DIY Network

How to Install a Cable-and-Rail Framing System

Weekend Handyman host Paul Ryan demonstrates how to install a metal cable-and-rail framing system after removing an old knee wall.

More in Remodeling

install metal cable and rail framing system
  • Time

    Several Weekends

  • Price Range

    $2,500 - $5,000

  • Difficulty



Step 1: Purchase the Rail Frame

This was not a one-stop shopping experience to put this unique stairway together. The stainless steel cable and turnbuckles were purchased from one company and the frame was fabricated at another company. The homeowner went with a metal frame, and once our host, Paul Ryan, came up with the dimensions the fabricator made a cad drawing, got approval from the homeowners and fabricated the frame.

Safety Alert: Any time you put up a stair-rail system, there are safety and code considerations. Be sure to talk with a professional before installation begins to make sure all safety codes will be met.

make drawing of rail frame based on dimensions

Step 2: Secure the Frame

Put the railing frame in place and measure to ensure it's centered and plumb.

Mark for holes and then pre-drill the pilot holes and finally secure the frame to the wall and floor with 3" stainless steel screws.

secure the frame

Step 3: Measure and Cut the Cables

Note: This particular system consists of a cable, a couple of turnbuckles and a fastening device (Image 1). The cable itself is 3/16" — the most popular residential choice. All the ends of the cable terminated inside the turnbuckle, which gives a nice streamline look. Know that there are several options available for this type of project.

Measure for the cable length by extending the turnbuckle all the way open (Image 2) until the "set" screw stops you. The correct length is from the end of the turnbuckle to the beginning of the flare on the terminal end. The turnbuckle goes into the crimp 2", so be sure to add that 2" to the measurement for the proper length of cables.

Cut the cables to length with a sharp cable cutter.

Tip: It's vital that the cable cutter blade be sharp. It's difficult to fish the cables through the holes if the ends are frayed.

Step 4: Attach the Turnbuckle

Slide the retaining cap and crimping sleeve on the end of the cable (Image 1). Crimp three times and attach the turnbuckle.

Tip: When crimping the sleeve, alternate the direction of the middle crimp to prevent the fitting from distorting.

Attach the fitting to the opposite end of the cable and crimp in place.

Secure the end fitting by placing the clevis pin through the hole and securing it with a a ring pin (Image 2).

Screw on the turnbuckle and insert the clevis pin through the hole to attach the turnbuckle.

Step 5: Finish Building the Cables

Build all cables from the top down.

To tighten the cables, first attach a padded vice grip to keep the cable from rotating. Then tighten the turnbuckle with a small Phillips-head screwdriver.

Note: International building code calls for no more than a 4" gap in any railing, so make sure your cables are snug and tight.

In fact, check the gauge to make sure the tension is at 350 pounds.