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Stairs & Rails Terms

  Staircase Systems Terminology Listed A-to-Z

Stair Terms Dictionary

Understanding the terms used to describe a stair makes it easier to be specific about what you want when ordering a stair. These terms are also used in the captions on our photographs. It is also crucial that you understand what is written on your quotation, so you know what to expect and can compare prices accurately between vendors.

A baluster is one of the series of vertical posts that support the handrail all along the length of the stair. Tod stairs can offer you stock or custom balusters to suit your job.

Balustrade is the word to collectively describe all the balusters and handrail together, as in “The balustrade was painted white.”

Bull nose tread or curtail tread is a large curved first (or second) tread that curves out past the side of the stair. See the last or bottom right photo on the Contemporary Stairs page.

In a Closed string staircase the ends of the treads and risers are fitted, or rebated into the string (or sides of the stair), so they can’t be seen from the side. The string is one solid piece of wood that forms each side and supports the treads, running parallel to the handrail. This technique was used in the early 1800’s. See the first and last photographs on the Traditional and Restoration Stairs page.

Continuous handrail is handrail that does not stop and start at a newel post or where the stair changes direction, but continues in smooth curves from the bottom of the stair to the top. You can run your hand all the way along as you walk up or down the stair. It can be made with an ornate traditional handrail or with a simple elliptical one.

Cut string staircase is sometimes called an open string, profile string or saw tooth string. The string, or board that forms the side (or sides) of the stair, is cut out level with each tread (in a zig zag shape) such that the edge of each of the treads sticks out past the side of the stair. This is used for both contemporary and Victorian styles.

Early Victorian stairs were plain and simple with continuous handrail, small diameter balusters, and small handrail. Generally they were elegant and unfussy with little decoration.

Fascia is the decorative board that goes around the edge of the stairwell (covering the thickness of the beams between ceiling and floor. Tod Stairs can do it if required, but it is not covered on quotations unless listed specifically.

French polishing is the trade of applying a shellac and alcohol-based finish that can be tinted or coloured to seal and protect the wood. Timber must be sealed before it is used. It gives the wood a more uniform colour and surface. Customers can book their own French polisher or we can do it for you.

A fry pan is used to begin (or end) a level run of handrail. It can also be used to begin or end the handrail at the bottom of a set of stairs (or at the first tread) when there isn’t room for a wreathed scroll. It looks like a flat circular disk. See Wreaths, scrolls and Volutes in the product information section.

Hob wall is a wall built above the stairs that forms part of the balustrade. See the top right photograph on the Continuous handrail page or centre left photo on the Contemporary stairs page.

Jacobean or barley twist baluster can also be called a rope twist or hollow spiral.

Late Victorian style stair is characterized by large, heavy and elaborate decoration. Curtail (or bullnose) treads are used. There are big diameter newel posts often with fluting, carving and lots of detail.

Newel or newel posts are thicker and taller than a baluster and are used to support the handrail at the top and bottom of a stair and where there is a change of direction. Handrail is rebated into the newel post, that is, a hole is cut into the newel in the same shape as the end of the handrail. The end of the handrail is then glued and screwed into this hole. Other stair builders may simply nail the handrail to the side of the newel posts, which is not as secure.

Nosing is the edge of a stair tread or edging added around a first floor void, where it overhangs the edge of the floor into the well.

Rake is the angle or the steepness of the stair’s rise and go.

A raking balustrade is a sloping balustrade.

Rise and go, rise and going or rise and run are all terms used to describe how steep a stair is. On a small scale the rise of a stair equals the (vertical) height from one tread to the next. The go or going is the depth of the tread minus any overhang. Sometimes these terms are used on a large scale to describe the total height of the staircase (rise) and the total depth of the staircase (go or going).

Riser is the vertical part of the steps of the stair, which go between each tread. An open rise stair has no risers, so that you can see between the treads as you walk up it.

Skirting is moulding that goes around the wall at the side of landings to finish it off.

Soffit lining is the covering of the underside of a stair to hide the construction of the stair (wedges, etc). It is now generally done in gyprock. Tod Stairs does not include soffit lining on quotations, unless specified as a separate item. We can offer an extensive range of paneling and cupboards on request.

Stock handrail and stock balusters are standard designs that work well and so they are kept in stock. They are less expensive than custom handrail or custom balusters.

A string or stringer forms each side of a stair, supporting the whole length of the stair. They are the two very long wide boards to which the treads and risers are fixed. In a curved stair the string is made from several thin layers of wood twisted around a curved frame and glued together.

Tapered as in “Tapered dowel balusters”, that is becomes narrower towards the bottom.

To match existing is an expression often used on a quotation where new work will be made to generally the same style as the old. Building codes are much safer today than before, and do not allow many things to be done exactly the same way as previously. This has forced some necessary changes.

The tread is the horizontal part of the stair that you step on.

Valence brackets are a decorative element cut from a flat piece of timber applied to the side of the stair below each tread.

Victorian Style stair Cut strings with valence brackets, and the use of larger balusters and newels characterize Victorian Style stair, and larger handrail sections as the Victorian period progressed.

Volute is a decorative ending for handrail that curves down into a vertical spiral. See drawing in Wreaths, Scrolls and Volutes in the Product Information Section.

Wreath is a section of handrail that appears to twist around a corner as it rises up or drops down. These are carved out of large solid blocks of wood.

Wreathed scroll is a decorative and structural starting (or end point) for continuous handrail. It curves out beyond the side of the stair into a horizontal spiral. Wreathed scrolls are called a volute in the US. See the bottom two photographs on the Continuous handrail page.

Other Terminology

A Casting mould is a form of wood or another material in a positive shape that is used to create a negative (the mould), so that many of that item can be cast in that shape. Casting moulds may be used to create such diverse things as concrete columns, a sculptured plastic mug, or a metal gear for precision machinery.

Fiddleback grain shimmers when seen from an angle and is seen as a desirable feature. An example of fiddleback grain is the tiger stripes on the back of a violin.

Figure is the pattern that the grain of a timber makes across the board (the gently curving lines), depending on how the timber is cut.

Hand wood turner is someone who uses a lathe to shape square lengths of wood into round shapes for balusters, newel posts, verandah posts, bowls, etc, using chisels. This allows us to match existing balusters needed in restoration and traditional work. Also, we can shape wood as needed to do custom work such as hollow cricket stumps for Stumpcam, ivory knobs for organ stops, or to make giant pieces for an outdoor chess set.

A Joiner is a tradesperson who builds with wood and has a higher level of skill and attention to detail than a carpenter.

Medullary rays are the fleck or banded pattern noticeable on the timber of most true oaks.

Wood machinist is someone who uses machines such as a planer, thicknesser, joiner, overhead router and spindle moulder to shape and process timber.

Source For The Above Information:

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