Lining Up Stair Rail Dowel Joints

Ideas for jigs to ensure accurate placement of dowels at a butt joint in a stair rail. December 7, 2007

We are installing 1 1/2" round stair hand rail. We are trying to use 1/4" dowels to attach straight sections to 90 degree returns. We are having a hard time centering the dowels. Does anyone know where to pick up a centering tool or have any suggestions to attach pieces together?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor L:
They don't need to be centered, just positioned the same for each match. Make a jig that fits over the railing and drill a hole through it to guide the drill bit for the dowel. It needs to be able to slip over the railing on both sides - something like if you were going to use the jig to join two sections together. Then as long as you keep the jig aligned, you won't have a problem with mismatched holes.

From contributor M:
To the above post I would only add the following... Make your jig a good 1 1/2" thick and drill the guide holes on the drill press. This way you're assured they're dead nuts perpendicular.

From contributor J:
Following what the others said, here is a thought I just had... Take a thick block, take a 1 1/2" hole saw with 1/4 pilot drill partially through, make sure pilot sticks out a decent amount from teeth, then cut block to where you have a decent amount of only the 1/4 hole through and the 1 1/2 as a pocket. Then you can just slip it onto the end of the rail and drill your 1/4 centered.

From contributor I:
Now that you've got it center drilled, use 5/16 X 3" dowel screws (double-ended lag). A little 1/4" wood dowel is just not strong enough for a handrail joint. You just can't draw the joint up tight and the dowel will break when you lean on the rail. If you're not going to use regular handrail bolts, then a dowel screw is the next best thing. Rough-up the ends of the joints with an awl so all the glue is not squeezed out when you twist them together. A slight misalignment is expected, but easily rasped and sanded off. All handrail joints should always be bolted or screwed (or you may be).