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Stair Design

Straight or curved, plain or ornate, the staircase comes in many shapes and sizes. 

Stair design is the multidisciplinary art of combining the needs of the client with the space that is available, with the practicality of purpose and the chosen style. With so many forms for the given function, it can be confusing to know where to start.

With so many options and styles available, our goal is to make your decision easy. We combine the best materials with leading edge design to come up with the staircase of your dreams.

The Basic Shapes of Stairs

The Basic Types of Stairs

Staircase and Handrail Vocabulary

Stair building (or what was once part of traditional woodworking called joinery) is an art with a long tradition of craftsmanship and a wonderful heritage. Unfortunately, most of that traditional artistry has been lost to time. We do our best to preserve that art and tradition in everything we do. While some of these terms may be a bit archaic, we still find them useful and informative.

You can click the link below to see visual explanations of most terms.

  • Apron: a vertical covering board to the rough trimmer (joist) in a stairway or opening in a floor

  • Baluster: a turned, carved, or otherwise ornamented vertical column or division between the handrail and the stringer, the purpose of which is to prevent the user from falling off the stair

  • Balustrade, or Banister: the combination of balusters, posts, handrails, and stringers forming the fence or boundary to a flight of stairs

  • Bracket Baluster: those rising from the ends of, or outside the step, chiefly of metal

  • Bullnose Step: one with a quarter round end, returned into the newel post

  • Carriages: Rough timbers fixed under a stair to stiffen them. In modern times, more commonly made out of steel, especially in the stiffening of helical stairs

  • Cantilevered Stair: stairs in which the steps are not visibly supported at the well end, but are built-in, or otherwise supported at the inner, or wall end (chiefly constructed in steel)

  • Captive Glass: Where glass is used as a non-structural element of the balustrade in lieu of spindles, either by housing it in the handrail and shoe, or clamping it in place with clips

  • Close, or Housed String: a stair in which the ends of the steps are sunk or housed so that they are not visible outside the stair

  • Commode Step: one or more steps at the bottom of a flight, usually having curved risers, with wider treads than the average

  • Curtail Step: the bottom step of a stair that has a corresponding curve to that of the handrail scroll above it

  • Curtain Glass Wall: a non-structural dividing wall where the glass fills the entire space between floor and ceiling. A related to staircases, commonly used in lieu of a balustrade.

  • Dado Framing: paneling or wainscoting built on top of the wall stringer to match the profiles of the handrails and posts

  • Dogleg Stair: a stair in which the outer strings of the successive reverse flights are directly over, or in the same plane as each other, without any space between them

  • Drop: an ornamental end to a newel post which project below the stringer (soffit)

  • Easing: curved junctions made in a handrail to bring the parts at different levels into one flowing curve

  • Finial: the ornamental top end of a newel post that is carved, shaped, or turned (as opposed to a cap)

  • Firring-out: The process of fitting and fixing firrings or firring-pieces to correct irregularities, either in the wall or in the stair itself

  • Flight of Stairs: Is an uninterrupted series of steps and strings reaching from one landing to the next. It may be straight, curved, or polygonal in plan. Winders are considered an interruption.

  • Frameless Glass: Where glass is used as the primary structural member of the balustrade, in which the glass is fixed to the stairs via standoffs, channels, or other fixings.

  • Freestanding Stair: a stair rising from floor to floor without intermediate support from walls or supports (sometimes called an floating stair)

  • Going: The amount of horizontal advance in a flight, or the length of the stair horizontally

  • Half Landing: a landing at about half the height of the staircase, irrespective of the size in plan (not to be confused with half-space landing)

  • Half-space Landing: one going right across the stairway to receive two reverse flights

  • Hand of Stairs: determined by the hand applied to the handrail when ascending the stairs, i.e. if the right hand is used the flight is called a ‘right-hand’ stair, and vise versa

  • Headroom: the provision made for the passengers on a stair to avoid striking the head against the ceiling

  • Helical, or Curved Stair: a stair that rises regularly around a cylinder, imaginary or real (also known as circular or geometric stair)

  • Knee: an abrupt, vertical bend in a handrail, whose purpose is to convert inclined pitch of the rail into a level one, normally where it enters a post

  • Landing: a platform or wide step that forms a resting place at the top of a flight or at the junction of two flights

  • Level Easing: a portion of handrail in which a change of direction occurs (ie: elbow, s-bend)

  • Newel or Newel Post: a solid, vertical post at the centre or at angular turns and junctions, forming the main support of the strings and handrails

  • Newel Stairs: those in which the strings and handrails are framed, or connected to, substantial posts called “newels” at each end of the flights. There are two types, “open” newel and “close” newel (the latter are known as dogleg)

    • Types of newel stairs may be classified and defined as follows:

      • a close newel stair is a newel stair with a close or housed stringer

      • an open newel stair is a newel stair with a cut or sawtooth stringer

      • a newelless, or non-newel stair, is a stair without a newel post as part of its structure (the vast majority of modern staircases currently built in the North American tradition fall under this category)

      • an open string, close newel stair is a newel stair with cut stringers but without a well (ie: dogleg)

      • a close string open well stair is a newel stair with close, or housed, stringers and having a well

      • a close string, close newel stair is a newel stair with close, or housed, stringers and having a well

      • an open newel, open string stair is a newel stair with cut stringers and a well

  • Open, or Cut String: one cut, or notched at the top edge, to fit the profile of the steps (ie: sawtooth stringer)

  • Pitch: the inclination of the stair with, or to, the horizontal

  • Plinth: a skirting or flat moulded piece at the base of a newel, column, pedestal, or wall

  • Quarter Landing: a square or nearly square landing at the junction of two flights

  • Quarter-turn Stairs: a stair of two flights at right angles to each other

  • Ramp: extensive easing in a handrail, connecting a horizontal part to an inclined part; can also apply to stringers

  • Return flight: one crossing the direction of the main flight, usually at right angles

  • Reverse fight: one in which the user travels in the opposite direction from the preceding flight

  • Rise: The distance between the surfaces of adjacent steps

  • Risers: The vertical face pieces that are under the nose of the tread that forms the shape of the step

  • Run: The length of each individual step in a flight of stairs, minus the nosing

  • Shank: the short, straight piece on the end of a wreath that corresponds to the straight rail

  • Soffit of a Stair: the visible sloping under-surface between opposite stringers or the enclosing wall

  • Spandrel: is the more or less triangular space under the stair

  • Spandrel Framing: a triangular, paneled framework closing the space between a stair and the floor beneath it

  • Spindle: thin, plain, or decorative rods or rectangular strips that form a division between the handrail and stringer, the purpose of which is to prevent the user from falling off the stair (ie: banister)

  • Stairs: A combination of steps, framed into stringers and newels, which support the balustrade and handrails.

  • Stair Brackets: carved, shaped, or otherwise ornamented imitation steps, roughly triangular in shape,  which are placed on the face of the stringer under the treads

  • Staircase: The structure containing a stairway. Usually encompassing a wall with associated dado framing or casing, the supporting framework, the balusters, and the underside of the stairs. Archaic. Modern usage of stairs, stairway, or staircase is used largely interchangeably.

  • Stairway: Openings formed in and through floors to provide passage for the stairs. 

  • Swan-neck: a gooseneck, except with one ramp and one knee

  • String of a Stair, or Stringer: the inclined board at the end of the steps in a flight, into which the steps are fixed in various ways (ie: housed stringer, cut stringer)

  • Trimmer: is a timber or metal beam (joist) used to create an opening around a stairwell, skylight, chimney, and the like

  • Walking Line: An arbitrary line drawn on the plan of the curved part of a stair on which the width of the treads are spaced out equally. Commonly this line is drawn at 12” from the centre line of the handrail (or as specified by local code)

  • Well, or Well-hole: the enclosure or space between the opposite strings of a stair

  • Wreaths: handrails of circular stairs, or the parts of handrails formed by other curves, are called wreaths to distinguish them from straight sections of rail.

Definitions paraphrased and updated in part from Modern Practical Stairbuilding and Handrailing by George Ellis

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