637 Martin Ave. suite 6
Rohnert Park CA. 94928

(707) 584-8485

Stair Terminology


Balusters are vertical members which support the handrail between the newel posts or walls. Typical code spacing between balusters is less than 4″ on the level balcony area but on the stair balusters can be spaced up to 4 3/8″ apart (see California Building Code section below). Balusters can be of any material but commonly are wood or metal.


The handrail, newel posts and balusters all represent parts of a Balustrade. The Balustrade is a stair system with components that usually match in style (i.e. craftsman, modern, traditional, etc.).


Like the balustrade, the banister refers to all the parts that make a handrail system. The stair banister is responsible for both safety and aesthetics.

Functionally, the banister is one of the main safety factors in a stairway and it’s parameters are called out in the local and national codes. Current California codes dictate that rail height must be between 34″ and 38″, measured plumb up from the stair nosing, and 42″ off of the finished flooring (formerly 36″) on a level balcony. Handrails must be graspable as determined again by codes as are the baluster spacing (less than 4″ spaces).

The banister often times sets or reflects the style (mood and tone) of the house. All of the stair components come together to make that statement of style with the staircase typically located near or in view of the main house entrance.

Box Post

(Box Newel) – A box post is typically square but can be rectangular. They are often adorned with different applied trim and might have recessed panels with added plinths.


A) Wall fasteners for handrail usually holding the handrail off of the wall at least 1 1/2″ for finger clearance. Wall brackets are usually metal and designed for structure as well as aesthetics.

B) Ornamental piece decorating the stair stringer or skirt board that is usually scrolled or carved and trails off (miters to) the stair riser and on to the open skirt board.

Bull nose

A rounded edge. The exposed edge of the stair tread that is rounded is a bullnosed edge.


A starting step is referred to a bull step

Cove Mould

Moulding placed under the tread bull nose to decorate and attach between the tread and riser and tread and stringer.. Typically 3/4″x3/4″.

Curb Wall

Curb Wall, also known as a Rake Wall if it is on the run of the stair or Knee Wall (Knee high). This is a short wall that runs up the stair and over the balcony areas that the balusters usually terminate into. Typically the finished wall height is around 4″ off of each nose of the stair and maybe 5″-6″ in height off of the balcony. With a curb wall the ends of the treads do not show because they are closed off. Sometimes the curb wall is higher maybe as much as 20″ which makes the balustrade look stubby. This was the standard for some large subdivision builders because less material is less money spent and more profit made! A Pony Wall refers to a half wall that meets guard rail code heights and no balustrade is needed.


An easing is a part of the handrail which is used at a transition from one angle (stair pitch) to another angle. For instance, a starting easing is used to cap a starting newel post and curve up to be joined into the pitch or stair handrail.


In stair building, fillet is a strip that fills the plowed grove in a handrail or a shoe rail that goes in between the balusters. The term fillet is also used as a curved transition between surfaces that are in different planes (cove mold, etc.)


A Finial is an ornament that sits on top (or an exposed bottom) of a newel post. Finials are usually turned (a ball, acorn or urn) but sometimes carved.


A fitting is an attachment to the handrail usually at a transition point that would match the handrails profile. An example of a fitting would be a volute, turnout, upeasing, overeasing, gooseneck, starting easing, starting cap, quarterturn, quarterturn cap, tandem cap, etc.


A gooseneck is a handrail easing (fitting) which allows the handrail to change heights, often using an upeasing with a vertical piece of rail.


A guardrail is a railing that is designed to prevent people or objects from falling into a stairwell or open space. It is always structural and will usually aesthetically match the stair balustrade if there is one.


A handrail is the graspable horizontal or rake member of a stair system. It sits on top of the balusters or wall brackets and is typically cut between or over the top of the newel posts.

Handrail Height

Current handrail height standards (set by 2010 CA Building Code) is 34″ to 38″ on a stair and 42″ on a level balcony. The stair height is measured vertically from the step nosing to the top of the handrail. The 42″ level balcony is measured vertically from the finished flooring to the top of the handrail.Safety codes are always changing. The level balcony height was changed (2010) from 36″ to 42″. It is quite a change and continues to be an aesthetic as well as a logistic adjustment and the difference must be considered during the design stages of new construction or remodeling.


The stair landing is a level resting place or wide stair tread, at the middle or top flight of stairs. Landings are often used at a change of direction of a staircase. Sometimes balconies that overlook stairs or open rooms below are also called landings.

Mitered Risers

To have mitered risers denotes a stairbuilding metod of joining a riser to a skirtboard. A mitered riser is a riser (vertical spacer between treads) that is mitered to the open side stair stringer (skirtboard).

Newel Post

A Newel, also called a Post or Newel Post., is an upright post that supports the handrail of a stair banister. In stairs having straight flights it is the principal post at the foot of the staircase, but it can also be used for the intermediate posts on landings and at the top of a staircase. Although its primary purpose is structural, newels have long been adorned with decorative trim and designed with different architectural styles.

Newels are sometimes called solid newels in distinction from hollow newels due to varying techniques of construction. In historic homes, it is believed that the house plans were placed in the newel upon completion of the house before the newel was capped.


A Nosing is the leading edge of the tread which projects beyond the face of the riser. It is usually round, chamfered or might have a detailing that is desired.


A handrail system which goes over the posts to form a continuous rail. This system usually uses radiused handrail fittings that attach to the handrail. The newel posts do not have a block at the top and are called pintop. (see ‘Post-to-Post’ for the alternative rail system)


A balustrade system in which the hand rail is not continuous. The newels have square faces where the rail hits Ball Top/Acorn Top or Box Newels are common posts used in a Post-to-Post handrail system. (See Over-The-Post for the contrasting hand rail system).


The vertical height from the top of one tread to another. The solid member from the bottom of a top tread to the bottom to a lower tread.

Riser Mold

Riser mold is a strip of wood either flat or profiled that covers the endgrain of a riser on an open stringer stair. Most often used when the risers are not mitered to the skirt boards. We typically will use flat stock 1/4″ x 1 1/4″. On a all hardwood stair the riser mold tends to blend in but against a painted skirt board the hardwood riser mold makes the stair take on a scalloped look where it really defines the risers from the skirts.


The supporting member of the treads and risers of a stair. Stringers can be cut out for the treads and risers to ‘nest’ in or the treads and risers can be let into the stringer. Some stairbuilders add brackets off of the stringers to support the treads and on a traditional shop built stair, the treads and risers are housed out with a router.


The horizontal walking step. Usually around 10″ and 36″ minimum. Winder treads are narrow on the inside of a winding staircase and wide at the far end.

Tread Caps or False End Treads

When a stair is to be carpeted, a tread cap is a less expensive means of covering the open end or balustrade side of a stair as well as the wall side. Often made of a combination of hardwoods and veneers, the tread and riser caps simulate a full solid stair tread and riser with a carpet runner. The more attention that a stair builder pays to making the rough nosing (tread protrusion beyond the riser) blend to the profile of the finished tread cap after the carpet is laid, the better the finished product will look.