Staircase glossary Visual.

Staircase glossary/index.

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Design, Drawing, workshop and site.

We are still adding a lot of items, If what you are looking for is not here yet, either check back soon or drop us an email to let us know what you would like to know about.

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Ascending Volute.




These are different styles of bulustraded areas that are open to view the area below.

Oak handrail on barley twist spindles.
staircase glossary.
Landing Balcony.

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A balustrade is made up of balusters with a capping or handrail to join them together, these are normally on the exterior of buildings but are sometimes used around the staircase and normally made from either stone or metal.

Balustrade with Mahogony handrail.
staircase handrail glossary


Cast baluster.

A baluster is a single decorative upright, as one of many that may be the same in design or a few designs, arranged together to create a barrier between the stairs or landing and the handrail. The collective name for these is a bulstrade.

Balusters on cut string stairs
Balusters on a cut string staircase.



A banister is a barrier to prevent fall at the side of a staircase or around the edge of a landing, The banister is constructed from uprights and a rail set over some or all of those uprights. The uprights comprise of Newels and spindles.

Banisters with newels and spindles.

Banister rail.

The banister rail sits over the the spindles. When newel posts are fitted the banister rail may either go over the top of the newel or connect in to the side of the newel blocks.

Banister rail staircase glossary
Banister rail on spindles.

Base rail.

Stringer capping.

A base rail is a decorative timber that is designed to sit on top of a closed string, between newel posts.

Due to the fact that most stringers are made from a narrower timber section than the base of spindles, adding a stringer capping or base rail will allow for the spindles to set within the width of the base rail.

Many modern cappings are rebated top and bottom, the top rebate having an infill that fits between the spindles.

Historic stairs or natural finish stairs would have this capping made from solid stuff; so that the wood grain is constant.

Stringer capping or base rail Stair glossary
Stringer Capping outline


Handrail bolt.

The handrail bolt used for joining lengths of handrail together or joining handrail to newel posts.

Screw - machine thread.
Screw – machine thread.


Filigree patterns.

The tread brackets or filigree patterns. are an ornate addition fitted to the side of a cut string stairs between the treads.

These patterns may be flat, flat with a rosette or fully carved .

The filigree will be mitred into the riser to become part of the stringer.

Tread Brackets. Stair glossary
Tread Brackets.
Opening cap showing wood grain direction.
Opening cap showing grain.

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The staircase carriage is a sub structure that helps support the staircase, it sits between the stringers under the treads and risers.

The ends of the carriages tie into the trimmers at each end of the flight.

The usual arrangement is one carriage against each stringer and one in the centre of the tread, to help eliminate any bounce that the flight may have.

On period properties the carriages would be approximately 5/8″ inset from the bottom of the well string plaster bead, thus providing a fixing point for the laths and plaster.

 How the Stair carraige supports the staircase. Glossary.
Stair carriage. Inset showing period carriages with individual tread bearers.

Centre line.

The centre line controls the flow of the handrail, spindle positions, stringer faces. This is one of the most important parts of staircase design.

The centre line is acquired from the centre of the handrail and transferred down through the support wether it be a spindle, glass or baluster to the staircase. this will allow you to calculate the edge of the staircase.

The handrail Centre line stringer offset.
Glossary terminology
Centre line stringer offset dia 3


CNC or Computer Numerical Control.

This is a modern method of producing handrail or staircase components, this may be far more accurate than hand produced components but there will be subtle differences to the finished product.

This will generally show more on the handrail, the joints connecting the parts may be in different positions or parts may be compounded at different positions to tangent handrailing.

CNC produced Monkey's tail.
CNC produced Monkey’s tail.



A commode is a curve introduced into the design.

Commode Treads are often used at the start of flights, these allow for a more convenient way of leading into the main flight of stairs. This can also enhance the visual impact of the flight.

Commode tread front. terminology
commode front.

Cooper built.

A curved section built by laminating strips of wood together.

These corners are used in many historic geometric staircases. They are constructed in a similar fashion to barrels; where strips of trapezoid wood are laminated in the vertical plane, the top being cut to accept the treads and risers, the bottom being cut and beaded for the flow of the soffit.

Cooper built drum. staircase glossary
Cooper built drum.

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Dado handrail.

A dado rail that is designed to mirror the well side handrail.

This will normally be of the same shape as the handrail but split vertically in half and mounted to the wall at the same height as the handrail.

Dado handrail.
Dado handrail with profiled end.


Dovetail joints are used to join one piece of joinery perpendicular to the other, this is stronger than a blind mortice and does not require the use of glue.

In staircases, this is traditionally used for setting the spindles into the treads and around the landings, this is especially useful in landings as it will help prevent lateral movement in the handrail.

Landing spindle dovetails.
Landing spindle dovetails.


A drum is a radiused section of stringer, used to change direction and pitch through a tight turn.

Normally set in the landing area between two flights or in the centre of the turn for a set of winder treads.

This will be used rather than a newel post at the change of direction when a geometric handrail is required.

Stair Drum with winder tread nosings.
Drum with winders.

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Over Ramp.

Over easing.


Under Ramp.

Under easing.


Ramp options:

Horizontal – Pitch.

Horizontal – Vertical.

Pitch – Pitch.

Pitch – Vertical.

Handrail Easing or over ramp. Glossary terms.
Handrail Easings.

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Face mold.

The face mold is a template made for marking the handrail turn, using the tangent handrailing method.

Here you can see the bevels used when sliding the face molds into place.

Face mold, tangent handrail
The face mold, used in tangent handrailing.


The fascia is a decorative upright section of timber that runs around the face of the landings.

This may be either a natural finish timber or for painting.

The fascias may also have filigre patterns added, these will normally mimic the tread brackets mounted on the side of cut string stairs.

Landing fascia.
Landing Fascia with bracket embellishment.

Finished floor Level.

The finished floor level or “FFL” as abbreviated for drawings.

This is the final level that you will be walking on once the property is finished.

This will not include any soft finishes such as carpet.

ffl to ffl is the dimension between finished floor levels to include any fixed material eg. top of floorboards or tiles etc to the same finished surface on the next floor. Any soft finishes such as underlay and carpet are not included.

When measuring FFL to FFL you will need to measure from the floor area at the bottom of the flight to the floor area at the top of the flight, if the floors are out of level you will need to get a level across from the bottom of the flight to under the top of the flight and take as near verticle distance between the two as possible.

The finished floor levels used to determine the Staircase Total rise.
Staircase Total rise.

Read more about the FFL in our stair basics guide.


Spindle drop.

A decorative addition to an upright section of a banister.

Finials may be added to the bottom of turned spindles that have been side mounted through the return nosings, to set alongside the stringers, on cut string stairs.

Finials may also be added to the bottom of newel posts when the post is extended below the stringer.

The finials are purely decorative and have no structural influence.

Spindle Finials.
Spindle Finials.


A flight of stairs covers the distance between two floors and may be one of many in a staircase.

Each flight may consist of different styles of tread, including quarter space and half space landings.

a single fligth of stairs
flight of stairs.

Frog’s back.

Raised Frog’s back.

The frog’s back is a profile detail added to the top of a handrail.

With the sides being concave and the centre being convex.

This may be lifted above the top of the normal handrail profile by a quirk line.

Known as a raised Frog’s back.

Handrail Frog's back drawing.
Handrail Frog’s back.

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Geometric in staircase, is the forming of a curved and rising section of treads and risers.

A geometric handrail is one that turns and rises above the geometric flight or around a corner coming from one flights to another or from one flight to a landing

geometric stairs with tangent handrail set over.
geometric stairs.

Glue block.

Glue blocks are used under the tread and at the back of the riser to add additional strength to the joint between the two.

These will normally be a piece of 2″ x 2″ cut through diagonally and have the 90º corner removed by about 1/8″ or 3mm to allow the block to sit tight into the junction between tread and riser without being held of by the corner.

These are generally about 3″ or 75mm long and pinned into place.

glue blocks as used under the treads when making a staircase. Glossary terms.
Glue block.



The going is the horizontal distance traveled.

A single going is the distance from the face of one riser to the face of the next.

The total going is the distance traveled by the complete flight.

N.B. The first going sits in front of the first riser.

The first step consists of the first riser and the second going.

The staircase Single going distance. explanation.
Single going distance.


What to avoid.

Swan’s neck.

Goosenecks are a transition used to vertically raise the height of the handrail when a sudden change in height is required.

handrail Gooseneck or Swean's neck, handrail terms.
Handrail with Gooseneck.

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Bannister rail.

Balustrade rail.

The handrail is the part of the banisters that you hold on to.

Handrail or bannister rail, Glossary.

Handrail Profile.




The handrail profile is the shape to which the handrail section is machined.

The cutter or knife used to shape the handrail is called a profile knife.

Handrail Profile plate 1 H1 - H4
Handrail Profile plate 1.

Handrail Tie.

Handrail brace.

Handrail steady.

Stringer bracket.

The handrail tie is a horizontal metal tie that connects the handrail to the adjacent stringer.

This is to prevent lateral movement of the handrail, thereby avoiding loosening of the spindles that may result in an unstable handrail.


A person skilled at drawing and making geometric handrail.

Tangent handrail
Tangent handrail, squared for moulding.

Horizontal Scroll.

A traditional hand carved Monkey's tail or volute.

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Lath and plaster.

Lath and plaster is a period way of plastering walls and ceilings, this method was also used for the staircase soffit.

The laths were typically timber strips about 3/4″ X 1/8″ pinned to the carriages and then plastered. The plaster would probably have horsehair added to the mix in order to help bond the lime based mortar/plaster mix.

Traditional laths are still available for heritage restoration but in general, the laths are now replaced by EML Expanded Metal Lath. Then bonding and finish plaster.

Lath and plaster.
Lath and plaster soffit.


Half space.

Quarter space.

Floor level.

The landing area is an over sized tread, the only place this may be different is at the bottom of the lowest flight in a staircase.

The landing is used to change direction, break step or connect two flights.

The landings will need to be drawn in with the staircase in order for the nosing and aprons to work correctly.

Half space landing. used to turn 180º in the flight.
half space landing

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Margin piece.

The margin piece is a “T” shaped piece of timber that is set over the top of the stringer for marking out the rise and goings, the hypotenuse of the pitch board is placed against the margin piece and moved along the stringer to mark the individual goings and risers.

Stair margin piece.
Stair margin piece

Monkey’s tail.


Wreathing volute.

Ascending volute.

Horizontal scroll.

An ornate start to the handrail, set on either a newel post or birds cage of spindles over a feature tread. these are traditionally of geometric design but may be 2 dimensional in design. The 2 dimensional designed parts are normally from kit form handrail components.

A handrail with descending volute or original style Monkey's tail. Glossary.

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Newel cap.

A decorative top to a newel post.

Newel cap.
Newel cap.

Newel Drop.

Newel finial.

The newel drop is a decorative addition that is added to the bottom of a newel post when the post extends below the ceiling line.

Newel drop
Newel post drop.

Newel post.

King post.

A structural vertical pillar.

The newel post may be used for a number of reasons such as: To support the stringers, set over a feature tread to support the handrail or rebated over the landing to support the flight.

Newel post with handrail block parts.
Newel post with handrail block parts.

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Opening Cap.



The opening cap is used to terminate the handrail over a newel post.

These are more often than not circular but may be square or octagonal.

On traditional handrails, the handrail will be mitred into the cap. on modern CNC manufactured parts they are normally made with a section of straight as part of the cap; allowing for easier jointing of the component parts.

Opening cap, bun or cap. used to terminate a handrail run. Handrail terminology.
Opening cap showing grain.

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The pitch is the angle between the floor and the hypotenuse of the rise and going.

When working on elliptical or spiral stairs the pitch from one side to the other will be different.

The tighter curve of the two being a greater pitch than the looser curve.

The pitch angle or rake of a flight of stairs.

Pitch Board.

The pitch board is a piece of material that is cut to the rise and going of the flight, for marking the straight sections of flight. The hypotenuse of the pitch board will be set against the margin piece when marking out the stringers.

This junction between the pitch board and the margin piece is known as the pitch line.

When using a pitch board, it is good practice to measure the length of the hypotenuse and add this measurement on each time, then mark the stringer with a tape measure from 0 to the length required for the number of going and rise that is being marked, this will help prevent compounded marking errors.

Pitch Board used when making a flight of stairs, Glossary terms.
Pitch Board.

Pitch line.

The staircase pitch line is the line that runs through the intersection at top of riser and front of going. This is also the line that the margin piece and pitch board hypotenuse are set to when marking the stringers for routing the tread and riser housings.

Pitch line, the angle a flight of stairs is constructed at.
Pitch line position.

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Quirk line.

A quirk line is a flat area of moulding that is used to separate two other details.

There are two sizes of quirk line.

1/8″ or 3mm for separating finer detail on such items as scotia moldings and handrails.

1/4″ 0r 6mm for larger items, that may need more emphasis to separate the details. These may include larger profile handrails or between turn details on spindles.

The sizes are determined from imperial measurements, when most joinery was measured in 1/8″ increments.

Quirk line. A small detail line in joinery. Carpentry terms.
Quirk line.

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Over Ramp.

Over easing.


Under Ramp.

Under easing.


A handrail easing is a section of handrail that is used to change the pitch angle or the handrail angle in the verticle plane.

This may be from:

Horizontal – Pitch.

Horizontal – Vertical.

Pitch – Pitch.

Pitch – Vertical.

Handrail Easing.
Handrail Easings.


Ram’s Horn.

Vertical scroll.

The Ram’s horn is a very versatile handrail termination, it may be used at the start of the main flight set over a newel post or to terminate wall rails, it is sometimes used upside down on a rolled over handrail when cast balusters are set to the side of the stairs.

A handrail carved Ram's horn or verticle scroll, side view. glossary terminology
Ram’s Horn Carved 2

Restoration – renovation.

The basics of restoring or renovating a staircase and handrails.

What to look out for and how to go about restoring a historic staircase.

The nosings being replaced after being cut off.
staircase nosing being replaced.


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Scotia Moulding.

The scotia molding is a traditional coving detail, set to the underside of the tread nosing, on the face of the riser and stringer.

Heritage scotia moulding.
Heritage scotia molding.

Shoulder line.

Stringer shoulder line.

The shoulder line is the line at the end of a stringer, where it meets a newel post.

The shoulder line is the start of the tenon that will be moticed into the newel.

You will also have a shoulder line when two strings connect to each other, in this situation you will normally have a rebate and tongue rather than a mortice and tenon.

Stringer with shoulder line cut and tenon formed
Stringer with shoulder line.

Sliding mold.

Sliding the mold refers to the positioning of face molds on either side of the material from which a handrail turn is to be cut from.

The face mold is offset from the centre line in the middle of the block by varying amounts, dependant on the pitch and turn of the handrail.

Face mold, tangent handrail
The face mold, used in tangent handrailing.



Turned spindle.

A spindle or baluster is the upright that supports the handrail above the staircase and landing nosing.

These may be timber. metal or any other material that is structurally strong enough to hold the handrail in position and withstand any lateral movement that may be applied by a person falling.

Spindle baluster glossary tereminology
Spindle plate 1. Print this for your wall.


The staircase is a way of connecting to different floor levels, to give access from one to another by foot.

The staircase may consist of a single or multiple flights.

When connecting multiple flights the landing area around the stairwell through the middle of the flights is to be considered an unusual shaped going or read.

geometric stairs.
geometric stairs.


Handrail stand.

Handrail support.

A handrail stand is used for setting up the handrail ready to cut in the spindles.

The stand is adjustable in both height and pitch.

These are a useful tool on site for setting up the geometric handrail.

Handrail stands used for fitting handrail.
Handrail stands


Wall string.

Closed string.

Cut string.

Open string.

Mitered face stringer

Well string.

The stringer is the border that the treads, risers and soffits are inside of or over.

A cut string sits under the treads and behind the risers, while a closed string will have the treads and risers housed in.

Most flights will consist of one wall string and one well string, exceptions being: pre-tensioned stone or cantilevered.

Staircase stringers.
Staircase stringers.

Stretch out.


The stretch out is a major part of designing the staircase.

By opening the staircase out into a 2D stretch out, you can see the flow of the handrail and stringer bottom cut line.

2D staircase stretch out.
2D staircase stretch out or development.


English vernacular for the material to be used.

e.g. Sash stuff – for making windows, stringer stuff – for making the stringers.

Swan’s neck.

Handrail with Gooseneck.

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Tangent handrailing.

Geometric handrail.

Tangent handrailing is a traditional method of creating geometric handrail.

By using the tangents of the curve that the handrail is to turn through and the changes in angle or pitch that the handrail will rise through.

These handrail parts are normally made by a specialist handrailer.

Tangent handrail - Glossary
Tangent handrail, squared for moulding.


Types of tread.











Diminishing flier.

The tread is the surface that you step on when ascending or descending a flight of stairs.

The tread is the top surface of the step.

A number of different tread shapes may be used during the construction of a flight of stairs.

Different types of staircase treads or steps that may be used throughout the flight,stair treads steps glossary terminology.
Stair treads.

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Vertical scroll.


The volute is an ornate handrail termination, these come in two styles: Verticle and horizontal.

The horizontal volute is normally used at the start of the handrail and set over a feature tread. The Vertical volute may be used in many places throughout the property

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Wreathing Volute.

Monkey’s tail

An ornate start to the handrail run, set over a feature tread.

How to use the staircase and handrail glossary.

This glossary will also act as an index, by looking up the handrail or staircase part that you are interested in you can jump to a page that has links to all the options available for that item.

Whenever possible we will have further information for each of the main stages in creating a staircase and handrail.

The stages: Design, Draw, Workshop, Site.

These stages will be broken down further within each section.

At present the options are limited but the links will keep building as we create more content.

We will be using this glossary as our quick reference guide.