Glossary of Stair Terms

A narrow vertical member which helps support the handrail.

Balustrade System
A collective term which refers to the newels, balusters and handrail on a particular stairway.

Box Newel
A large, square hollow newel used in a post-to-post balustrade system.

Also referred to as stringers brackets. Decorative pieces fastened to the outside of a stringer.

Bullnose tread & riser assembly.

Bullnose 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.

Used in an over-the-post balustrade system. The part of the fitting which widens in order to sit on a newel.

Circular Stairway
A curved stairway which is mounted on stringers rather than a central pole.

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

Floor-To-Floor Height
The total rise of a stairway. Measured from the top of the finished lower floor to the top of the finished upper floor.

A stairway which is not supported by walls. Open underneath.

Glue Block
A block of wood which is glued and nailed or screwed into the hidden side of the joint of a tread and riser. This is done for structural soundness and to eliminate squeaking.

A handrail fitting consisting of an up-easing, a vertical rail drop and a level cap. It is used at a landing or balcony to raise the rake handrail to the height of the balcony handrail.

Horse Cut
Term describing the cut of the stringer on an open stair.

A sawcut which does not cut the whole way through a piece. The backside of a starting step riser is often kerfed in order to bend it in the shape of the bullnose tread.

Narrow tread nosing situated above the top riser or along the upper edge of a balcony. This gives the appearance of a tread at the top of the stairway.

Landing Newel
A newel situated at a landing or balcony.

Left Hand

Level Quarter Turn
A level handrail fitting which turns by 90 degrees.

Level Rail
Handrail which runs level along a landing or balcony.

Mitre Down
A piece of handrail mitred onto a longer section of handrail as an end cap to provide a top grain look to the end of the rail.

Mitre In
A piece of handrail mitred onto a longer section of handrail to provide a return to a wall.

Monkey Tail

Newel Bolt
A 10″ hanger bolt used to attach a newel to the floor joist.

Newel Plate
A piece of metal attached to the bottom of a newel, usually used for mounting under a carpeted surface.

Newel Post
The major support for a balustrade system. 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.

The portion of a tread or landing tread which protrudes beyond the face of the riser.

Opening Cap
A handrail fitting at the start of a level balustrade system.

Open Stair
A stairway not boxed in by walls on one or both sides.

The distance measured from the outside of one stringer to the outside of the other.

Overhand Easing
A handrail fitting which connects a rake handrail with a level handrail without the use of a gooseneck.

A balustrade system which utilizes fittings to go over newel posts for an unbroken continuous handrail.



The bottom, flat part of a rail assembly that sits on the floor or caps a knee wall.

The landing which is the top tread on a spiral stairway. Intermediate landings are also often referred to as platforms.

The routed portion of a handrail or shoerail used for the inserting of square balusters. The gaps left between balusters are covered with fillet.

Perfectly vertical, perpendicular with the floor.

Balustrade system in which the handrail is not continuous. The handrail is lagged into the face of a square-top newel.

Rail Bolt
A hanger 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.

The angle of ascent of a stairway. This is determined by the rise and run.

Return Nosing
Tread nosing applied to the outside of an open tread to cover end grain.

Returned End
A handrail fitting without a cap, which does not incorporate the use of a newel at the end of the balustrade.

Right Hand

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

The vertical component of a step which, along with the stringers, supports the treads.

Riser Block
Starting newel supports hidden inside the bullnose section of a starting step.

A small, decorative piece of wood used where a handrail dies into a wall.

Rough Cut
The horizontal measurement from the face of one riser to the face of the next riser. This is also the depth of the tread without the nosing.

Routed Stringer
A stringer which has been routed out for the insertion of treads, risers and wedges. Also known as “box” stringer.

The horizontal distance covered by the entire stairway.

A decorative strip which, when attached to the underside of the tread nosing, covers the joint between the tread and the riser.

Shoe Molding
A decorative strip used at the bottom of a baseboard or the bottom of the riser of the starting step.

Shoe Rail
A piece running along the floor or atop a routed stringer which is plowed for the insertion of balusters and fillet.


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 the turn a stairway makes 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.

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

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

Total Rise

The horizontal component of a step upon which one walks.

Tread Cover
A thick piece of luan used to protect a stair after it has been installed but construction work is still going on in the house.

Tread Support
A wooden support attached to the underside of a winder tread and the pole on a spiral stairway.

A handrail fitting used on a starting newel which curves away from the stairway.

Up Easing
A handrail fitting which joins two handrails or fittings at different angles in a graceful, pleasing manor.

A handrail fitting used on a starting newel which turns away from the stairway in a circular fashion.

Wall Rail
A handrail which is mounted on a wall and supported by wall rail brackets rather than newels or balusters.

Wall Rail Brackets
Metal supports for wall rail.

Triangular blocks of wood, coated with glue and used to drive treads and risers tightly into a routed stringer.

Well Opening
The opening in the upper floor for placement of a stairway.

Winder Stair
A section of stairway used to make an “L” shaped turn, made with “pie” shaped or wedge cut treads.

Winder Tread
Tread with a greater run on one side than the other. Winder treads are used on Circular, Spiral and Winder stairways.

Wood Plug
A small circular piece of wood used for a finished appearance and covering drilled holes on newels, handrails and treads