Glossary

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Staircases use a lot of specialized terminology. If you're just starting out on a project, use our glossary to familiarize yourself with the basics.

  • Baluster:

    The thin vertical spindles that hold up the handrail. These are generally found along the staircase, not at the top or bottom — larger posts that provide more support are called newels.

  • Balustrade:

    The entire component that makes up and supports the railing, including the handrail, balusters and newels.

  • Baserail:

    A rail that runs along the bottom of the balustrade.

  • Cove Mould:

    A decorative mould installed underneath the nosing of the tread to provide a smooth transition to the riser.

  • Gooseneck:

    A handrail fitting with a vertical 'goose neck' shape, often used to transition to a balcony or landing.

  • Handrail:

    The railing at the side of the staircase, designed to support your hand.

  • Landing:

    A wider step or platform connecting two flights of stairs, or at the end of a stairway.

  • Mortise:

    A notch or slot cut into wood that you insert another piece into. Mortises are often cut into stringers on closed staircases to hold the treads.

  • Newel:

    The support for the balustrade system. These are larger than balusters, and usually placed at the top and bottom of a staircase, or where there's a turn in the handrail.

  • Nosing:

    The front edge of a stair's tread — it often protrudes beyond the edge of the vertical riser beneath it.

  • Open/closed staircase:

    If the staircase is open, you can see the steps — including the nosing of the tread, and the riser — from the sides. In a closed staircase, the steps are enclosed.

  • Over-the-post:

    A style of staircase where the handrail runs over the top of the newels, or posts. This is generally more complicated to install.

  • Post-to-post:

    A style of staircase where the railing connects to the side of the newels, or posts. This is the simplest and most inexpensive way to join the railing.

  • Rake:

    The pitch or angle of the staircase and handrail. A rake handrail is angled, not level.

  • Riser:

    The vertical part of a step. The 'rise height' is the height of the step, from the top of one tread to the top of the next.

  • Rosette:

    A decorative piece of wood that can be attached where the end of the handrail meets the wall.

  • Run:

    The horizontal dimension of a step, from one riser to the next, excluding the tread nose. The total run is the length of all treads combined.

  • Shoe rail:

    A rail that runs parallel to the handrail at foot level, just above the steps. In these types of staircases, balusters are anchored in the shoe rail instead of the tread.

  • Skirt board:

    A board that runs along the wall at foot level on the stairs, providing the trim.

  • Stringer:

    The structure, on the sides of the steps, that supports the treads and risers. If the staircase is open, the stringer is cut. If the staircase is closed, treads are routed into the side.

  • Tread:

    The horizontal part of a stair, or step.

  • Turnout:

    A handrail that sits on top of a newel and turns away from the stair. Used at the start of an over-the-post staircase.

  • Volute:

    A handrail sits on top of a newel and spirals in on itself. Used at the start of an over-the-post staircase.