Staircase Terminology

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Here is a complete glossary of staircase design related terms that you should know about:

Baluster/Spindle – This is the vertical member of the staircase, and be plain or decorative. It is the infill between the handrail and the base rail.

Balustrading – This is the collective name for the complete assembly, which consists of handrails, spindles, caps and newels.

Bullnose Step – Usually located at the bottom of the stairs with one or both ends of the step having a quarter- circle design.

Closed String – When the profile of treads and risers cannot be seen, it is because the string face is housed or trenched. Thus the term closed string applies.

Connector fittings – A term used to describe pieces of wood or metal that allow the handrail to change pitch & direction on the staircase.

Continuous Handrail – The term applies when straight lengths of handrail are connecting to handrail fittings and ramps. The handrail flows over the tops of newel turnings thus creating a continuous run of handrail.

Cove molding – Typically a piece of 1/2″ x 3/4″ molding that is attached underneath the treads & balcony cap.  This molding covers any gaps between the rough framing and the finish tread while contributing to a finished look.

Curtail Step – A decorative shaped step at the bottom of the stairway which usually accommodates the volute and volute newel turning of the Continuous Handrail System.

Cut or Open String – Descriptive of a string with the upper edge cut away to the shape of the treads and risers. As a result, the profile can be seen from the side.

End Tread – A smaller version of the full tread.   This part of the staircase is typically 8″ or less in width.  This term refers to a finish piece of wood that is attached to the rough framing.  The balusters will be inserted directly into the end tread.

Handrail – The horizontal member of a balustrade system that sits on top of the balusters and is supported by the newel posts.

Kick Board – A piece of wood that is notched to slide over the steps of the staircase against the wall.  This board can range from 1/4″ – 1″ in thickness.  A panel molding is typically placed over the kick board for a finished look.

Newel or Post – The newel/post accommodates the handrails, strings, treads and risers of a stairway.

Nosing – The nosing is the edge of the tread that projects beyond the face of riser along with the face of a cut string.

Pitch – This is the angle between the horizontal and the pitch line.

Pitch Line – The pitch line is the notational line that connects the nosing of all the reads in a flight of stairs.

Rake – Refers to a stairs’ pitch

Rise – In a flight of stairs, it is the vertical distances between the floors of landings that are connect by the flight. It is the vertical measurement from top of tread to top of tread.

Riser -The riser is the board that forms the face of a step.  The riser is connected to the skirt board at a 45 degree miter when skirt board is an option.

Skirt board – A piece of wood that is attached to the area below the treads and/or balcony cap.  This piece is attached at the same pitch degree as the staircase.  A piece of panel molding is attached to the skirt board to give a finished look.

Staircase – A term that many people are familiar with. The staircase is the entire structure compromising the treads, steps, strings, balusters and landing.

Stairway/Stairwell – This is the space, or void provided by the stairs

Step -The step is the combination of the tread and riser.

Tread – Top or horizontal surface of a step.

Tread filler – A piece of 3/8″ – 5/8″ plywood that is cut to fit in between the end tread and the wall
and/or wall tread.  This piece of wood allows the carpet to be installed slightly above the finished
tread giving the look of a carpet runner over a full tread.
Volute – ornament consisting of a curve on a plane that winds around a center with an increasing distance from the center

Wall Tread – Very similar to the end tread.  This is a finish piece of wood that is typically 1″-1 1/4″ smaller in width than the end tread.  It it attached to the rough framing against the kick board or drywall.