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Glossary of Stair & Rail Terms


  • Apron

    • A smaller, decorative piece of wood , usually 3 1/2" wide, attached to landing and balcony walls. (click here for picture).

  • Baluster

    • A vertical spindle or turning that is installed on a tread (step) to help support the handrail; there are usually 2 or 3 per tread. (click here for picture).
  • Balustrade System

    • A term referring to all the parts (newels, balusters and handrail) of a particular stairway.
  • Box Newel

    • A square newel used in a post-to-post balustrade system.
  • Box Stair

    • A stairway which has walls on both sides.
  • Brackets (also referred to as stringer brackets)

    • Decorative pieces fastened to the outside of a stringer.
  • Bull Nose Tread

    • A tread that has one or both sides finished in a radius. Often used as a starting step and often requires a curved riser beneath.
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  • Circular Stairway

    • A curved stairway which is mounted on stringers rather than a central pole.
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  • Fillet

    • Strips, generally flat, which fill the plow between square top balusters on plowed handrail and shoe rail.
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  • Gooseneck

    • A handrail fitting or easement consisting of an up-easing, a vertical rail. It is used at a landing or balcony to raise the rake handrail to the height of the balcony handrail.
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  • Landing Newel

    • A newel situated at a landing or balcony.
  • Level Quarter Turn

    • A level handrail fitting which turns by 90 degrees.
  • Level Rail

    • Handrail which runs level along a landing or balcony.
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  • Newel Post

    • The major support of a staircase. Newels are larger in diameter than balusters and are located at the bottom and top of a stairway or at a turn in the handrail. (click here for picture)
  • Nosing

    • A narrow bull nose tread situated over the top riser and along the edge of a balcony to give the appearance of a tread at the top of the stairway.
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  • Opening Cap

    • A handrail fitting at the start of a level balustrade system (also known as an end cap).
  • Open Stair

    • A stairway with a wall on one or no sides.
  • Over Easing

    • A handrail fitting which connects a rake handrail with a level handrail without the use of a gooseneck.
  • Over-the-Post

    • A stair system which uses fittings to go over newel posts for a continuous handrail.
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  • Plate Rail

    • The bottom, flat part of a rail assembly that sits on the floor or caps a pony wall (better known as shoe rail).
  • Plow

    • The routed portion of a handrail or shoe rail used for the inserting of square balusters. The gaps left between balusters are covered with fillet.
  • Post-To-Post


  • Rail Bolt

    • A bolt used to attach two pieces of rail.
  • Rail Fittings

    • Fittings are used in an over-the-post system for a continuous handrail appearance through turns and changes in elevation.
  • Rake

    • The angle of ascent of a stairway. This is determined by the rise and run.
  • Return, Mitered

    • Tread nosing applied to the outside of an open tread to cover end grain.
  • Rise

    • The vertical measurement from the top of one tread to the top of the next tread.
  • Rosette

    • A small, decorative piece of wood placed between the end of a handrail and a wall.
  • Run


  • Shoe Rail

    • A piece of wood running along the floor or on top of a pony wall which is plowed for the insertion of balusters and fillet.
  • Skirt Board

  • Spiral Stairway

    • A curved stairway which is mounted on a central pole rather than on stringers.
  • Stair Direction

    • Either right-or-left-hand. Determined by what side is open when facing it from the bottom.
  • Starting Easing

    • A handrail fitting which is used at the bottom of a stairway with a starting newel.
  • Starting Newel

    • The newel used at the bottom of a stairway.
  • Stringers

    • The supporting members which run the length of the stairway on which treads, risers, and balustrade are mounted.
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  • Tandem Cap

    • A straight level handrail fitting with a newel cap. Tandem caps generally are used on newels in long stretches of balcony handrail.
  • Tread

    • The horizontal component of a step upon which one walks.
  • Tread Cap

    • A short piece of tread at the edge of the stair tread to simulate full wood steps when carpet comes down the middle of the steps (click here for picture)
  • Tread, Pie

    • Tread with a greater run on one side than the other ("pie" shape). Winder treads are used on Circular, Spiral staircases.
  • Turnout

    • A handrail fitting used on a starting newel which curves away from the stairway. This is a small curve. Can be a left or a right.
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  • Up Easing

    • A handrail fitting which joins two handrails or fittings at different angles in a graceful, pleasing manner.
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  • Volute

    • A handrail fitting used on a starting newel with balusters that turn away from the stairway in a circular fashion. This also needs a bull nose starting step. Can be a left or a right.
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  • Wall Rail

    • A handrail which is mounted on a wall and supported by wall rail brackets only.
  • Wall Rail Brackets