Browse the internet for a while during a home remodel project, and you'll likely come across pictures of things like very rustic-looking, woodsy balcony railings and stairway banisters. The supports might look like branches on a tree, for example, and this is a great design for anyone looking for a cozy piece of decor. But DIY versions of these rustic railings often have something that looks great but that really doesn't work that well unless the installer knows what he or she is doing: Actual tree branches as guardrails. As eco-friendly as these might seem, they offer more disadvantages than advantages.
First, What's Not Wrong
Just to be clear, there's nothing wrong with the concept of a tree branch as a guardrail. After all, you can get sleek, commercially made wood railings, so it's not the material itself that's the problem. There's also nothing wrong with DIY railings if you know what you are doing. The problems begin when you don't know what you're doing and forge ahead anyway, without taking the time to research the proper way to turn woodsy scraps into usable material.
Weak Spots and Pests
A major issue here is that sometimes wood looks strong on the outside, but it's not strong on the inside. Maybe the core of the branch is actually rotten, or there is a pest infestation lurking inside the wood. The result is a weakened railing that won't hold up people's weight if they have to steady themselves by holding onto the railing. How many times have you accidentally stumbled and caught yourself before falling by grabbing a handrail? You know the last thing you'd want is for the rail to crumble.
Bumps and Dips Where You Least Expect
Another issue is the smoothness of the railing. Sometimes these railings are used as a continuous support, like when someone walks upstairs and needs to hold onto the railing the entire time. You need the railing to be smooth, relatively level, and free of unexpected dips that could make people lose their balance.
If you really want a tree branch as a railing, you need to find a professional stair installer and woodworker to transform it. Barring that, no pun intended, you're better off getting a basic, commercial wood guardrail and leaving the decorative part for the railing supports. Companies like Diamond Iron LLC that install stairs and banisters should have a wide selection that enables you to have something that is at least close to the desired design in your head.