DIY Tension Cable Railing
This weekend’s project was adding a DIY tension-cable system to our existing deck railing. While we love the modernist look of the galvanized conduit rail design, the 1965 design isn’t exactly up to current building codes (in that they are spaced too far apart) and give us a mild heart attack every time our aging dog gets a little too close to the edge. Also with a new baby due in our household any day, the safety monitor in me is on a mission to fix any small child hazards. This would be one.
I’ve always loved the clean aesthetic of tension-cable systems in modern architectural design, so I set out to recreate that look on a friendly budget. One trip (ok, a couple) to the local home improvement store yielded a spool of 3/32″ plastic-coated steel cable (a bit fat, but I like the look of big industrial fittings), stainless steel turnbuckles, 3/32 compression ferrules and a compression ferrule/swaging tool. To repeat the same location of holes through the railing posts, a jig was made (just a scrap piece of wood cut to size) with the holes premeasured to use as a guide.
I debated on how to terminate the cables on the corner posts and decided on closed eyelet screws anchored on each end of the cable run (instead of boring through the corner posts as well). To keep a uniform look, make sure the stripped cable ends are all measured exactly the same (I stripped 3″ of vinyl off the ends throughout). All the turnbuckles were spaced evenly as well for a clean design. Vice grips were used to hold up the cable while the crush ferrules were set in place.
Cutting the cable was a challenge. I probably ruined a pair of sheet metal sheers doing so but next time I’d invest in a heavy duty set of pliers that would do the job. After making almost 50 cuts, the cable ends started getting messy and hard to thread into the ferrules.
In the end we ended up with a beautiful contemporary railing design, and a safe one at that. Our dog is now free to roam the deck at will and reclaim his domain, and we can still enjoy an unimpeded North Carolina view.
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