Grandpa Builds A Handrail

(My latest attempt to explain old timey carpentry balustrade layout techniques)

You young whippersnappers don’t know how good you’ve got it!

Grandpa did not have a tape measure to build stuff and he sure did not have a calculator- he had sticks!

And with nothing more than sticks-long sticks, short sticks, small sticks he could build a perfect handrail!

The Technique:

Before you do anything you’ve got to make a paper plan to show you where to put the pickets!

See, a handrail has pickets or upright sticks or spindles to fill the space between the posts. They’re called balusters in the jargon of the vernacular.

Say you have two posts that need a handrail to keep Grandma from falling off the porch when she waters her plants.

You take a long stick and make a mark at the two posts!

If you draw out a line on some paper or slab board or something you can use the stick to mark the line!

Now the important part.

You must take half the thickness of one picket or baluster or upright stick –whatever you call it and add it to each of the end marks of the post line!!

This is the length you will measure out to build the handrail!

Give it a name. Call it the mainline or master line!

Now the measuring part! Draw a second line at ANY angle to the first line!

Take one of your small sticks and use it to break up the angled line into the number of pickets that fit between the posts.

If you have six pickets you will have seven marks.

Give this line a name. Call it angled line number # 1!

Now comes a tricky part.

From the first point on the Master LINE to the last mark on ANGLED LINE #1 make a stick with a hole and notch that exact length. SEE???

Now comes another tricky part.

Make a small stick with a hole and notch the exact distance between the last mark on the angle line # 1 and the end of the Master LINE.

These two sticks will help you make the EXACT same angle line underneath your mainline.

Watch……… You got your long stick from Angle line #1 to leave a curve down by the first mark on the Masterline! You got your small stick to leave another curve down by the first mark on the Mainline. The two curves cross each other! Now you can draw a bottom angle line exactly the same as the top angle line #1. Pretty slick huh??

You can give this line another fancy name:Angle Line #2!!!

Now take your small stick and divide Angle line #2 up into the same number of pieces as you did Angle line #1.

If you connect the marks from Angle line #2 with the marks from Angle line #1 the point where they cross the Masterline is EXACTLY where your pickets or balusters or upright sticks will go to make a perfect handrail!!!


Old Grandpa was a pretty smart cookie even if he did not have any fancy calculators or tape measures to do his thinking for him. He just took help from an Ancient Greek Mathematician named Euclid to show him how to use some scrap wood sticks to build things.

To see a classroom demonstration of this technique click link here for a terrific animation.


For my other shorter version of this project go visit here:



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