Toddler stair handrail for a deck

We have a raised deck behind the house with a set of concrete steps down to a patio. It's not a practical place to put baby gates on both ends of the stairs, and even if did, we probably wouldn't be vigilant enough to always close them. So we tend to follow our nearly two year old up and down the steps and get him to hold the railing.

But the big square spindles aren't really good for him to hold on to, and the main railing is too high.

So I wanted to make a handrail at toddler height that is easy to grip.

My first thought was to just attach a thin piece of wood to the railings, but that would make it impossible to put the fingers around where the spindles are, especially with the spindles so close together.

My next thought was to put some blocks behind the railing for just a few of the spindles, but that still leaves spots where the mounts interfere, and it also seemed inelegant and more work.

So I figured a railing that had a rabbet cut out for little fingers to reach around even where the spindles are. Ideally, I would be able to cut two pieces out of a 2x4 like this. Except that cut is physically impossible to make.

So instead I decided to cut the rabbets at the end, and then cut it down the middle at an angle to make better use of the material, because I only had the one cedar 2x4 at hand at the moment.

I cut the rabbet with two cuts on the table saw from different directions, on both edges of the 2x4.

Then I had the idea that the handrail would be more effective if there was a bit of a ridge for little fingers to hook into on the back side.

I did this by making a cove cut on the table saw, by passing the wood over the blade at an angle.

It would have been better to tilt the blade a bit, which would have allowed me to cut the cove without cutting into the other edge of the rabbet, but by the time I realized this, I already had everything set up, and the way the blade tilts, doing that blade-tilted cove so the blade tilts into the rabbet instead of away from it would have been a different, more complicated set-up.

After that I tilted the blade 30 degrees and ripped the rail down the middle.

Then sanding all the edges to reduce the chance of little ones getting slivers. Sanding it also makes it feel nicer to touch, which increases the odds that it will be used.

The inside cove had to be sanded by hand, unfortunately.

I drilled pilot holes in the rail to avoid splitting it before attaching it with deck screws.

And here's the little one using the handrail. Success!

See also:

More home improvement projects on my woodworking website.