Parts of a staircase explained

A staircase is a core architectural design feature that sits at the heart of a property. While styles and trends have come and gone, the basic design of a staircase has stood the test of time and little has changed over the centuries.

As well as serving a functional purpose, a staircase can make a statement and cement the character of a building. Each decision over style will make a visual impact, from the choice of material, to whether it’s an open or closed string, the shape of the spindles and newel posts and the use of decorative moulding.

Here at Salisbury Joinery, we have been creating beautiful staircases for over 40 years, from the traditional to the contemporary, and from county residences to city dwellings.

We know that the terminology used to describe the different parts of a staircase can sometimes be confusing, so we’ve created this helpful guide. Above you’ll find a handy illustration of a typical staircase, with key components highlighted and explained.

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  • Riser – A stair riser is the vertical space between one step and another. It may be closed or open, depending on the style of the stairs. 
  • Tread – A stair tread is the horizontal part of the step that a person will stand on, and along with the riser, is an integral part of a staircase. 
  • Newel posts - Newels are the large post found at the foot and at the top of any flight of stairs. They can also be found at key junctures of a staircase, for example where there is a change of direction. They come in a range of styles, including box newels (which are box shape) and turned newels (which are curved).
  • Newel cap – This is the name for the decorative top section of a newel post. They help provide an attractive finish and can be very simple, such as a square, acorn or ball, or hand carved and highly intricate.
  • Spindles/balusters – This is the term used to describe the smaller posts which can be placed vertically at the side of a staircase to enclose it. They sit underneath the handrail and above the base rail. In contemporary stairs this is now likely to be glass.
  • Handrail – The handrail sits on top of the balusters and will run the length of the staircase between the newel posts.
  • Half newel post – These are often found on landings where the staircase meets a wall and are basically a newel post cut in half.
  • Landing/Landing return – This is the area immediately at the top of the staircase (landing), or part way up where a change of direction in the staircase occurs (landing return) which may be either a quarter or a half landing return. Depending on the direction of travel, it may be a parallel landing return that continues back in the direction of the proceeding staircase, or a right angle return that goes off at 90 degrees.
  • Base rail – This is the rail that sits underneath the balusters and on the string.
  • Stair nosing - Stair nosing is used in most staircases and is legally required in certain circumstances, such as public buildings. It is normally part of the tread; however sometimes it’s thin strips of wood, which are placed on the edge of each step to help make the edge of each stair more visible and less slippery.
  • Closed or cut string staircase – The strings on a staircase are the sides which the treads and risers are housed into. In a closed string staircase, the edges of the steps will be hidden. In an cut or open string staircase, the side profile of the steps will be visible or even overhang the string.
  • Wall string – This is the side of the staircase which sits flush against the wall, which the treads and risers are housed into.
  • String Capping – This is a mould that is used to cover the top of the string nearest to the wall.

For more information about a bespoke staircase for your project, call our customer services team on 01722 337040 or email info@salisburyjoinery.com

           

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