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We bought a home where the handrail for the entry steps was screwed into an anchor in the facade mortar. The anchor has pulled away and left a pretty big hole at the joint:

handrail anchor pulling out of mortar

The front of the handrail is firmly embedded in the sidewalk so I can't change where it reaches the facade, or move it out of the way more than an inch or two in any direction.

I think I need to cut the rusted screw off with an angle grinder, then fill the hole in the wall with some kind of drillable epoxy before replacing the anchor.

Is this a good approach? If so, what kind of filler compound would be appropriate? The home is in a historic district so I want to minimize any change in appearance if possible.

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    Historic district as in "lots of nice old houses and I don't want mine to stand out", or Historic district as in "there's a historic commission that has their hand in every single decision made about the exterior of a house and everything has to be approved by them"? It can make a difference...
    – FreeMan
    Oct 27, 2023 at 15:57
  • Also, are you planning on any restoration/replacement of this 1950s-70s style railing? That thing looks horribly "mid-century tract housing", not "historic", and it's in terrible shape...
    – FreeMan
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:17
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    The second kind of district. I was hoping to make the repair such that it doesn't draw attention, rather than filing for permission to make a bigger change. I recognize it's in bad shape, but I'm focused on function / safety now and will deal with the rust and paint later.
    – James B
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:28
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    Oof... I feel for you. I've never had to deal with a historic commission, but AIUI, they can be worse than an HOA. At least they have (IMHO) legitimate ground to stand on when being nosy/picky .
    – FreeMan
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:37
  • I didn't hear any details on how you intend to remove the old anchor after cutting it off. Are you confident that you can get the old fastener out?
    – popham
    Oct 29, 2023 at 2:53

5 Answers 5

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Fix the hole and install in the same place should work.

But another option is:

  • Get a larger metal plate.
  • Connect it securely to the handrail (screws for positioning, glue for extra strength and to eliminate any wobble)
  • Screw the larger plate into fresh holes in the wall.
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    Based on the patch of new looking mortar behind the metal plate, it looks like "another option" has already been done before!
    – FreeMan
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:16
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    Another option might be to install a larger lag shield into the hole then use a larger diameter screw/bolt. It looks like the hole in the mounting bracket could easily take a screw upwards of a 1/4" larger diameter and that might do the trick. Maybe put in some epoxy to help hold a larger anchor into the brick.
    – FreeMan
    Oct 27, 2023 at 17:40
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    @FreeMan - that doesn't look like a new patch of mortar, it looks like 10 coats of old paint that have previously been protected by the plate when all the rest was hacked off to give it that 'authentic old look' again ;) That brickwork & pointing is in remarkably good condition for any kind of 'protected' building, in fact I'd stuggle to believe it was any older than mid 1970s, with a more recent re-point [or it's been painted for the majority of its life].
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 27, 2023 at 21:23
  • The building facade was redone (with a permit!) a few years back. From the state of the fastener in the picture, I would guess that they didn't replace it, perhaps working around the old anchor and planning to come back to it later. I guess I'm trying to finish the job...
    – James B
    Nov 5, 2023 at 17:05
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Yes, your idea sounds like the best bet. Once it's done, it should be unnoticeable. I'd put masking tape on the surrounding brick, in case you get some epoxy slop on it.

Consider removing and refinishing the railing while you're at it. It should be easier than doing it in place.

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  • The railing is currently sunk into the concrete sidewalk, so as far as I can tell removing it would require breaking up the concrete -- definitely outside my DIY comfort level. Re epoxy selection, I see another answer suggesting I epoxy the existing screw+anchor into the hole. Can you suggest an epoxy and/or filler that I could apply, then drill out for use with a new anchor? (I'd like to retain the option of removing it "gracefully" at some point.)
    – James B
    Nov 5, 2023 at 17:12
  • I would probably use epoxy, not mortar or wood filler or anything for repairing masonry. I don't know what specific epoxy to use, most of them should work. Some may be harder than others, those will be more difficult to drill; but I wouldn't worry too much about it, you're only drilling one hole. Nov 5, 2023 at 21:18
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    And I just thought of something else: if the hole is basically sound, you could try to find a bigger anchor and skip the epoxy. Nov 5, 2023 at 21:19
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Mostly drawn from @freeman comment, but a construction epoxy like Simpson set-xp (get the single tube, not the double) can be pumped into the hole and the same shield and bolt can be pushed back in.

You’ll need to accept that it’ll never come out gracefully and that you’ll need to brace it overnight, pushing the bolt/sleeve combo in tight.

As mentioned in another comment, mask off underneath to prevent unsightly epoxy drool.

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Sleeve anchors and long lag shields are mechanical fasteners that are specifically designed for grabbing in soft spots like that.

Epoxy will work as long as the brick at the back of the holes is still there. For epoxy you would first clean the holes with a brush and compressed air (the canned air for blowing out your keyboard will work for 1 or 2 holes).

Whatever you use, it should be corrosion resistant. "Zinc plated" or "electro-galvanized" anything is insufficient. Lag shields should be die-cast zinc, hot dip galvanized, or some other zinc coating calibrated for outdoors, and the corresponding lag screws should be hot dip galvanized. Sleeve anchors should be stainless steel. Threaded rods used with epoxy should be hot dip galvanized or stainless steel.

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Don't use epoxy. It's not reversible and therefore is not compliant with historical commissions. Use slightly darker brick patch like lithomex from limeworks. Let set for 3-4 days and redrill a new anchor. Use plastic wedge if possible for greater ease of removal later. Using epoxy will create issues unless you have a few extra bricks laying around.

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  • To be fair, you'd need a fairly picky historic commission to disapprove of permanent repairs to a damaged handrail anchorage... Feb 17 at 4:07

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