Get Back to Nature with a Woodsy Makeover for Your Railings

Add vines to spark interest and customize a necessity.

By Liz Crumbly

 

When you’re trying to boost your home’s aesthetics, nature can be as much a decorating tool as paint or carpet. Consider those vines you find in the woods near your home, or even some small tree branches.

 

If you’re attempting to enhance a rustic feel, they can add just the right contrast to your home’s appearance.

 

Installing these thin, curving branches in railings can promote interest while not masking other decorative elements. Any twisting, woody vine works well for this project and can be had at a low price or even for free.

 

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Although this type of wood can grow thick enough to be quite sturdy, don’t plan on using it as a structural portion of your home for this project. Its decorative merits are what you’re after.

 

If you own land, search your woods for desirable vines. Make sure you know which species you’ve chosen before cutting. Poison ivy, oak, and sumac can grow quite thick at their bases. Be aware of what they look like so that you can stay away.  

 

Steer clear of anything endangered too. You can check the endangered status of a native plant on plants.usda.gov. Keep in mind that status can vary by state.

 

Finally, if you’re cutting these woody vines anywhere besides your own property, make sure you have the landowner’s permission. If they’re located on a federal, state, or locally protected tract, move on. There are often fines for picking or cutting vegetation in these areas.

 

Here’s how to use vines for decoration in railings:

1. Size It Up  

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires railings at the workplace to be 36 inches in height. Although this railing is for your home and not a business, consider this a safety guideline.  

 

2. A Cut Above

Cut your desired vines to the proper dimension. Cuttings should be about twice the final length of your predetermined railing height. It may take a chainsaw if the vines are thick at their bases. Just make sure you know how to safely operate a chainsaw or have an experienced person do this for you. If the vines are only an inch thick or so, pruning shears will do the job.

 

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3. Start at the Top

You’ll need to construct the top of the railing first. Use a 2-by-6-inch piece of wood for this step. Its length will be determined by the space between your porch posts. Attach the wood perpendicular to the porch posts on either end using two screws per end and an automatic screwdriver. These devices speed things, but again, get help if you don’t know how to use one.

 

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Add a one-inch wide backboard below the top piece using the same measurement for length. Place it perpendicular to the top piece and secure it to the posts with screws.

 

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4. Get to the Bottom of It

Place a 1-by-4-inch piece of lumber on end below the top of your railing. This will serve as your bottom backboard. Again, the space between porch posts will dictate the length. Use screws to secure this to your posts also.

 

5. Time for the Vine

Now you’re ready to place your vine cuttings. You can install the vines so they virtually obscure anything behind the railing or you can leave them spaced widely enough that you can see through it.

 

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Cut your desired number of vines a little longer than the space between the bottom of the railing and the floor. You’ll lean the vines a little to make them fit between the two pieces of wood and to give the railing a more natural look.

 

You can cut the vines to match the angle of the top piece of wood and the floor at this point, but it’s not absolutely necessary if you can get a screw through each end of the vine to secure it.

 

6. Feeling Secure

Secure all vines to the top backboard using screws. Do the same at the bottom backboard.

 

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7. Cover Up

Once your vines are in place, you’ll simply need to cover up the screws with top and bottom boards that measure the same as your top and bottom backboards. Secure these two boards with screws, and the brunt of your project is done.

 

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8. Proper Treatment

If your railing is located outside, plan to treat the boards with a sealing product like Thompson’s water seal. If it’s inside, and you don’t wish to stain or paint your railing, pat yourself on the back. Your work is finished.

 

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Woody vines can take most any railing from blah to exciting. Remember not to use them as support for other structures or for people to lean against. Also choose your vines carefully avoiding poisonous and protected varieties and not cutting on private property without the owner’s consent.

 

The installation is fairly simple and creates a rustic look that can be customized to fit your style.

 

Images used with permission, courtesy of Liz Crumbly

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