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Muffler-shop handrail

March 31, 2007

Need a handrail, feeling cheap? Get some help from a custom muffler shop.

We replaced the concrete pad and rusty steel rails at our front door with something better — prettier, less steep stairs, and bench-style sides to sit on. We had to add a handrail to meet the building code, and spent some time trying to figure out something that would not mess up our nice stonework. I had seen mention of using a muffler shop to get metal bent , so we decided to try that.

I had a bender for electrical conduit, so I bought some of that (it’s cheap), and made a prototype. The goal was something that would attach only at the house and the ground, and would be strong enough to not need any connections to the stonework. My conduit was only ten feet long, which was not quite long enough, but it was enough to include all the bendy parts.

I marked each section and bend with what I intended, which was a help, because even though I didn’t quite get the prototype right, the guys at the muffler shop (who are trained professionals) could figure out what I wanted and where the mistakes were, and fixed it. There were three bends — a 30 degree bend to follow the steps down, then a 10 degree bend to put the base outside of the stone walkway, and then a 60 degree bend down to that base. The 10-60 combination, I did not get right, but apparently this is an elementary mistake addressed in MufflerShop 101.

It turns out that the stock length for muffler pipe is ALSO ten feet, so the muffler guys captured all the bendy parts, but I was left with a little more than a foot to finish. This turned out to be a feature, not a bug, because the last section gave me a way to fine-tune the railing position.

The muffler guys put a 3-bolt plate on the each end. One end is bolted to the house (we need to find prettier monster bolts).

The other end is bolted (nutted?) to three pieces of threaded stock. The three attachment points, and six nuts, are what allows the fine tuning.

The other ends of the threaded stock are attached to a metal tray, which is embedded in a pile of rocks and concrete. The nuts on top of the base are used to clamp down as tight as possible on the concrete and hold it in compression, so that the attachment is rigid and the concrete won’t crack. There’s also epoxy underneath. It looks flimsy, but it absolutely is not

This is what it looked like when I finished. The height is specified by code..

The railing is parallel to the stone work in both planes.

There is a code-specified clearance between rail and “wall”, and when your wall is a piece of rock, it matters.

Here you can see the 10-degree bend and how it is necessary to put the base outside the walkway.

and here, the finished railing from the street. The lower section of the rail is vertical.

The PVC pipe on the ground is a temporary sorta-cosmetic cover, removed to show how the lower attachment works. We need a perhaps a garden gnome, or maybe several seasonal-themed covers.

The paint, is Toyota nondescript brown, the same as our Toyota, which was visiting the body shop to fix a scrape. Why get two bottles of touchup paint?

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