A pig’s ear

Pig’s Ear


  1. the ear of a wild or domestic swine
  2. something that has been badly or clumsily done;
    a botched job (esp in the phrase make a pig’s ear of something))
  3. a traditional style of handrail (that’s difficult to fit) also know as lamb’s tongue

My challenge was to extend an existing handrail so that it went around the corner at the top of the stairs, preferably without botching the job.

I started with the easiest piece the horizontal one. As you can see, I sketched out with a pencil where the other pieces would fit. The rails were fitted using frame fixings although I sank all of the plug into the wall with just the screw going through the wood.

For the second piece, I could not work out how I was going to join these.  I experimented with a compound mitre but because of the shape of the rail, there was no way that this was going to fit. I ended up by cutting a curve into the end of the sloping rail so that it would fit snuggly against the horizontal. I concluded I’d be able to work out how to make a joining piece later.

My next challenge was an extension of the existing handrail so that it joined my horizontal. The old and new handrails were not the same profile so I used a [amazon text=circular surform&asin=B0001IWCWA] to bring the old one in line with the new one. The new one was a little taller so it was trimmed down with a [amazon text=short surform&asin=B0001IWCXE]. The joint to the horizontal was a mitre joint. These proved tricky to cut due to the shape of the rail, so did some test cuts using short pieces of the rail. The rail was supported so that the piece that attached to the wall was vertical hence the mitre could be sawn with the saw vertical.

A screw was added to join the two pieces together and another to join to the horizontal.

The last piece to cut was that filler for the corner. I started off my removing the horizontal and fitting a piece to match the sloping piece.

I then mitred the horizontal and applied that angle to the little joining piece.

After lots of filling and sanding the piece eventually fitted. The main pieces were glued onto the wall using builders grab adhesive and then screwed in place. The joining piece was glued and a screw put through all three to bind them together.

The screw holes and joints were filled and then the whole hand rail was primed and painted. Thanks to my wife for an excellent job on that.

If you think that all sounds quite straight forwards then you’ve not been following my tweets, the whole process was done over 3 weekends and produced lots of offcuts. Thanks to East Riding College’s construction department and everyone who’s provided help and support via Twitter, and of course thanks to my family for their patience whilst I worked out how do build this.

23 thoughts on “A pig’s ear

  1. Keith says:

    Great piece of work, proud of you. That”s my boy, and his girl.

  2. Stupotmcdoodle says:

    Well done for seeing that through, that filler piece looked like a right ba***rd!
    Nice outcome, good job Andy (and Mrs. Andy!)

  3. Tony says:

    If you had gone straight horizontal for a short distance on BOTH walls would you not have eliminated the need for that awkward mitre in the corner?

    • Hi Tony, good suggestion. That would be an option on some stairs, particularly where there is a landing at the corner. For these stairs they keep rising through the corner so having a longer straight section would have resulted in the hand rail being at a different height on the upper section. The piece that’s in there is effectively a very short horizontal section.

      • Tony says:

        Actually not entirely correct – depends where you measure to and from. As long as you end up at the same height as the landing bannisters, exactly how you get there round the bend does not really matter. Imagine the middle stair of the bend is your corner landing.

        I have just done this in my house … would be happy to send a picture – cannot see how I can post one here.

  4. Jonty Rodge says:

    Wow! This looks a nightmare, I’m in awe of your persistence and ingenuity. Came across your page looking for guidance for a similar staircase we have at home – and now I’m thinking I’ll get a professional! Kudos to you!

  5. OmaSyl says:

    We are just in the process of fixing a pigs ear handrail to a staircase with a half landing. I found the best way was to draw the base line on the wall where the bottom of the rail needs to be. Where two lines with different gradients meet you can measure the compound angle (in my case 144 degrees) and halve it. Next you set up the mitre saw with that half angle (72 degrees). The important thing is to hold the rail correctly under the saw. This was a 4-hand job as we didn’t want to make a jig.
    These 72-degree angles need to be cut with the flat of the rail that is to be on the wall against the bottom of the mitre saw bed. When cutting a 45-degree angle for into the corner, the rail needs to be held with the flat part of the rail up vertical.
    I want to wax the rail to match the oak banister, so filler is a no-no.
    I can’t see a way to post pictures here, but am very pleased with the result.

  6. Peter Rose says:

    Hi, seriously impressive skills. Something I don’t possess… I was wondering if I could chicken out of doing the corner mitres, and instead leave gaps in each corner, and neatly round of the ends, it would mean breaks in the rail, but stop hands being jammed.
    Would it pass building regs?
    Has anyone done it this way and has a picture

    • You often see gaps when people use those round handrails so I don’t think there is a requirement to have a completely seamless handrail. Here’s a couple of points from Homebuilding.co.uk

      • Flights should have a handrail on at least one side if they are less than one metre wide and on both sides if they are wider than this
      • Handrails on stairs and landings should have a minimum height of 900mm
  7. A useful description, However, a description of what I see as the critical step is limited. You say you used frame fittings. Rawlplug and screw – masonary drill to make hole for rawlplug, drill hole through pig’s ear for screw, hammer screw into rawlplug. BUT, how do you drill an accurate right-angle hole through the pig’s ear, in the ogee section? Or do you use a less accurate hole in the pig’s ear as a template for a pilot hole to drill into the brick to be expanded for the rawlplug? Probably pointing slightly up?

    • Hi Henry, I’m fairly sure this would have been drilled in place as it wouldn’t have fitted into my pillar drill. What I usually do for drilling on curved surfaces is to start off with a HSS pilot drill perpendicular to the surface. Once that’s started it can then be rotated so it is perpendicular to the wall/back of the rail and drill through. This would leave a spot on the wall. The rail would then be removed and the drill swapped for a masonry bit. The hole in the wall can then be drilled perpendicular to the wall. I would have put this loosely in place and then repeated with the other 2 holes.

  8. Job done.
    Marking up, etc, in line with this thread. Found banister line was tapered, 40 mm higher at bottom than at top – beware. For Pig’s Ear (PE), measured profile and found inflection point (convex foot to concave of head) was 25 mm from corner. Using marks on folded paper, marked PE with hole centres at 500 mm centres, starting 100 mm from end (4.2 m piece). Manually held foot of section on base of pillar drill for first 7mm hole (screw dia 6.8 mm); screwed on a wood block, making drilling of other holes easier. Hand-held drill for countersink (12 mmm)as it would drift in pillar. Drilled 7 mm hole at position for top screw. The key screw – if I’d hit a mortar joint, I’d have tried 30 mm up and down the line. Temporarily inserted screw, went to bottom, then intermediates, inserting screws. Removed PE, redrilled holes to required 10 mm, cleaned out holes, inserted rawlplugs, cleaned and greased screws and drove them in, hammer then driver. 2 in mortar, but no problem with 7…

  9. James says:

    HI there nice work on the pigs ear! I have one on my wall and I’m trying to paint it but can not seem to get in to the curved bit. Iv tried all sorts.

  10. A.Parish says:

    I am going to fit pigs ear rail to wall-old 1930’s house exactly as shown in your picture. Do notthink I can do the filler part at the top of stairs-can you give me simple instructions how to do the join in the corner-horizontel to sloping rail.

    • The easiest way to do this if you don’t want to have a complex join is to have a gap.
      Alternatively, as some have suggested you could do a short horizontal section so you’d have 2 simpler joints rather than one complex one.

  11. Bulsi says:

    How long does this take? if I hire someone is this a days work or what’s a expected duration?

  12. Pete says:

    is it always right to cut the very top and bottom of a pigs ear rail vertically? I mean at the top and the bottom of the stairs. I feel the top of my rail will be rather sharp and if someone fell against it this would be a little bit hazardous? Could I for example cut a horizontal flat at the top of the rail or would that look daft?

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