that you are not allowed to have railing gaps of more than 4 inches to prevent children from getting their heads stuck in between them. So by dividing by 4.5, I was allowing for the space that would be taken up by the baluster itself.

If you do not allow for that, your calculations will be wrong and when you get to one end, you will have a smaller or larger gap between the last baluster and the vertical post, and it will be noticeable.


Deckorators 95821 26-Inch Estate Baluster, Black, 10-Pack
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Installing the Round Aluminum Balusters

First of all, I am going to tell you the method I used to build this new black aluminum rail, then I will tell you about a more expensive, but easier way to do the job.

I chose the method I felt gave the railing more stability and strength. The process involved laying out 2 of the 2x4 railings side-by-side, cut to 5 feet and clamping them together.

At this point, I measured and marked each 2x4 at 4 ½ inches.

I drilled holes into each 2x4 at the each mark with a ½ wood boring bit in my drill. I drilled into the wood approximately an inch, although I will admit, I did eyeball it. However, you want to drill at least a half inch in because this hole will be the only thing holding the rod in place. The important thing is to make sure you align the top and bottom board accurately or the balusters will line up slanted when you put the two piece together.

Before putting the aluminum balusters in place in each hole, use a brush and apply some sealant to the hole you just created. You should already be using pressure treated wood of course, however, when you drill in the wood, you need to reseal it because the treatment from the factory does not absorb all the way through the wood. So exposing that virgin wood underneath will be susceptible to rot if not retreated with sealant.

At this point:

  1. Slide all of the aluminum balusters into the lower railing.
  2. Makes sure each is in tightly by twisting it a bit.
  3. Cap off the exposed rods with the top railing.
  4. Press tightly together and attach the combined assembly to each side of the vertical support posts.
  5. Top off the railing with a 2x4 cut to 5 feet across which will act as a top plate and add more stability to the railing


You could attach each 2x4 railing to the vertical posts before inserting the balusters, then drill all the way through each top rail, and simply drop the rod down through the side end of the 2x4 and let it rest in the 1 inch hole on the bottom plate. Either method is acceptable, although some people this method easier particularly if working alone.

Deckorators 74815 Baluster Connector with Screws, Black, 20-Pack
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Alternative Method Using Deckorator Connectors

The other method is to use Deckorator connectors  on the top and bottom of each 2x4 railing, spaced appropriately of course, then slide each classic aluminum baluster over the connector for a clean, polished look.

Again, measuring appropriately between each rod is critical, else you will end up with one that is obviously leaning left or right, and that will throw off the rest of them and look terrible.

Measuring and then screwing each Deckorator connector into the wood can be slow and so you may want to create something called a jig to speed up the process. It will require a little effort up front, but after it is created, then each successive rail will be built in much less time using the jig.

Railing Connectors by DECKORATORS Black 2/pk [CAPITOL CITY LUMBER]
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Jig for Stair Railing

A jig can be made for the stair rail to make installation go a little faster. Although the stairs on each deck will vary depending on the height off the ground, most stairs typically have a 10-inch run and a 7 1/2-inch rise. By run, I mean the platform that you step on, and by rise, the height of each stair before the next run.  

The important part about making a jig for stairs is to determine the appropriate angle, normally around 35 degrees, from the top post down to the ground. If you are using the Deckorator connectors made for stairs, these work best on that type of angle.

The holes on each 2x4 (for the top and bottom rail) are drilled at a 35-degree angle spaced at 5 ½ inches. The reason you drill them at 5 ½ inches instead of 4 ½ like the normal railing is because you are measuring on the stair’s rake angle which at that spacing, will make each rod 4 inches apart just like the deck railing above.

The stair jig works best if you clamp it down first .

Final Thoughts

Aluminum Baluster Deck Railing

So how much did this upgrade cost?

My deck is a 12 ft x 22 ft and the total cost to do the deck and stair railing was $638.20. That includes a 7% sales tax.

I should point out that if you are interested in these types of aluminum balusters, they do have the kind that screws into the side of lower and upper railing. That makes them much easier to install because there is no need to bore out any holes.

However, measuring is critical and there is less strength in that design in my opinion. And here is the finished product.

Overall, I am very pleased with the upgrade. It looks much better than stained wood and it is much easier to maintain. And the best part, no more staining each individual wood baluster anymore every couple of years.