Learn Stair
Terminology
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Stair Terminology

45° STAIR
A stair that changes direction at a 45° angle to either the Left or the right. Requires a winder tread (sometimes referred to as 'pie' tread due to it's shape).

BALUSTER
The narrow vertical pieces of a stair's rail system that connect the hand rail to either the plate or tread. Balusters are normally wood or iron and are available in a number of different profiles. Balusters are spaced no more than four inches apart from one another.

BALCONY
A horizontally level rail system overlooking a lower floor below. Usually found at the top of a stair at the 2nd floor overlooking the foyer or family room below.

BOTTOM ROUND
A type of starter tread with rounded ends (or ears) that extend beyond the width of the stair. Can be single ended or double ended.

BREAK-TO-OPEN
Occurs when a stair changes from closed to open in the middle of the stair. Refers to the section where the wall ends.

CAD DRAWING
CAD stands for Computer Aided Design. A CAD Drawing is a two dimensional line art drawing of your stair. We send this to you to be approved prior to your project being manufactured.

CAP & RAIL SYSTEM
This type of rail system is used with carpenter built stairs where the stair company is not employed to make the actual treads, risers & stringers. The cap is a piece of plate mounted to the top of a knee wall. The balusters and hand rail are then built onto the plate. Cap & rail projects often include skirtboards. The alternative to a cap & rail system is a full stair

CARPENTER BUILT STAIR
A stair built by the framers using framing lumber. These stairs are usually carpeted over and, therefore, use cheaper building materials. Carpenter built stairs often use cap & rail systems with skirtboards.

CARPET RUNNER
A continuous length of carpet, often decorative, that is installed down the center walkline of a full stair. Carpet runners help prevent slipping and wear.

CEILING PLATE
A length of plate mounted to the ceiling where a stair breaks-to-open at a point that requires the hand rail to terminate into the ceiling rather than the end of the wall. The ceiling plate is used to receive the tops of the balusters as well as the hand rail.

CHAMFER
Breaking the corner(s) of a normally square part, such as a newel post for example, by routing the corner(s) at a 45° angle to create a narrow flat face where the corner used to be.

CLOSED STRINGER
A stringer whose outside edge is placed against a wall (wall-side stringer).

CIRCULAR STAIR
An elaborate stair configuration with a broad, curved radius.

CODE RAIL
A continuous rail, required by code, that travels from the bottom of the stair to the top without any interfering object (such as a newel post or wall) blocking a person's hand from being able to travel the full length of the rail without having to remove one's hand to regrip in another location. When the grip width of the hand rail exceeds local jurisdiction codes, a code rail must also be installed. There are many variations of code rail and each stair is evaluated independently. Please contact our office if you need more information regarding code rail.

COVE
Decorative trim molding placed under the tread nosing and against the riser. Cove has a curved inside radius.

CURBED STRINGER
A type of open stringer into which the treads and risers terminate and the balusters rest on top of the stringer. The alternative to curbed open stringers is mitered open stringers. See definition for more information on mitered stringers.

CURVED BOTTOM
A curved radius section at the base of a non-circular stair. The entire section curves in the same direction, versus a double flair in which each side of the stair curves in mirrored directions outward.

DOUBLE 45° STAIR
A stair that changes direction twice at a 45° angle to either the left or the right & requires winder treads (sometimes referred to as 'pie' treads due to their shape).

DOUBLE CIRCULAR STAIRS
A stair configuration using mirrored sets of circular stairs.

DOUBLE LANDING
The intermediate landing platform on Stacked or U-Shaped stairs. Referred to as "double" because they are double the width of standard landings used on L-Shaped stairs, for example. Double landings are only built by the framers whereas standard landings can be built by either the framer or stair builder.

EASING
A type of hand rail fitting that accomodates pitch changes in the stair.

ELLIPTICAL BOTTOM ROUND
A bottom round with an elliptical shape.

ELLIPTICAL TREAD
Standard treads with an elliptical shape.

END CAP
A type of hand rail fitting that fits on top of a starter post. Used in similar fashion to a volute or turn out, but does not require a starter tread such as a bottom round because an end cap does not turn to the left or right, but instead continues in the same linear path of the hand rail on the stair.

FASCIA
Trim piece placed against the wall directly underneath of the plate on balcony sections.

FILLET
Small rectangular pieces of wood used to fill in the plowed groove between the balusters on the top of the plate and/or on the bottom of the hand rail. If using square-top balusters, fillet is required on the bottom of the rail. This differs from pin-top balusters in that pin-top balusters fit into holes drilled into the bottom of the rail.

FINIAL
The decorative top of a newel post.

FITTING
Small specialty pieces of hand rail used for changes in rail pitch or direction. Fittings are made to match the profile of the hand rail being used. Volutes, turnouts, easings & tandem caps are some types of fittings.

FLAIR
A curved radius section at the base of a stair that slowly curves outward as it gets closer to the first tread from the floor. A double flair has mirrored curved radiuses.

FLUTES
Vertical grooves routed into newel posts and balusters to add a decorative patterned element.

FULL STAIR
A stair project in which the stair builder manufactures the entire staircase, including the treads, risers and stringers. The alternative is a cap & rail system (see definition).

GEOMETRIC
A series of treads at the base of the stairs that return (usually at a 45° or 90° angle) into a wall.

GRIP WIDTH
The width of the grippable section of the hand rail. Local jurisdiction codes limit this width. If the grip width is exceeded, a code rail must be added to the stair (see definition for more info regarding code rail).

HAND RAIL
Long sections of wood with a molded profile that provide a grippable surface that follows the pitch (or rake) of the stair. The top piece of a rail system into which the tops of the balusters terminate.

HEADER SETBACK
Sometimes a stair does fit not into the space allowed by the architect. This problem is solved by cutting into the header to create more room at a lower point (i.e.: a landing or at the base of the stair). Essentially, a new header is created futher into the floor to accommodate the proper fit of the stair.

IRON BALUSTER PANEL
A set of decorative iron balusters that are assembled together to form an ornamental panel in a rail system.

LANDING
The intermediate platform between upper and lower sections of divided stairs such as L-Shaped or Stacked.

LANDING BY OTHERS
The landing is both framed and finished by a company other than the stair company.

LARGE SQUARE TREAD
A type of starter tread with square ends that extend beyond the width of the stair. Can be single ended or double ended.

L-SHAPED STAIR
A stair that changes direction at a 90° angle when you reach the landing.

LEVEL QUARTER TURN
A type of hand rail fitting used to make 90° turns into the side of a newel post at the base of a stair.

MEASURE
The process by which the stair company takes on-site measurements of the stair area of the house.

MITERED STRINGER
An open stringer in which both the stringer and riser are mitered at the points where they join together. The most common type of stringer.

NEWEL POST
The larger vertical parts of the rail system that are either lathe turned or square in shape. The newel posts are the main supports for the hand rails.

NOSING
The front edge of a tread, usually bull nosed or molded, which extends beyond the face of the riser below.

OPEN RISER
Instead of having solid wood risers, the risers are essentially removed allowing you to look through the stair. Most local code jurisdictions prohibit open risers unless the opening is less than 4" tall.

OPEN STRINGER
Stringers that do not run against a wall, but rather are in the open allowing you to see the outside of the stringer on the stair. There are variations on open stringers such as curbed stringers or mitered stringers.

OVERALL RISE
The total vertical distance between a lower floor and an upper floor. Overall rise determines the rise and run of a staircase.

OVER-THE-POST
A type of rail system in which the hand rail travels over the top of the newel posts rather than terminating into the side of the newel posts (which is referred to as post-to-post). It provides a continuous grippable surface without any obstruction. Many people prefer over-the-post systems due to their "clean" appearance.

PAINT & STAIN PACKAGE
Refers to the type of finish the stairs will receive. An all stained package means all the parts will be stained and lacquered whereas in a paint & stain package the hand rail, treads, plate & newel posts are stained & lacquered while the risers, stringers & balusters get painted. There are variations on paint & stain packages. Please call our office if you have questions.

PIE TREAD
A type of tread used in a 45° or double 45° stair. These treads are short at one end and long at the other end. This type of tread allows the stair to change directions without the need for a landing. The name comes from the resemblence to a slice of pie. Also referred to as a winder tread.

PIN-TOP BALUSTER
Refers to the top section of a baluster that is tapered at the top and terminates into a hole in the bottom of the hand rail. The alternative is a square-top baluster.

PITCH
The overall angle of incline or decline in a stair resulting from the rise & run. Also referred to as rake.

PLATE
Long, narrow sections of wood that are placed on the floor of balcony sections into which the bottoms of the balusters are lagged.

PLOWED RAIL
A groove that is machined into the bottom of the rail to receive the top of a square top baluster. The remaining space in the plow between the balusters is filled with fillet.

POST-TO-POST
A type of rail system in which the hand rail travels between the the newel posts. The hand rail terminates into the side of the newel post at each point of intersection rather than traveling over the top of the newel post (which is referred to as over-the-post).

POWDER COAT FINISH
A paint finish applied to iron balusters through electrostatic application. This bonds the paint to the surface of the iron creating a durable, hardened finish.

QUARTER ROUND TREAD
A type of starter tread with rounded corners. Unlike bottom round treads, quarter round treads do not always extend beyond the width of the stair. Can be single ended or double ended.

QUARTER SAWN
A method of milling wood which results in more straight, vertical grain patterns than plain sawn milling. Quarter sawn boards are more stable than plain sawn. Quarter sawn boards are also more expensive than plain sawn due to the time and skill required to mill them.

QUARTER TURN
A type of hand rail fitting used to make 90° turns at the corners of over-the-post balcony sections.

RAKE
See PITCH.

RETURNED END
When a tread changes direction and angles back into a wall. Geometric treads have returned ends.

RISE
The vertical distance between the tops of two consecutive treads.

RISER
The face piece of wood that spans vertically from the back of one tread to the nosing of the tread above. Also referred to as "kickers" because they are the pieces you sometimes kick when you walk up the stairs.

ROSETTE
A small piece of wood placed on the wall into which the hand rail terminates.

RUN
The horizontal distance between the faces of two consecutive risers.

SCROLL BRACKET
A decorative accent piece sometimes mounted to the side of a stringer at each corner where a tread and riser intersect with the stringer.

SELF-SUPPORT STAIR
A stair that is supported by it's own structure rather than being supported by a wall underneath. Self-support stairs require more labor and material than non self-support stairs.

SHOE
Decorative trim molding placed on the floor around the riser of a starter tread.

SKIRTBOARD
A board that is placed between a wall and a carpenter built stair and follows the pitch of the stair. Also referred to as mop boards.

SPECIES
A specific type of wood such as Red Oak or Maple.

SPINDLE
See BALUSTER.

SPIRAL STAIR
A stair that is made completely of winder treads with a very tight circular radius. Spiral stairs appear to corkscrew their way around a center post. Sprial stairs take up a very small footprint so they are popular where a stair is needed but cannot take up a lot of room (like in a loft).

SQUARE-TOP BALUSTER
Refers to the top section of a baluster that has a square block at the top and terminates into the plowed groove in the bottom of the hand rail. The remaining space in the plow between the balusters is filled with fillet. The alternative is a pin-
top baluster.

STACKED STAIR
A stair configuration in which the lower section of the stair travels up to a double landing, then turns 180° and travels the rest of the way up to the next floor. It is referred to as a stacked stair because there is a common wall shared by both the lower and upper sections that causes the ends of the open treads of the upper section to slightly hang over the lower section.

STAIRWELL
The space into which the stair is to be built. The term is derived from the opening(s) in the floor(s) where stairs will be built to travel from the basement to a second or third floor, thus creating the appearance of a deep "well".

STARTER POST
The newel post that sits at the base of the stair on or at the starter tread.

STARTER TREAD
The first tread at the bottom of a stair. Starter treads are often more elaborate than the rest of the treads.

STEP DOWN
A tread and riser combination that allows safe passage between rooms at different elevations, such as a hallway to a sunken family room.

STRAIGHT STAIR
A stair configuration that does not change direction at a landing or winder tread, but rather travels in a straight line between floors.

STRINGER
The vertical boards at the outside edges of the stair that carry the treads and risers from one floor to the next. There are two types of stringers: closed and open.

TANDEM CAP
A type of hand rail fitting used on over-the-post rail systems. It sits on top of a newel post and connects sections of hand rail on both sides of the tandem cap.

TREAD
The part of the stair on which you walk. Also commonly know as the steps.

TREAD RETURN
A piece of wood added to the end of an open tread which returns back around the outside edge of the stringer rather than leaving a plain, cut edge on the end of the tread. Tread returns have the same molded profile nosing as the front of the tread. Tread returns are not used on closed stairs or open stairs with curbed open stringers.

T-SHAPED STAIR
A stair configuration with two lower sections that meet at a landing and then continue to the floor above using a common upper section. Common usage is a kitchen stair and foyer stair that join together at the landing. Referred to as T-Shaped due to the resemblance of the stair to the capital letter "T" when viewed from an aerial perspective. There are, however, variations on T-Shaped stairs.

TURNOUT
A type of hand rail fitting used at the base of a stair. This fitting flares outward from the linear path of the hand rail above and rests on the top of a newel post that is mounted on a bottom round tread. It is similar to a volute but less ornate.

UP EASE
A type of hand rail fitting used to make a vertical transition in the pitch of the stair, usually at the intersection of hand rail into a newel post.

U-SHAPED STAIR
A stair configuration in which the lower section of the stair travels up to a double landing, then turns 180° and travels the rest of the way up to the next floor. It is referred to as a U-Shaped stair because, unlike a stacked stair, there is not a common wall but rather the upper section is offset from the lower section creating a U-Shape when viewed from an aerial persepective.

VOLUTE
A type of hand rail fitting used at the base of a stair. This fitting flares outward from the linear path of the hand rail above and rests on the top of a newel post that is mounted on top of a bottom round tread. It is similar to a turnout, but more ornate.

WALL RAIL
A section of hand rail with a basic profile (that meets all local code jurisdictions) that is mounted to a wall using brackets. They are most commonly used on sections of stairs that are between two walls. Wall rails do not have balusters.

WALL RAIL BRACKET
Brackets used to mount wall rails to the wall. They are available in a variety of finishes.

WALL-SIDE STRINGER
A closed stringer that is placed against a wall. The alternative is an open stringer.

WINDER STAIR
See 45° STAIR or DOUBLE 45° STAIR.

WINDER TREAD
A type of tread used in a 45° or double 45° stair. These treads are short at one end and long at the other end. This type of tread allows the stair to change directions without the need for a landing. Also referred to as a pie tread.

Y-SHAPED STAIR
A stair configuration with two upper sections that angle toward each other to meet at a landing and then continue to the floor below using a common lower section. Referred to as Y-Shaped due to the resemblance of the stair to the letter "Y" when viewed from an aerial perspective.



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