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Glossary of Phrases & Terms Used In Stair Building & Railing Systems

 Balusters - A turned, carved or otherwise vertical section placed between the handrail and the stair tread or stair stringer.


Balustrade – The framework formed by the combination of rail, newels and balusters – two basic types: Over the Post and Post to Post


Banister – A baluster; A handrail supported by posts running up the outside edge of a staircase


Brackets – Ornamental devices applied to the surface of the stair stringer under the treads of open tread stairs.


Box – Straight stairs with closed stringers.


Bull Nose – A trim piece or plate applied to the sub floor on balcony areas to provide a foundation for the balusters.


Bull Nosed Starting Tread – Sometimes called a scroll step - The bottom or first step of a stair because the ends project beyond the stringers and form the surface upon which the starting newels and handrail begin. The ends are semicircular in shape.


Bump Out – Increasing the width of the stair to accommodate a partial wall. The stair is closed between the walls and becomes open on at least one side.


Carriages – (Stringers, Cut Jacks) The diagonal members that support the treads.


Circular Stair – A helical stair


Cove Molding – A length of molding placed under the treads.


Closed Stringers – A staircase in which the ends of the treads are routed, or housed so that they are not visible outside the stair.


Curved Stair – A broad definition for stairs that form a portion or all of a circle. Most curved stairs have concentric lines for the stringers.


Cut Jacks – Stringers which have been simply notched out on their upper edges to receive the treads and risers.


Dextral Stair – A Stair that turns to the right during ascent


Dogleg – A change in pitch of the stair because of a change in the length tread. The tread length causes the stringer to form a bent shape looking like a "dog's hind leg" – a stair with two flights separated by a half landing, and having no stairwell.


Easing/Easement – The curved junctions placed in a handrail to bring the parts at different levels into one flowing curve. A fitting that curves in a vertical plane, used to change the angle of the handrail.


Epoxy – A two part adhesive used to bond materials from wood to composites to metals. Epoxies are especially useful in bonding metal to wood in stair applications. Epoxies vary in strength, setting time, and elasticity once cured.


False End Treads – Treads which have a wood veneer on the surfaces, solid wood nose, and return. False end treads when covered with carpet look like solid treads and are less expensive than a solid wood tread.


Fillet – A thin strip that fills the plowed (grooved) rail space between balusters in a hand rail or toe rail.


Finial – The ornamental top of a newel post – carved, shaped, or turned.


Fittings – See easing/easements. Sections of a handrail used at the beginning and end of a balustrade or wherever the handrail changes height or direction.


Flight of Stairs – An uninterrupted series of steps and stringers reaching from one landing to the next. The flights may be straight or curved.


Flitch – A log sliced into thin veneer pieces, usually 1/16" thickness, slices are then bundled back to sell as a unit.


Flutes – Sometimes called reeds. Flutes are decorative vertical grooves placed in a wood surface such as a baluster or newel.


Going – Run; The horizontal distance between two successive nosings. The sum of the goings of a flight stair is the going of the flight.


Gradient of a Stair – The ratio between going (run) and riser – the angle of inclination.


Guardrail – A protective railing designed to prevent people or objects from falling into open well, stairwell, or other open spaces.


Glue Blocks- Blocks of wood attached to the underside of a stair at the junction of the riser and tread. Glue blacks secure the treads and risers together and are used to prevent movement which causes squeaks.


Gooseneck- A combination of an easing and a fitting in a rail system which allows the handrail to change heights from an incline back to the level – Placed at landings or at the top of a stair.


Hand – The direction a stair takes when at the first riser. Hand is determined by applying the hand to the handrail when ascending the stairs, i.e. if the stair curves to the right when the right hand is used, the flight is called a right hand stair.


Handrail – A molded rail following the pitch or rake of the staircase, and forming the top or connecting piece of the balustrade which protects the outside of the stair.


Headroom – The vertical distance from the lowest point of the ceiling or soffit directly above the stair to the nose of the stair. Most codes require 6 ft. 8 inches (80"), (2.03 m), (203 cm)


Helical Stair – A correct, but not the usual name for a spiral stair.


Horse – Another term for the stringer or supporting member of the staircase.


Housed Stringer – The profile of the treads, nosing, and risers is routed into a finished stringer.


Jatoba – The technical name for Brazilian cherry.


Jack – Another term for stringer or supporting member of the staircase….cut jack


Landing – A resting place or wide step at the middle or top of a flight of stairs. Landings are often used to change the direction of a stair.


Margin – Reveal the distance between the nosing and the top of a closed stringer.


Mopstick Handrail – A handrail that is circular except for a small flat surface underneath.


Mitered Risers – The vertical risers are mitered to the vertical notched portion of the stair stringer.


Newels or Newel Post – A solid rectangular or circular section of vertical post at the center and at regular turns and junctions of a rail system. The newels provide the main support for the rail system. There is a starting newel at the base of the stairs and a landing newel at the turns or top of the stair. Other newels are described as "center turned newel, box newel, and pin top newel".


Nosing – The front edge of the tread which projects beyond the face of the riser. It is usually rounded, chamfered, or sometimes shaped.


Open Risers – A staircase designed with only the horizontal surfaces of the treads fixed to the stair stringers. The vertical surfaces between treads are open.


Open Stair – A stair that is open on one or both sides


Open Stringer – A stringer that is cut out for the treads and risers so that their profile can be seen from the side.


Opening Cap – A fitting or portion of the rail system which begins with a round cap and is connected to the handrail.


Open Well Stair – A stair with two or more flights around an open space.


Perron – A dignified exterior stairway, usually approaching the main entrance.


Pin Top Baluster – A baluster having dowel type top rather than a square.


Pitch – The inclination or rake of a stair with or to a horizontal plane.


Plowed Rail – A hand rail which has had the bottom grooved or plowed to accommodate a square top baluster. Fillets are used to fill the space between balusters.


Posts – Another name for a newel, a solid rectangular, or circular section of vertical post at the center and at regular turns and junctions of a rail system. The newels or posts provide the main support for the rail system. There is a staring post at the base of the stairs and a landing post at the turns or top of the stair. Other posts are described as "center turned post, box post, and pin top post.


Quarter Turn Fitting – That part of a level rail that allows a 90 degree change of direction. The fitting may have a round cap to accommodate the end of a newel.


Rail System – The balustrade. Used to describe a complete rail system consisting of the handrail, newels, fittings, and balusters.


Rake – The angle or inclination of the stair as it climbs from one floor to the next.


Ramp – A vertical curved easing in a handrail; an incline plane for passage of traffic.


Reveal – The amount of space between the top of a tread to the stop of a stringer or in front of the first riser.


Rise – The vertical distance between the upper surfaces of two consecutive treads.


Risers – The vertical face of a step.


Shoe Rail – A plowed rail that is used under square end balusters when they do not sit directly on the treads.


Soffit – The visible sloping under-surface between the stair stringers.


Spindles – The balusters or turned, carved, or otherwise vertical sections placed between the handrail and the stair tread or stair stringer.


Spiral Staircase – Stairs, which rise regularly around a cylinder, real or imaginary. Sometimes called helical.


Step – One unit of a stair, consisting of a riser and a tread. A stair is a series of steps.


Square Top Baluster – Balusters with square tops rather than the more commonly used pin tops – Require plowed rail and fillets.


Starting Tread (step) – The first tread and riser at the bottom of the stair.


Stairway – A staircase, or a stairwell.


Stairwell – The framed opening in the floor that incorporates the stairs. The long dimension affects the amount of available headroom.


Stringer (Carriages, Cut Jacks) – The inclined boards or laminations in which the treads and risers are enclosed.


Tandem Cap – A connecting fitting usually outfitted with a circular cap to which horizontal end piece rails can be attached.


Toe Rail – A horizontal component of a rail system, parallel to the handrail. Balusters are placed on this component.


Treads – The horizontal part of a staircase upon which the foot is placed.


Turn Out – A fitting used to start a rail system. Part of the handrail which is curved in plan and elevation views.


Veneer – A thin sliced wood used to cover tread ends and stair stringers.


Volutes-Or Wreath – Part of the handrail which is curved in plan and elevation views. Volutes are used to start rail system.


Wash – A slight sloping of treads to throw off rainwater.


Wall Rail – Used where a stair runs alongside a wall and is attached to the wall with rail brackets.


Walk Line – An arbitrary line, but generally 12" from the inside radius of a curved stair.


Wedges – Ramp type pieces of wood used in the construction of closed staircases to help secure treads and risers.


Winders – Treads that are narrower at one end than the other. Winders are used to turn corners or go around curves.


Winding Stair – A spiral stair – a circular or elliptical geometrical stair.