I know its been a minute since we installed our DIY Cable Railing, and you all have been patiently waiting for the full tutorial. I have received so many comments and DMs on Instagram asking for more details and you know I will never leave you hanging! I do this to inspire you to take the first step toward a home that you love and nothing brings me more joy then when you share your builds and projects that I inspired! So today is the day, the DIY Cable Railing Full Tutorial! If you tackle this project, be sure to tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #garrisonstreetrailing. Now who is ready to get started?
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First things first. Before you swap out a railing, you should check with your local municipal building code requirements on railings. You should also note, I am not a licensed contractor, just a creative homeowner. All projects are at your own risk. If you have concerns about a project or build, you should contact a licensed professional.
DIY Cable Railing Supplies
In order to DIY a cable railing like ours, you will need the following items. Not every railing is going to be exactly the same and some modifications may need to be made to accommodate your situation.
All lumber sizes are noted as common sizes in inches x inches x feet
Newel Post Installation Kit
2×3 pieces of wood
1×3 pieces of wood
12in Sliding Miter Saw
Miter Saw Stand (optional)
#8 2in construction screws
Black Paint (Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black)
Black Spray Paint
Impact Driver and Drill
Pivot Driver Bit
Rigid Multi Tool
Kreg Jig 2.5 inch Screws
24 inch Level
48 inch Level
NOTE – If you do not have a miter saw or a table saw, your local Home Depot or Lowes can make your lumber cuts for you.
Know before you build
If you are not an experienced builder you may not be that familiar with wood sizing. Common wood sizes such as a 2×4 are not actually 2 inches by 4 inches, they are 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches. If you choose to build the railing with different dimensions or pieces of wood, you will need to account for this. Always double check the actual dimensions of your lumber before making cuts.
DIY Cable Railing Full Tutorial
Ok, before I show you how to install your own cable railing, I have to show you what we started with. When we first bought the house this was the view from the family room into the kitchen.
And this was the view from the kitchen. Not exactly inspiring.
After many updates, this is what the space looked like when we started the One Room Challenge in the fall, right before we installed the cable railing.
DEMO DAY! There is nothing more therapeutic than breaking things, I must admit! But be careful before you demo. This isn’t HGTV and we actually have to fix things we break so make sure you know where all the electrical and plumbing is in your house before you tear down a wall. We knew this half wall did not have any plumbing, electrical, or ducts before we started. If you are dealing with an existing railing, this shouldn’t be a problem.
We started by clearing out the furniture and raising the chandelier so no one hit their head. Then we removed the glass blocks on top of the wall. They were actually only held in place with caulk and the wood on top. A good score with the utility knife and the wood on top came right off.
We then removed the drywall from the half wall from the kitchen side using a utility knife and prybar. We used the utility knife to score the corners and pried it back from the studs with the prybar. In the corner next to the built-ins we had to be very careful not to rip off the drywall that was staying. I highly recommend laying down blankets and a drop cloth to protect your floors and provide easier clean up as it is quite messy.
Next, we cut the drywall from the kitchen side with our multi tool running it along the top edge of the 2×4 on the floor that framed the half wall.
This way we could see where to cut from the family room side without going too far.
We then used a drywall knife to cut the drywall from the family room side of the wall. After the fact, we realized we could have bought a drywall blade for our multi tool and sped up the process a bit. Luckily, this half wall was not original and there was already a seam where we needed to cut the drywall.
Then we removed the drywall from the family room side of the wall the same way we did above but being extra careful not to damage the drywall that was not being removed. You will need to touch up your paint at a minimum though.
It was already looking SO much better, don’t you think? The next step was removing the 2×4 studs. Most of these were secured to each other with screws and it was just a matter of removing them all. We did go through the trouble of disassembling them and added the scraps to our wood pile.
Prep. With the wall gone, there was a gap between where the floor ended and the wall ended since the wood floors were laid after the wall was built. The floor side closest to the family room was not straight and needed to be trimmed down before we could start on the cable railing.
I used the 48″ level to draw a straight line so we knew where to cut the floor back to. Barry used our Dremel Saw-Max to cut this. Because the blade height is adjustable, we were able to trim the floor back without cutting through the sub floor.
Luckily, we were able to save the finished pieces of wood from the top of the old wall and reuse them for the base of the railing. Since they were in good condition and already the correct size, all I had to do was paint them black.
Prep the railing components. Our railing is made completely of wood, with the exception of the cables and the intermediate pickets. So all the pieces needed to be painted. I felt this would be easier to do prior to installation. I used Sherwin Williams Tricorn black for all the wood including the top and bottom rails which we made from 2x3s.
I also spray painted the intermediate pickets because I could not find them anywhere in black.
Because they came with specialty screws, I also sprayed those black as well. You just want to make sure you don’t let paint pool in the screw heads. To make this easier, I screwed them into a piece of scrap wood to hold them upright.
Frame out the railing. Since we did not have an existing railing, we had to build ours from scratch. I wanted a clean modern feel so I chose these plain newel posts for the two freestanding posts. For the end closest to the wall, we used another finished piece we salvaged from the original half wall. If you have an existing railing with curvy newel posts, you might be able to build a sleeve around yours so you don’t have to install new posts.
To attach our newel posts we used this kit. But first, we determined how tall the top rail should be. We built our railing so the top rail measures 36 inches from the floor, which meets international building code. Many municipalities follow IBC, but be sure to check with yours before you build. Since the post needed to be taller than the top rail, we decided on 39 inches and cut the posts down to size with our miter saw.
We marked where the newel posts would sit and made sure they were centered from all sides. Then we drove a screw through the middle to secure the base piece of wood to the sub floor. For this to work, the screw needs to be counter sunk or the post will not sit flat.
Then we put the newel post back in place and marked where the brackets would go for the installation kit.
We predrilled the holes for the brackets so we wouldn’t split any of the wood. I HIGHLY recommend predrilling!
Then we secured the newel posts in place with the impact driver and this bendy bit. Because you don’t have a ton of space to work with, you won’t be able to get a normal bit in there to attach the bottom screws. Also, because its a tight fit, we taped a piece of cardboard to the post to protect the wood.
***A side note, we did not glue the newel posts to the base before attaching the brackets, but in hindsight, it couldn’t hurt and I think I would do this. Wood glue or a construction adhesive would do the trick.
Next, we attached the top and bottom rails. We chose 2x3s for this because I had a hard time finding modern handrails that were simple and square. We used the Kreg Jig to make pocket holes on the under side of each rail. I find that the blue Kreg Jig screws are easier to use than the metal ones.
I am not going to lie, attaching the bottom rail was a bit of a challenge because of the limited amount of space. We ultimately ended up using pocket hole plugs to hide the holes. So if you feel confident in your finishing skills, you could install the bottom rail with the pocket holes facing up to make it easier. I personally didn’t want to risk them being noticeable so we attached ours from underneath.
Once the top and bottom rails were in place, we cut the 1st intermediate picket to fit. They come in lengths of 42 inches and you will need to cut them down to the appropriate size. We cut ours with our miter saw and a fine finish blade. Make sure you leave the same amount of space on each end when you cut the picket or the cable spacing will be off. We have three pickets each spaced 30 inches apart. They are needed every 36 inches of cable railing.
We predrilled the holes to attach the picket to the top and bottom rail so the wood didn’t split.
Then we moved to the larger section of cable railing and attached the top and bottom rails. We attached these the same way we did above, but you will need to make sure they are level with the first section. It WILL be noticeable if they are not because the cable lines will not match up in the corner. We used multiple levels for this and the scientific tape method, lol!
This part will seem tedious, but rust me, it’s worth it! You don’t want your finished cable railing to look wonky. Be sure you have your rails level BEFORE you drill them in. This part is definitely a two person job especially with a long stretch like this. We used several scrap pieces of wood to assist in holding everything in place as well as some tape.
Cable railing prep. The newel posts we used measured 3.25 inches square. The lag screws we used are 4 inches long, 2 of which need to be completely screwed in. This left us with a dilemma since we have a corner in which two sets of screws would intersect. 2+2 = 4. Our post was only 3.25. So we needed to add some extra depth to our posts. If you do not have a corner where two sides meet or the actual measurements of your newel posts are greater than 4×4, you can skip this part.
To solve this problem, we added a small strip on each end, including the end on the wall to make it uniform. We cut this strip from a 1×3 that we ripped in half with our table saw. This gave us an extra 0.75 inches on each post. Technically, only the corner post needed this, but we wanted them to all look the same.
Before attaching the extra strip of wood, I used a piece of painters tape to mark where I would need to drill the holes for the lag screws. To do this, lay a piece of tape on the intermediate picket on one of the sides where the holes are and poke a pencil through the holes.
Then slowly remove the tape so it doesn’t rip and lay it on the extra strip of wood. You want this to be as centered as possible and the top and bottom of the tape line up. But make sure you account for the bracket on the top and bottom of the picket and leave some space. Once the tape is lined up, mark the holes for the cables. I used a chalk pencil so I would be able to see the marks on the black paint.
Then we used the nail gun to attach the strip of wood to the newel post, placing the nails in between where the lag screws will go for the cable railing. DO NOT nail where the lag screws need to go. Even if your posts do not require the extra piece of wood, I HIGHLY recommend marking the location of the lag screws on your posts in this manner because it is very important that all the cables line up.
Cable installation. The exciting part! For this part you will need the cable and the lag screws. I chose to buy more than we needed since we had never done this before. I wanted to have extras in case we messed up and I definitely needed that 😉 I also plan to install a cable railing at my mom’s house in the future, so I can use any excess there.
Since all the holes were marked in step 4, you can now predrill for the lag screws. I HIGHLY recommend predrilling so you do not split your wood. The lag screws come with a drill bit meant for drilling the holes BUT I recommend using a much smaller bit to start your holes. The larger the drill bit the more difficult it is to be accurate and since there are 9 holes to drill on each side that all need to line up, precision is important. I started with a 3/32 bit and then came back and made the holes bigger with the bit included. DO NOT make the holes bigger than the bit included.
To attach the lag screws, I used the drill. I inserted the lag screws into the drill just like a bit with the pointy side out. NOTE, there are left and right screws. DO NOT get them mixed up. You must use one of each for each run of cable. The right lag screws are “normal” and drill in clockwise. The left lag screws are threaded backwards and need to be screwed in counter clockwise or in reverse with the drill.
I drilled the lag screws in almost all the way leaving about 1/8 of an inch. DO NOT drill in all the way or you won’t be able to tighten your cable. Note, you want these to be as straight as possible when you screw them in so go slow and keep the drill as level as possible.
Once you have a lag screw in on both ends (still not tightened all the way) you can cut your first piece of cable. The cable should be 1.5 inches shorter than the total length. Be very careful when you cut your cable. Wear safety glasses! I have these pink ones 😉 If you cut your cable too long, it will sag and you will not be able to tighten it. String the cable trough the pickets and into the lag screws on the end.
Next, use the hydraulic crimper to crimp the first end of cable into the lag screw. Make sure the cable is pulled tight into the lag screw before you crimp. I tried to crimp all of mine in the same spot with the middle of the crimp about a half inch from the end if the lag screw. I used the number four die on my crimper.
I DO NOT recommend doing this project without the crimper. Not only could your cable railing come loose, but pliers or other tools will scar up the metal and it will not look nice. Read the instructions before using the crimper. It took about 6 pumps before the die were close to the lag and depending on how tight it felt I did one to two crimps per side per cable. To check it, give the cable a strong tug. If it moves, you didn’t crimp it enough.
Once both sides are crimped and the cable is secure, tighten down the lag screws. I am not going to lie, this is the worst part. I looked high and low and made many trips to Home Depot and Lowes, but this 6 inch adjustable wrench was the best tool for the job because of its size. I covered the edges with electrical tape to protect the lag screws and the wood from getting scrapped. You will need to get it around the flat part of the lag at just the right angle to turn the screws.
I had to turn the lags between 4-7 times on each side to fully tighten my cables depending on how far I drilled the lags in. This is why you cannot fully screw in the lags with the drill. The cable rail should have very little give when it is fully tightened. Because space is tight, I HIGHLY recommend starting with the top and bottom cables and working your way in, as the top and bottom are the most difficult to do last. Trust me, I learned this the hard way on the first section of the cable railing.
Repeat this step for all nine cables. You might have more or less cables depending on the height of your railing, but most building codes require horizontal railings be no more than 4 inches apart so children cannot get stuck. Our cables are 3 inches apart.
Finishing touches. After all the cables were in, I went back and filled in all the nail holes and touched up any paint to make the cable railing look polished.
This is also when we attached the trim to the newel posts. We used the nail gun and shot the nails into the seams to hide them as much as possible. Then I filled them and touched up the paint.
Enjoy your new cable railing! This is always my favorite step 😉 And believe me, we are enjoying it! It completely changed our entire main living space and makes everything feel more bright and airy.
What I did wrong and learned
I cut a cable too long. Sadly, I didn’t realize it until both lag screws were all the way tight and the cable was still saggy. This meant I had to cut the cable and those two lag screws were wasted. Lesson learned. Measure twice, cut once, and have extras. I actually found it easier to measure the cable lengths with a sewing tape since its flexible.
I didn’t drive my lags in straight. The more runs of cable you install, the more noticeable this becomes. You can always back them out until the cable has been installed and crimped, but if you drilled the hole crooked, it is harder to fix. I used the speed square to help me keep the lags straight when drilling. Going slower also helps.
Gloves! Handling the cables and tightening them down with the little wrench definitely starts to hurt your hands. So wear some gloves!
Removing the cable packaging. I was so excited to break into the cable and get going that I removed all the cellophane from the spool. BIG mistake. Huge. The cable then unravels out of control making it hard to work with. Trust me, don’t do this.
I can do anything I put my mind to. And so can you! The best thing you can do is arm yourself with knowledge and manage your expectations. This was not done it a day. I managed to run all the cables in a weekend, but the all the demo and building the framing took another week or two.
It truly is incredible how much this small wall changed the entire room!
I have been dreaming about an open view from our kitchen like this one for a long time now! The only regret I have is not installing the cable railing sooner! If you missed the rest of the family room makeover, make sure you check it out! This might just be one of my favorite projects yet 😉
If you enjoyed this DIY Cable Railing Full Tutorial, please share it on Facebook or hover over an image and save to Pinterest! And if you don’t already follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, I would love for us to be friends! Don’t forget to tag me on Instagram and use the hashtag #garrisonstreetrailing if you add this cable railing to your home! I truly LOVE seeing your projects 🙂
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