Stair terminology


  • Stairwell:  The opening, containing an indoor stairway.
  • Flight: An uninterrupted series of steps.
  • Balustrade:  The system of handrail and balusters that prevents people from falling.
  • Spandrel: The (usually triangular) space underneath the stairs
  • Soffit: Underside of stair
  • Apron: Vertical perimeter around the stairwell

Stair Types:

  • Utility Stair: Stair not used for day to day use, e.g. escape, access, maintenance, or sometimes loft conversions
  • Private Stair: used in only one dwelling
  • General access stair: used for more than one dwelling in private building, e.g. shared stair in a block of flats

Stair Classes:

  • Geometrical Stair: An elegant and highly desired staircase using curved strings and handrails (rather than a standard stair)
  • Spiral Stair: Simple, efficient space design, can be unconfrotable to walk up
  • Eliptical Stair: Geometrical Stair curved by an ellipse (rather than an arc)
  • Straight stair: Straight flight
  • Quarter/half turn, Multiple straight flights, that change direction through the stair, on either winders of landing
  • Open Stair:  stair that doesn’t have risers. (rather than the usual ‘closed stair’ which does have risers)

Stair Construction

  • Tread: The horizontal part of the stairs that is stepped on. Tread types include
    • ­Flyers: Straight Treads
    • ­Winders: Angled Treads
    • Curved Treads: Treads with curved risers, attractove for high class staircases
    • ­Scroll / Bullnose Step: Decorative curved first step providing extra space for a scroll or Newel post and often
  • Riser: The vertical parts between each tread on the stair.
  • Nosing: the part of the tread that protrudes beyond the riser (or string on a cut string staircase).
  • Landing: A flat platform at the top, bottom or between flights, should be as wide as the stair in both axes.
  • String: Supports treads and risers on either side of the stair, variants include:
    • Closed String: Treads and risers are recessed into the string, typically lower cost.
    • ­Cut String: Cut underneath treads/risers, traditional and higher quality stairs.
    • ­Rough String: Used for support but is not seen in finished stair
  • Pitch / rake: Angle on stair or stair parts (e.g. handrail)
  • Pitch / nosing line: line that runs across stair nosing’s (parallel to the pitch/rake)
  • String Capping: Beading that site on top of wall strings, provildes detail and hides unevenness in wall
  • Scotia: Moulding under treads/nosings on cut string staricases


  • Spindles / Balusters:  (typically) vertical posts under handrail which prevent falling through the gap, often decorative
  • Newel Post:  Larger baluster / post used to anchor the handrail.
  • Handrail: Rail mounted on the wall or on top of the guarding / balustrade

Handrail Terminology

  • Geometrical Handrails: A continuous curved handrail that run without break, caps or newel posts along a (typically geometrical) staircase. Geometrical handrails are by far the most desired type of handrail, but can be more expensive than straight handrail mounted into newel posts.
  • Scroll Terminal / Volute:  The decorative handrail piece at the start of the stair that curls around in a spiral, high quality scroll terminals are pitched low to provide a more attractive look.
  • Wreaths:  The sections of double curvature handrail, often also twisting around corners to form a continuous handrail. Wreaths are carved out of solid timber using precise geometrical techniques and highly skilled, specialized craftsmen.
  • Cap: Elegant but simple termination of a handrail above a newel post
  • Facemold: Geometrical form used in the construction of Wreathed handrail sections
  • Easing / Ramps / knees: Curved handrail in a single axis, generally easing = horizontal, ramps / knees vertical.
  • Swan neck:  An vertical handrail component that joins a sloped handrail to a higher handrail, simple to make but typically undesirable.
  • Profile: The cross section of a handrail

Decorative items

  • Finial:  A decorative cap to the top of a newel post or underside of a side mounted spindle.
  • (Tread) Bracket:  A decorative design placed on the cut stringer.
  • Runner:  Carpeting that runs down the middle of the stairs.