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A Guide to Staircase Terminology

01 August 2018

Creating a new staircase has the ability to transform your space completely. However, it can sometimes seem like a daunting task, especially when a variety of terminology is used that you’re unfamiliar with. Here at WoodenStairs, we want to make the process of creating your bespoke wooden stairs as effortless and painless as possible. We’ve included a list of some of the most frequently used words, and we’ve explained them in a very simplified way (yes, there is a lot more to it!), but hopefully it will help you in understanding the common stair-jargon. 

 

In the alphabetical order:

 

Baluster

Usually referred to as a spindle, this is the vertical component that joins the stairs (steps & strings) to the handrail. This protects you from falling off the side of the stairs. If the staircase sits between two walls, the baluster is not necessary but can be incorporated purely for decorative purposes. The spindles can be made of timber or metal or artistic wrought iron, as decorative or plain as you like. Spindles aren’t always essential, especially if you’re opting for a baluster made of a pane of glass or a solid pane of timber. Unless you choose for a solid timber baluster or panes of glass, the spindle baluster cannot exist on its own. The spindles – regardless of their design or material – must be connected (secured) at the top by a handrail.

 

Balustrade

This is the name given for the connected baluster and the rail system used on your stairs. A balustrade includes the baluster (e.g. vertical spindles or glass) together with the handrail and newel posts. In some instances, particularly in stairs with glass or with solid baluster, there might be no handrail or newel posts. In such cases, the baluster and balustrade become the same thing – their primary function is to protect from falling off the stairs.

 

Bullnose step

The bottom step of your stairs, the entrance step, which has a quarter or half circle design at either end. Bullnose steps are usually seen in large, grand stair models, where the entrance step is wider and curves on one side. In many large staircases, there may be 2 or 3 bullnose steps creating a Grand Opening. Bullnose steps can also be square or rectangular, also forming a Grand Entrance on more contemporary zigzag staircases.

 

Closed String 

A closed string implies that all treads and risers are recessed into the string, meaning you cannot see the side-edge of your treads from the stair side. Closed string is usually observed on standard stairs or hybrid/eclectic helical staircases. On the top of the closed string, there are often grooves or holes which allow insertion of the stair baluster (spindles or glass).

 

Continuous handrail

A handrail that flows for the length of the staircase and often continues throughout the landing gallery. Continuous handrails are often curved and extend through all flights of stairs in the property.

 

Curtail step

A decorative step, usually the entrance step. This is often an interchangeable name to the Bullnose step, but it may sometime suggest that the entrance step is to be curved throughout (as opposed to just from the sides) forming a shape of a curved half-moon entrance. 

 

Cut string

On a contrary to the Closed string, the Cut string allows you to see the side-edge of the treads. It’s like a Closed string, but cut on top, letting the treads to come out from the side! It is the most popular construction for the traditional stairs or Georgian stair models. With Cut string staircases there is nowhere to insert the spindles into, so the spindles are usually affixed on top of each individual tread. 

 

Going

Think about it as the space for your foot. For the purpose of this document we are going to say that Going is often referred to as “Run”. It is the useable depth of each and every step, allowing sufficient space for your feet as you ascend or descend the stairs.

 

Handrails

The horizontal component which sits on top of the baluster. The handrail is the component which is held when ascending/descending the stairs. Handrails can be straight, curved, continuous or divided into sections via newel posts.

 

Headroom

The gap between the lowest point of the ceiling and the surface of the tread. The regulatory expectation is for headroom to be no less than 2 meters, meaning there should be a minimum of 2-metre height between the stairs and the ceiling, ensuring your head is safely distanced from the ceiling whilst using the stairs.

 

Newel posts

The large posts that are the main support for the baluster and balustrade. Newel posts are home to the handrails and ensure that the entire balustrade is stable. Although the newel posts can be made of timber, metal or decorative wrought iron in a variety of designs and finishes, newel posts are usually present in traditional stair models. For stairs which do not have newel posts, the stability of balustrade is achieved by curved handrails or by thicker spindles.

 

Nosing

The edge of the tread which sticks out. Nosing can be square, rounded or decoratively carved.

 

Open riser

A set of stairs that has a gap between each step.

 

Pitch

The angle between the pitch line running horizontally.

 

Pitch line

The line connecting all the nosings of the treads. Pitch line and the flat line indicating your floor, allows calculating the angle of incline (the stair pitch).

 

Riser

The face of the step that supports the tread, it is the vertical component which is underneath each tread. Risers can be closed (full height) meaning there is no gap between the adjacent treads or can be open. Open risers mean there is either no riser at all (there is a gap between adjacent treads), or there is a half-riser (a form of a partial barrier between adjacent treads).

 

Step

The step is created from two separate components: the tread and the riser.

 

String

The components which create the side of your stairs, the strings hold the treads and risers together and create a stair. There can be a Closed string (treads and risers recessed into the string) or Cut string (treads sit on top of the string)

 

String moulding

Often called side moulding, is a decorative, usually carved and wavy pattern, attached to the side of your string. Cover moulding is most popular on traditional staircases and prevalent in all Georgian designs (where the decorative carving is attached to the Cut string, underneath the treads).

 

Tread

The surface component or each step.  

 

Tread moulding

This is usually a decorative carving or detailing on the underside of every tread. The moulding can either be attached to the underside of each tread or – for a more luxurious appearance - it can be decoratively carved at the bottom of each tread.

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