Stair Parts Glossary

Stair and Stair Parts Glossary


  1. Stair parts can be made from many materials and can be styled as desired.
  2. Many stair parts have many names such as baluster, spindle and picket.
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Term Definition
4" ball rule - a common building code requirement mandating that a 4" sphere cannot pass through the balustrade's components; a staircase safety code preventing children and pets from getting stuck or falling through
6" ball rule - for metal or similar railing system with a bottom rail or cable, a common building code requirement mandating that a 6" sphere cannot pass through the triangular-shaped area bounded by the tread, the riser and the bottom rail; a staircase safety code preventing children and pets from getting stuck or falling through
articulated stair - a stair type or configuration as may be installed on floating roof tanks or on dock facilities; a stair type where the angle of the stair changes with the rise and fall of the base support
balcony height - the vertical height between the lower floor and the top of the balcony handrail


- a vertical staircase part between the top rail and the bottom rail or tread; often made from turned wood or fabricated out of metal; also known as spindles or pickets (especially on the exterior)

banister - another name for balustrade, sometimes referred to as the balustrade of the staircase; the handrail and it's supporting system (i.e. balusters and newels)
balustrade - a complete rail system; mostly, the parts above the treads and risers
bending rail - specially cut wood rail allowing (flexible) bending or turning to match the bend of the staircase
bending mold - a bending tool (product) that helps in forming (curving) bending rail and protects the underlying rail from clamp damage; its profile must match the profile of the bending rail and its outside surface is flat allowing clamping; used on both sides of the bending rail
bifurcated stair - a common staircase design often used in large, high traffic buildings where a wide, common flight is bifurcated or separated into two smaller flights at the next level
bottom rail - the lower rail component running parallel with the floor or with the stair on the rise; the balustrade part that terminates spindles at the bottom and, on the sides connects to newel posts
bowed starting step - a decorative first stair style which is wider than the other stairs; these extended side (single) or sides (double) are often designed larger staircase spaces
box newel - a newel in the (vertical) shape of a box or square as opposed to round or tubular; box newels tend to be larger in width and maybe hollow


- a decorative or ornamental staircase component mounted on the skirt board or stringer and often made from wood and about 3/8" thick; often with a scroll shape design; also see handrail bracket

bull nose

- the rounded front or outside edge of a tread or board
cap - the over-the-post handrail fitting installed over a newel post for continuous or smooth handrail; cap is shorten version of tandem cap; also see tandem cap
cap rail - the part of the rail where the hand is placed; also call handrail


- the supporting framing underneath stairs; the carriage is part of the stringer; the angled part of a stringer supporting the stair system; the resting place for treads

circular stairs - a staircase with no center post but has two outside handrails; also see 'helical stairs'; a type of staircase characterized by its number of turns

closed stringer

- a style staircase where the treads are not visible from the side; also known as box or boxed stairs; as opposed to 'open stringer'
cove mold - an inside corner finish trim piece which has a concave profile (as opposed to a shoe mold); decorative, finish molding mounted under the treads; typical cove mold sizes: 5/8" x 13/16" or 3/4" x 5/8"
curtain entry - the bottom, staircase entry step that has an extended side (or sides) often styled with a volute(s)

curved stairs

- a staircase that curves as it ascends usually to turn a corner or just to make a turn
cut string - a modified string (or stringer) with its upper edge cut-away allowing the profile view of the treads and risers to show
degree of ascent - the rake or incline of a staircase; the slope measured in degrees
dowel - tube-shaped (pencil like) wood fastener used to connect (often with glue) two like materials such as a wood baluster to a stringer; also called a dowel pin


- a class of handrail components; often a curved, connecting handrail component often used to change the handrail angle such a when the handrail leads to a landing or makes a turn
false riser - a special type of riser primarily for staircases with continuous, center-of-staircase carpeting; these risers are shorter in length, are about 1/2" in depth (matching carpet height) and are attached at the sides with carpeting later laid in the middle; also see false tread
false tread - a special type of tread primarily for staircases with continuous, center-of-staircase carpeting; these treads are shorter in length, are about 1/2" in depth (matching carpet height) and are attached to the step at the side(s) with carpeting later laid in the middle; also see false riser
false tread kit - a collection of false tread components that often includes the false tread, front and side moldings and the false riser
field - the design area between the handrail at the top and bottom rail or the treads


- a finishing (underside) board used to fill-in the plow (area) between balusters on a plowed handrail and shoe rail


- a decorative, finish part placed atop a newel (post); usually made from a wood-turned part and has a dowel-like bottom

- the general term for shaped wood (or iron) that extends and changes the direction of handrail; has several varieties such as volutes, turnouts, tandem caps, easings and goosenecks

- any minor, matching staircase part

flight - a series of steps reaching from one landing to the next; an uninterrupted set of stairs, straight or curved
floor to floor - the vertical measurement taken from the top of the lower finished floor to the top of the next finished floor; the total rise of a stair; the height of a spiral stair
flute - a decorative vertical groove(s) in a baluster or a newel or vertical groves of similar design
glue block - a small, properly cut board glued to other staircase pieces to provide additional support or strength to the area
going - the distance from the nosing edge to the edge of next nosing in plan view; the distance a person would traverse forward with each step taken
gooseneck - a handrail component that allows a vertical change of direction or to lower the handrail from a floor or landing down to the height of the handrail on the stair below; often for use at a balcony or landing; some gooseneck designs also turn left or right
gradient of a stair - the angle of inclination or the ratio (expressed in degrees) between the stair run (horizontal distance) and the rise of the stair (vertical distance)
guard - staircase railing or protective railing; see 'guardrail' below
guardrail - the protective railing to prevent people, pets or objects from falling through a staircase or open balcony; composed of newels, balusters and, at a minimum, a top rail
half newel - a newel post that's usually cut vertically in half and then mounted against a wall for aesthetic purposes; a special purpose, wall-mounted and usually a post-to-post newel post
handing - for some special stair parts, the installed direction is left or right handed; the handing direction (left or right sided) is determined by standing at the staircase base or starter step and looking up or ascending the staircase
handrail - the top part of the balustrade and often made from metal or wood; the underside often has holes to receive the balusters
handrail bracket - a wall-mounted part, often made from metal, which fastens the rail to a wall
handrail clearance - the distance between a handrail and another nearby object or surface such as a wall; a stair building code compliance measurement to ensure adequate handrail gripping

- the vertical distance from the top of the finished floor surface at the bottom of the staircase to the finished floor surface at the top of the staircase; most codes require 6' 6" - 6' 8" headroom

helical stairs - a spiral staircase which does not have a center pole and has a handrail on both sides; somewhat visually similar to a DNA strand
knee wall - the small, top capped, side wall of a staircase hiding the treads and risers; also the very small wall on a closed stringer or the board above the tread and riser
landing - the large, horizontal standing surface at the top of a flight of stairs or in the middle of a staircase
landing newel - the longest newel (post) used at landings or balconies
landing tread - a stair part used at the top of a stairway or at the beginning of a balcony and transitions into the landing
lateral - the curved top rail component that connects to a newel post; another name for a specialized handrail fitting
left hand stair - a stair with a left-side balustrade while ascending
level quarter turn - a handrail fitting that allows a 90 (to 135 degree) turn, on the same plane and where no newel is used; often used to return to a wall or handrail around the corner
level rail - handrail on a balcony or landing; non-rake handrail
line of travel - a staircase's line of walk or traverse; a factor used to determine widing or spiral tread depth
lineal nosing - a finish trim piece, often with a rounded front edge, which attaches to the leading (front) side of a tread
mold or molding - a decorative finish piece often applied and running vertically or laterally near a staircase; also known as trim; can be a simple as a quarter turn or as have a fancy, intricate profile
newel - the large vertical, structural component extending vertically from the thread (or near the thread) ending at the handrail; often placed at regular intervals, turns or transitions of the railing; also called a newel post
newel mounting plate - a steel plate used to connect a newel to the staircase or floor; has numerous pre-drilled holes to allow screwing up into the newel and down into the staircase or floor.
nosing - the rounded tread front or outside edge (material); often made from a hard, hard-to-scratch material and often rounded
open flight - a staircase that is exposed or without a wall on one or both sides of the threads; also called an open stair
open stair

- a staircase style where the treads are exposed (viewable) from the side and the balusters are attached to the treads; the staircase may or may not have risers.

open stringer - - a staircase design style where the sides of the treads are exposed or can be seen; conversely, see closed stringer
opening cap - - a horizontal handrail termination piece, one side connects to the handrail and the other side is typically rounded for use with a pin top newel
open well stair - - a staircase design where the treads visible at the ends
over easing - a handrail fitting used to transition from a sloped (or rake) rail to level rail; a non-gooseneck handrail easing for transitions
over the post - a balustrade or rail style where the balustrade rail is over the top of the newel; the newel connect to the rail from the underside; an over the post staircase makes for a great slide; also see 'post-to-post'
parapet - a small or low wall (or railing) at the horizontal edge of a platform or roof; a small wall or barrier constructed for safety  purposes
picket - another name for a baluster; also see spindle; the vertical railing component between the top rail and the bottom rail
pin top baluster - a baluster configured to have a round, dowel (or rounded like a dowel) top designed to fit into the drilled underside of a handrail made ready to receive the baluster's top
pitch - the angle of the staircase as determined by the staircase's rise (vertical distance) and run (horizontal distance); often express in degrees
pitchblock - a carpenter or fabricator's tool set (or adjusted or marked) to the staircase's pitch (rise and run) which facilitates marking (where to cut) and, by extension, where to subsequently precision-cut curved pieces (such as easings)
plowed rail - a specially configured (larger) handrail designed to be mounted over a smaller square-top baluster rail; the underside of the handrail has been cut away as if it's been plowed
plug - a circular, finishing part, often used in wooden railing, that covers a drilled hole which accesses fastening hardware
post - the vertical staircase component which supports the handrail; see newel
post-to-post - a balustrade or rail style where the balustrade rail connects into the side of newels; often considered a classic rail style; also see 'over post'
profile - the shape of a part when viewed from its side (as opposed to the most common or typical view, the a front view); also known as profile view; wood railing is often shown in profile view to see its style
quarter turn fitting - a handrail transition component that allows a 90 degree or 1/4 turn of the handrail
rail - the hand support system in a stair system; also see rail system
rail cap - the part of the rail where the hand is placed; also called handrail and cap rail
rail plug - a hole-filing, round wood plug;  a finish plug used to fill the hole drilled into newel posts and rails for component fastening
rail system - upper part of a staircase system (including the handrail, newels, balusters and related fittings) and does not include the lower components such as, for example, the risers, threads or stringers.
rake - the slope or angle of the staircase; also known as pitch
rake rail - a hand rail that matches the pitch or rake of the staircase (as opposed to level rail)
return nosing - molding material applied to the exposed edge of a tread for protection and asethetics; also see nosing
right hand stair - a stair with a right-side balustrade while ascending
rise - the vertical distance between the two consecutive treads often measured between the top of a lower tread to the top of the next higher tread
riser - the vertical plane or face of a step usually around 7" in height.
riser-tread formula - a math formula used to determine rise distance, for example, riser (7") + tread (10.6") = 17 to 18"
rosette - a decorative finish piece, often circular or round, which mounts to a wall and receives the handrail
run - the horizontal distance between to consecutive risers; the distance between the face of one riser to the face of the next riser
S fitting - a handrail fitting that snakes left or right for turns around walls (thereby eliminating mitre cuts in the handrail)
scraper - a wood-removing hand tool to help finish or plane the surface of two, now-connected rail pieces; most often scrapers are made to match the handrail's profile to speed the surface matching work
ship ladder

- a near-vertical stepped ladder with a typical 65-75 degree incline; commonly found on sea-going vessels especially along dock side while docked for crew and passengers

shoe rail or shoerail

- a specially cut base or bottom rail which often receives the bottom end of balusters and is often installed over a knee wall

shoe mold - an inside corner finish trim piece which has a convex profile (as opposed to a cove mold); usually installed where the first riser abuts the finished floor
shoe rail - a plowed or cutout mold designed to receive a baluster's square end; a mold often used at bases such as at the base of the starter step; a shoe rail often receives the top or bottom of vertical balusters and are parallel with the handrail or can be part of the underside of a handrail holding the top of the baluster.
skirtboard or skirt board - the decorative finish board running up the open sides of the staircase; usually a 1'x10"; the board or material protecting the wall along the side of a closed stair
soffit - the visible sloping under-surface of a flight; the bottom or underside of a staircase
spindle - a special type of baluster; a vertical, turned (or carved) baluster, often round, between the handrail and the tread or stringer.
splay - to form with an oblique angle; make slanting; bevel; to spread out, expand, or extend
spiral stairs - a type of stair case that spirals or bends or is circular; also called helical stairs especially when without side walls.
square top baluster - a square top baluster style usually matches its lower squared end; a baluster style that fits into plowed handrail (at the top) or shoe rail (at the bottom) and is often used with fillet material.
stair - a series of treads and risers, the two making a (single) step; a series or flight of steps; a stairway or a winding stair
stairwell - a framed opening in a floor for staircase
start easing or starting easing - an over-the-post type of handrail part that starts the handrail and often used when there is not enough space for a turn out or volute
starter step - the first step (including the first riser) of a stair; a decorative, flat or bowed front, often with round ends, wider-than-other-steps first step
steel insert - a small hardware wood-to-wood fastening sub-part with internal and external threads; a part inserted into a drilled newel hole or similar and when a bolt is inserted into this part and tightened the joint is stronger than a bolt-only method
step - one single unit of a stair comprised of a tread and riser
square top baluster - a baluster (top) which has a square top for mounting into a plowed rail or fillet (as opposed to dowel top)
stair cap - a cover for existing steps or treads; a partial or complete step cover that is anti-slip or has other benefits.
stair tread - the horizontal step surface
start easing - a decorative starting handrail component that's straight (as opposed to a volute)
starting tread or step - the first tread and riser or stair often rounded for ascetic purposes.
stairwell - the large opening in a floor to accommodate a staircase
stringer - the inclined board(s) or structural material spanning the length of a flight that supports or holds up the treads and risers; often constructed on the sides; skirtboards trim this part
T-shaped stair - a stair style with an intermediate landing that splits the stair into a left and right (usually ascending) stairs
tandem cap - a decorative, profile-matching, horizontal handrail component attached atop a newel post; a handrail union
tapered step - a step on a winding (winder) or curved staircase
top lid - a finish sub-part that covers a fastening hole (port) and trim finishes its parent part; most easings have special internal fasteners and access to the fastening port is covered by this part
total going - see 'total run'
total run - the horizontal distance form the first riser to the last riser
tread - the horizontal, left-to-right board (or surface) that one steps
tread depth - the measurement from the nosing edge to the vertical riser (or from the nosing edge to the backside of the tread)
tread bracket - see 'bracket' above
turnout or turn out - a decorative, beginning or first rail piece that attaches to the rail and typically flares left or right.
U-shaped stair - a stair style (with at least two flights) that changes direction 180 degrees
up easing - an over-the-post curved handrail fitting permitting the rail to change the slope; usually used that the top or bottom of an over-the-post run

- a rounded decorative top handrail piece beginning the railing; often called a lateral

- a rounded, decorative way to start the bottom of a staircase; comprised of multiple balusters and may have a centered newel;

walk line or walkline - an imaginary line (usually for a curved staircase) away from the inner edge on which people are expected to walk or ascend the staircase; a building code minimum tread depth dimension (at the walkline)
wall rail - a wall-attached handrail or one fastened directly to a wall with a mounting bracket
wall rail bracket - a usually metal bracket that fastens wall rail to a wall
winder - a special type of tread for a turning staircase; a tread style variation used on a turning staircase at a mid-staircase landing; the inside run of the tread is narrow and much wider on the outside run of the tread; a type of staircase that curves

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