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
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
Victorian stairs were plain and simple with
continuous handrail, small diameter balusters, and
small handrail. Generally they were elegant and unfussy
with little decoration.
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
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.
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
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.
or barley twist baluster can also be called
a rope twist or hollow spiral.
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
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.
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.
is the angle or the steepness of the stair’s
rise and go.
raking balustrade is a sloping balustrade.
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).
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
is moulding that goes around the wall at the side
of landings to finish it off.
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.
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
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.
as in “Tapered dowel balusters”, that
is becomes narrower towards the bottom.
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.
tread is the horizontal part of the stair
that you step on.
brackets are a decorative element cut from
a flat piece of timber applied to the side of the
stair below each tread.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
is the pattern that the grain of a timber makes across
the board (the gently curving lines), depending on
how the timber is cut.
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
Joiner is a tradesperson who builds with
wood and has a higher level of skill and attention
to detail than a carpenter.
rays are the fleck or banded pattern noticeable
on the timber of most true oaks.
machinist is someone who uses machines such
as a planer, thicknesser, joiner, overhead router
and spindle moulder to shape and process timber.