There’s nothing more frustrating than building a beautiful, custom log hand rail for a customer 3 states away, only to find out that the only way to ship it is to cut it in half. So frustrating, as a matter of fact, that I spent many hours over a week making phone call after phone call trying to find another option, but to no prevail.
In this tutorial, I let you witness as I painfully cut a 135″ skip-peeled log hand-rail in half. Then reconstruct the log hand rail with a steel coupling that turns out to be as stylish as it is functional.
The first step in the process is the agonizing action of cutting the rail in half.
If you’re starting with raw material, this shouldn’t be as emotional. For log hand rails, I recommend finding a log that is the full length needed for the railing so that there is continuity throughout. Cut the log as close to center as possible. Be warned, cutting within 6″ of a bend in the log may make the remaining steps a bit of a challenge.
Measure the ends of each log that will be butted in the coupling and find a piece of Electrical Metallic Tubing (EMT) that is smaller than (but as big as possible) the butt-ends. For example: If the diameter of the butt-ends are 2.3″, you’ll want to use 2″ EMT. Be warned, standard EMT sizes (in inches) do not reflect actual diameters. So measure the outside diameter of the pipe to make sure it will work.
Now that you have your pipe, find a hole-saw that is identical in size. I used a 2 1/4″ hole saw for 2″ EMT. Most big-box hardware stores won’t have hole-saws in 8th or 16th inch sizes but your local Ace Hardware should.
Clamp the first log down and using the hole-saw, carve into the center of the butt-end of the log. Try to keep the hole-saw in line with the log as much as possible to avoid a “V” shaped railing. Once you’ve bottomed out the hole-saw, cut the outside layer of the log way to expose your tenon.
Now cut your EMT to length. I recommend keeping it as short as possible. To do so, cut it twice the length of your hole-saw. Make your cuts as square as possible then grind or file the ends to rid the pipe of jagged edges.
Place the pipe on the tenon and using 80-grid sandpaper on your orbital sander, sand the log hand rail to match the contours of the pipe. Make sure you shape the wood a bit to create a smooth transition. Repeat the sanding process with 120-grid sand paper.
Repeat the last couple steps on the butt-end of the other piece of log hand rail.
Now peel and finish the log hand rail any way you wish. In this video, I did a skip-peeled look, but you can do whatever you want.
Lastly, grab the mounting hardware the EMT and paint them all the same color. The hardware comes pre-painted so try to find it in a color that is as close to your final color as possible.
Now you’re ready to ship the log hand rail at a fraction of the cost! For my customer, it was a savings of over $300!
Written by Scott Shaeffer, Owner/Carpentry