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I have a pig-ear handrail (I believe that’s what you call it) coming loose from the wall, and I'm looking for some advice on how to make it secure again.

I'm unsure if a secure repair is possible. It is hanging loose away from the wall as shown in the picture and has lots of movement in it. The bottom, as shown in the picture, has a little movement but it’s mainly at the top.

All the way up the bannister there are cracks but no movement (movement only at the bottom).

hand rail, top and underneath

enter image description here

enter image description here

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  • Hi, welcome to StackExchange. Please post any images inline in your Question. Some people won't follow external links + the Q needs to include relevant images so that it persists over time, and not be at the mercy of external links which can change at any time (we've seen image links go stale in less than one week!) Now as to your problem, I don't think that one photo is going to be enough to go on. If you can't provide more photos from various angles, including from underneath, please try to describe in detail how it's loose — is it hanging loose from the wall or levering in the middle??
    – Graphus
    May 31 at 12:27
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    I have updated the post. Sorry about the picture aspect. I didn’t see an option to add photos when posted.
    – Dazgrego
    May 31 at 13:13
  • I was going to suggest that this is a better fit for another stack but as Walnut Close has covered pretty much every possible aspect of this as far as I can see there no there's no need to seek further help on the Home Improvement stack! Just to emphasise one point, the screws will be sunk below the surface in counterbores, so to find them you're looking for the tops of either face-grain wooden plugs (the correct way to do it) or pieces of dowel (the less correct way to do it). Normally these are fairly easy to spot, even under paint, because of minute differences in.... [contd]
    – Graphus
    May 31 at 14:36
  • .....expansion and contraction, which makes the edge of plugs visible. But it looks like your handrail may be painted thickly enough that they're obscured, so they'll be harder to spot initially. But as you need to scrape or sand anyway to effect the repair you'll find them easily after that. Usually you need to drill out the plug/dowel because they're glued in place, then you may be able to replace the screws in the existing holes, going up a size & increasing screw length if needed. Even with this you may need to repair/pack out the pilot holes in the studs so the screws have best hold.
    – Graphus
    May 31 at 14:52
  • Previous Answer re. counterbores etc. here.
    – Graphus
    May 31 at 14:53

1 Answer 1

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These handrails are installed with screws counterbored into the lower curve of the molding, extending into wall studs. The counterbores are then plugged and trimmed back to match the curve of the molding. If the wall material is crushable (drywall, e.g.), there will be a backer board installed into the wall to provide sufficient strength; if the wall material is sufficiently firm (cement plaster over wooden lathe, e.g.) the backer may be ommitted.

So, for your rail to be loose, one or more of three things is going on:

  1. The screws have come loose (or even broken) in the studs.
  2. The screw heads have "wallowed" out the molding.
  3. The wall material has been crushed by downward pressure on the rail translating into lateral pressure on the wall, bending the screws and promoting wallowing of the screw heads.

Looking at the picture, it's not completely clear, but I think there is a backing board in your installation.

There is no easy fix. It's not even clear that you can salvage the existing rail. To do the job right, you'd have to find and remove the all the screws holding the rail, repair the holes in the molding and if there is damaging to the screw holding power of the studs, repair that as well, then remount the rail, replug the holes, trim, sand, and repaint. You'd likely be better served with a new molding, rather than repairing the old.

You may able to avoid the full repair above by creating new mounting holes in the molding, above the originals, and slanted somewhat upward into the studs. But it's going to be difficult to get the railing pulled back tight against the wall or backer with the old screws in there, and if there is any damage to the wall or backer, it's not going to be a very robust mount. And you'd still have all the work of plugging and fill and sanding the new mounting holes.

Or, if you just want it fixed for safety reasons, and don't care about the esthetics, you could try the latter approach without going to the trouble of counterboring, plugging, and filling, using self drilling construction screws through the foot of the molding upward into the studs. Won't be pretty, but it could provide an adequate mechanical solution.

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  • +1, nice one but counterbores, not countersinks.
    – Graphus
    May 31 at 14:29

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