Stair Terminology

Not sure what we’re talking about? Use this guide to familiarise yourself with our stair terminology.

WEB-Stair-Terminology

Tread
The part of the stairway that is stepped on. It is constructed to the same specifications (thickness) as any other flooring. The tread “depth” is measured from the outer edge of the step to the vertical “riser” between steps. The “width” is measured from one side to the other.

Riser
The vertical portion between each tread on the stair. This may be missing for an “open” stair effect (Open Rise).

Nosing
An edge part of the tread that protrudes over the riser beneath. If it is present, this means that, measured horizontally, the total “run” length of the stairs is not simply the sum of the tread lengths, as the treads actually overlap each other slightly.

‘D’ Tread 
Where stairs are open on one or both sides, the first step above the lower floor may be wider than the other steps and rounded. The balusters typically form a semicircle around the circumference of the rounded portion and the handrail has a horizontal spiral called a “volute” that supports the top of the balusters. Besides the cosmetic appeal, ‘D’ treads allow the balusters to form a wider, more stable base for the end of the handrail. Handrails that simply end at a post at the foot of the stairs can be less sturdy, even with a thick post.

Stringer
The structural member that supports the treads and risers. There are typically two stringers, one on either side of the stairs; though the treads may be supported many other ways. The stringers are sometimes notched so that the risers and treads fit into them. Stringers on open-sided stairs are often open themselves so that the treads are visible from the side. Such stringers are called “cut” stringers. Stringers on a closed side of the stairs are closed, with the support for the treads routed into the stringer.

Winders
Winders are steps that are narrower on one side than the other. They are used to change the direction of the stairs without landings. A series of winders form a circular or spiral stairway. When three steps are used to turn a 90° corner, the middle step is called a kite winder as a kite-shaped quadrilateral.

Balustrade
The balustrade is the system of railings and balusters that prevents people from falling over the edge.

Handrail
The angled member for hand holding, as distinguished from the vertical balusters which hold it up for stairs that are open on one side; there is often a railing on both sides, sometimes only on one side or not at all, on wide staircases there is sometimes also one in the middle, or even more. The term “banister” is sometimes used to mean just the handrail, or sometimes the handrail and the balusters or sometimes just the balusters.

Baluster
A term for the vertical posts that hold up the handrail. Sometimes simply called guards or spindles. Treads often require two balusters. The second baluster is closer to the riser and is taller than the first. The extra height in the second baluster is typically in the middle between decorative elements on the baluster. That way the bottom decorative elements are aligned with the tread and the top elements are aligned with the railing angle.

Newel
A large baluster or post used to anchor the handrail. Since it is a structural element, it extends below the floor and subfloor to the bottom of the floor joists and is bolted right to the floor joist. A half-newel may be used where a railing ends in the wall. Visually, it looks like half the newel is embedded in the wall. For open landings, a newel may extend below the landing for a decorative newel drop.

Shoe Rail
A capping on top of the stringer for balustrades to be inserted. To be used for “Flight Balustrade”.

Flight
A flight is an uninterrupted series of steps.

Landing
A landing is a small platform that is built as part of the stair  and is typically used to allow stairs to change directions, or to allow the user a rest. A half landing is where a 180° change in direction is made, and a quarter landing is where a 90° change in direction is made.

Base Rail
Similar to a shoe rail, the base rail is for balustrades to be inserted into, but is used for “Gallery balustrade”. The base rail is usually the same width as the newel posts.

*Some information taken from wikipedia.org.

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