Commonly Perceived Challenges with Cable Railing Installations9 – and How to Overcome Them

Making cable railing installations more efficient for your business

Cable railing infill for post mounted railing systemAs the concept of daylighting continues to spread through the design world, the demand for building elements that maximize the impact of natural light has grown. When considering a design for a railing that maximizes sightlines, most look to glass railing options as the solution. However, don’t overlook cable railing when the goal is to create open and clean views as with balcony or deck applications.

While many fabricators have familiarity working with cable railing, even the most experienced professional can benefit from strategies to address common challenges, or a more efficient and profitable installation. Here are four commonly perceived challenges that don’t have to slow you down, and things to keep in mind for your next – or first – cable railing installation.

Matching Products with Actual Dimensions:

Ensuring optimal measurements for all aspects of railing height and intermediate post distance may seem like a given for any railing installation. But if the dimensions are based on projections and not on actual dimensions, that can result in the need for product reorder, timely adjustments and slow downs on the job. For this reason, dimensions based on the actual field conditions – after the deck is built or the concrete poured – are extremely important prior to ordering your cable and fittings. The bottom line, make sure to base product orders on accurate field dimensions when ordering your product to ensure the product is the right fit.

Balancing Load Requirements and Aesthetics:

As with any railing project, load bearing ability of a well-designed cable railing begins with the choice of post design. However, when choosing a post for a cable railing, in addition to meeting the structural load requirements as defined by the building codes, you will also need to choose a post size that can withstand the stresses related to the tension of the cables.
Steel or stainless steel pipe; and 4 x 4 wood posts are the most common post elements used in cable railing. However, other designs have been used with success as long as end posts are chosen to withstand the stress of the cable tension.

Include load bearing in cable railing post selection and follow the manufacturer’s recommendation as to the cable tensioning sequence. Your supplier will also recommend minimum dimensions for your post. A good supplier can also provide pre-drilled and counterbored posts. As well as Pre-swaged cable assemblies to simplify the installation process.

Confirming Structural Ability:

Post size is not enough to confirm the structural ability of your cable railing installation. For example, a two-inch, schedule 80 steel pipe post would certainly have the ability to withstand a structural load. However, if you surface mount that post to a wood deck with a cover flange and some screws, it’s poses potential structural risks and highlights the importance of embedded attachments. The point is cable railing uniquely adds tension that impacts structural ability. To confirm structural ability and prevent any costly-time consuming re-work, take the time to attach or embed the post in a manner that will provide a structurally stable environment for the later introduction of the cables.

Adhering to Proper Tension Schedules:

How often have you seen cable railings as you wander about where the cables droop between posts? Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. Cable and fittings do not all perform equally against various conditions. That’s why understanding and applying the proper schedule for end and intermediate posts as well as top rail.
It’s important to understand the incredible amount of tension that can be generated on with multiple lines (i.e. ten or more). Consider, that often each is often tensioned at 400 lbs. over a height of 36″ to 42″ – which is why recognizing the amount of the tension applied to the posts is critical. Cable that stretches easily under tension, will sag over time resulting in unhappy clients and code inspectors.

If your cable railing is considered to be a guard, you will also need to make sure that no opening is large enough to allow the passage of a four-inch sphere. For horizontal guard in-fill cables not properly tensioned, can fail this 4-inch sphere test – and for the installer that is a liability. Consider spacing your cables at 3 to 3.25 inches on center; tension properly; and include posts or cable supports every 48 inches. Additionally, don’t make assumptions about stainless steel cable. It’s available in different strand diameters and configurations – many of which allow for too much stretch.

Not only is it a liability, but the tensioning process can cause considerable bending as the cables are being tensioned or even when properly tensioned without an acceptable amount of post deflection. The posts to which hardware is mounted must be constructed so that they will not deflect perceptively as the cables are tensioned.

Cable Railing Hardware Choice

Cable railing hardware choice will depend on your post selection and the amount of field labor you are able to provide. Parts can be provided pre-swaged from the manufacturer or tools may be purchased or rented to permit final assembly at the job site. Swageless fittings are now readily available to further simplify the installation of cable railings.

Don’t let challenges get in the way of opportunity

While your particular application is unique to you, it’s likely that your supplier has the experience and knowledge to provide you with the best solution. Your supplier as a resource can guide in selecting and working with the right material, and serve as a resource for questions to match each job for a given installation. As the design world continues leverage cable railing for open and clean view, you don’t have to let the challenges stop you from getting the most out of cable railing systems. Contact us for more information.

Cable Railing Documents


  • I’m glad that you mention how it’s important to consider the tension that the cable can generate in order to make sure it won’t sag over time. If it does start to sag, you’d probably want to either replace or repair it. When you are installing or fixing it, you’d probably want to ensure you have all the necessary tools to work on the cable railing and know how to use them so that you can ensure it will last as long as possible.

  • I love these railings in this picture. I need to order the cable with mid support posts. But first I need to know how the top rail is supported at the posts. I will be using a 2×6 Ipe rail. My 4×4 wood posts are already built in to the deck base. I will be covering the posts with a 6×6 pvc sleeve. The top rail will but flush up against the pvc posts. What keeps the wood rail stable against the posts?

    • Hi Greg,
      Sorry to not have gotten back to you sooner. It’s not clear to me whether you are setting the top rail on top of your posts or between your post since you mention them butting up against the posts. It’s common to lay the 2×6 on top of the 6×6 posts. You could bolt them directly lag screw them directly to the post tops though that may not be aesthetically pleasing. The other option would be to use some angle stainless steel or aluminum angle with one leg lag screwed to the post and the other lag screwed to the underside of the top rail. If you have any further questions, contact the office directly with your question.

  • Wow, the post is full of educational points. I am lucky to come on this blog. Some renovation is going on at my place and the major remodeling task is to replace wood rails with cable rails. On someone’s suggestion, I’ve hired a company called DIY Cable Railing System for the entire installation thing. The cable rails are also from them. And I am happy to discover the challenges such as Confirming Structural Ability beforehand. Hope I am gonna deal with these points carefully. I can’t stress enough how much enlightened I am feeling. Thanks for posting this post here.

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