Stairs explained

Feb 12, 2019

The Stairworks team has over 15 years’ experience crafting bespoke timber staircases in Melbourne. From sweeping grand geometric staircases to contemporary mono-stringers, we’ve made them all.

However, we understand that for those new to the stair game, all the lingo can be tricky to decipher. Do you want sawtooth or closed stringers? Pencil round treads? Wrought iron or glass balusters? There’s so much to learn.

Designing the perfect staircase for your home is complex enough without being confused, so we’ve created the below stairs glossary to ensure you feel confident every step of the way.

Balusters

Balusters, sometimes referred to as spindles, are vertical posts made from materials such as wrought iron, timber or stainless steel. Individual balusters make up what is ultimately known as the balustrade for your staircase. Sheets of toughened glass balustrading may also be used in lieu of individual balusters.

Balusters are mounted to the treads or base rail of your staircase and affixed to support the handrail. While balustrading is essential for safety purposes, providing fall protection for those who use your staircase, it is also an element that allows for unique and stylish design embellishment.

Handrail

The handrail, or railing, allows for steady egress up and down the staircase. Handrails are typically fashioned from timber, but may also be made in wrought iron or stainless steel. Handrails may be mounted between a top and bottom post, supported by balusters. Alternatively, a continuous handrail is supported by the posts and balusters from underneath the rail, providing uninterrupted flow from the top to bottom of the staircase.

Wall rail

Not to be confused with the handrail, a wall rail is simply a supportive railing separate to the balustrade that has been mounted to a plaster, timber or brick wall using wall brackets. These railings can be designed in a variety of profiles from a large range of timbers, wrought iron or stainless steel.

Diminish rail

A diminish rail occurs when the handrail going up the stairs meets the line of the ceiling, or the underneath of a flight of stairs. A diminish rail does not provide support for those using the staircase, rather, it is a design element that allows for the continued integration of the balusters into a rail, rather than into a ceiling or stringer.

Base rail

The base rail runs along the top of a staircase stringer, and continues along the landing where applicable. Balusters are affixed to the base rail, which is supported at the top and bottom of the staircase by newel posts.

Newel post

Newels are the support columns within a staircase. Typically referred to as a newel post, these are upright posts that support the handrail of a staircase. Newel posts are an important functional element of any stair, but can also be embellished by decorative detail whether they be crafted from wrought iron or timber.

Landing

A landing in a staircase is a level platform constructed at the point where the direction of the staircase changes, or for safety purposes between large flights of stairs. Landings are often dictated as necessary by local building code.

Winders

Winders are steps used to change the direction of a staircase without including a landing. Narrower on one side of than the other, winders are often seen in circular or spiral staircases.

The integration of winders into a staircase is policed by local building code to ensure safety.

Nosing

The nosing is the front edge of the tread. It may be square set, meaning it is set squarely flush with the riser, or it may overhang, with a variety of profiles available including pencil round, bevelled and square. Nosing is a decorative element, so it differs on each individual staircase.

Stringers

Traditional staircase stringers are the two supportive boards on either side of a flight of stairs. The treads and risers, which form each step, are fixed into the stringers for strength and support. Simply put, the stringers hold the staircase together.

Stringers can be either freestanding or mounted against an adjacent wall on one or both sides – in which case, the stringer is known as a “wall stringer.”

Depending on design goals, stringers can be fashioned in a number of ways. They may be a closed stringer, hiding the treads from view when side on to the staircase, or they may be sawtooth (cut), exposing the side profile of the treads.

A mono-stringer, on the other hand, is a single spline stringer designed as an architectural feature. The stringer is in the centre of the stair, creating an “floating” look that best suits a modern open-plan aesthetic.

Treads

Treads are the horizontal pieces that form the stairs. Together with risers, the treads are a crucial component of any staircase – they’re what you’re actually “treading” on each time you walk up or down stairs.

Their size and shape is determined by the space allowed in your building plans, but first and foremost it is important to ensure that size allows for comfort and safety when climbing the stairs.

Treads can be finished in a variety of ways, depending on the overall design direction of a staircase. They may have overhang – where the tread hangs over the edge of the riser – or a bullnose, whereby a decorative circular shape is included on the sides of the bottom tread to add visual impact.

Risers

The risers are the vertical pieces that join with the treads to hold up the stairs. The height of each step, known as the rise, is calculated in conjunction with the treads to form a safe and effective design.

However, not all stairs have risers. Open rise stairs are a popular design choice for contemporary and modern homes. In this situation, the treads are supported by the stringers, rather than the risers – but the calculation of the rise, or step height, for the staircase is still a crucial element in ensuring a comfortable egress.

Post caps

Post caps can be used on timber posts for decorative purposes, and are available in a variety of timbers for either painting or staining.

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