Stairs and banisters in general and stair parts specifically, compose a large assortment of terms that describe the many unique components used to create these elegant architectural features. In order to make this blog more helpful, to better assist our customers in making informed decisions and as a general information resource, we’ve created a very detailed glossary of stair and balustrade terms. In addition to the definitions we’ve also provided links to many of the items so you can see images.
Take for example one of the words I just used above, balustrade. If you are uncertain what the word balustrade means then you are not alone. This is a widely know term in our industry but is used infrequently beyond it. This is because it is very specific stair related word as you can see from the following definition as included in our Glossary of Stair Terms:
Balustrade – The combination of Handrails, Balusters, Newel Posts, and Tread Caps that serve as a Guardrail of a flight of stairs or Balcony. (Also Known as a Banister or Railing System or less accurately a Handrail)
More specifically there are many stair parts with very unique names, such as volute, easing, newel, baluster, shoe rails and so on. These terms are also relatively unknown to most people outside of our industry. Instead of asking for a part by name we are regularly asked about the “curly-q” thing at the bottom of the stair or where a customer can find the “pickets” on our website. These two terms are volute and balusters, respectively. We are hopeful that our glossary will help you find what you are looking for.
HGTV’s most outrageous homes will feature an $11 million house in Riverton Utah on its “Top 10 Outrageous Homes” this fall. Woodstairs is a proud, behind the scenes, contributor to this amazing project through the stair parts supplied to one of our customers, Titan Stairs of Utah. Titan Stairs has been a WoodStairs customer for half a dozen years now and we have worked on many amazing projects with them. They are true craftsman whose projects include some of the most elegant and richly detailed custom stairs and balustrades in their area. Of the many professional stair & balustrade and trim companies in Utah, Titan Stairs (with branches in both Salt Lake City and St. George) is widely regarded as the best. We highly recommend them and are glad to see their work showcased in this article and the upcoming episode on HGTV. The acclaim is well deserved.
There are many features of this home that helped to warrant it’s inclusion in HGTV’s “Outrageous Homes” episode. Of course our interest is specific to the stairs and railings. So what exactly make the stairs themselves stand out as outrageous? The answer is in fact, nothing. The stairs and banisters are not unusually extreme. Still, there is something about them that helps to enhance the overall extravagance and uniqueness of the home.
In fact, were every aspect of the home over the top it would probably not be recognized as the beautifully luxurious home that it is. According to John Pickett, of Titan Stairs, the thing that makes this home and it’s several stairs and balustrades stand out as extraordinary in his mind was the “integration and attention to detail.” Paraphrasing, John, the designer, Julie Stuehser, was meticulous in creating each space as a collection of details that perfectly defined the whole. So, in his opinion, while there were many unique and amazing features it was the overall integrity of the design that Julie, the builder, Upland Development and the homeowners envisioned, that made the home in its entirety something special. Passing from one room to the next, as you can see from the images, the design are completely different but according to John, “It is as if they could be from different homes, but the transitions are seamless.”
Adding wood handrail to a full wrought iron balustrade can literally heat up your railing system without the expense of replacing the entire banister. Wood handrails are typically larger, warmer to the touch and the eye and more comfortable in your hand. This is one simple and inexpensive way to perform a stair makeover of an existing full iron banister.
Over the last 30 years or so, what were once two separate railing styles are often combined. Wood and wrought iron balustrades allow you to have the warmth and comfort of wood and the versatility of wrought iron balusters. Wood stair treads, newel posts, handrails and moldings are generally larger and tie in better with the other wood features of the home such as base, doors, moldings and furniture. Wrought iron balusters on the other hand are far more versatile. Rather than repeating a single baluster over the entire balustrade, multiple wrought iron balusters are combined to create patterns within the larger pattern of the banister. Relatively new advancements (say the last 20-30 years) in wrought iron balusters have made this merger possible. Doweled tops for installation into wood handrail instead of having to be welded to an iron rail and baluster shoes that conceal the holes in the landing tread are the two most prominent of these.
Adding stair treads to a stairway can have a dramatic visual impact that adds value to your home. While we have not had the chance to speak with all of our many customers who choose this option, those that we have heard from have raved about the results. The few we’ve talked to who did this to help sell their home have been unanimous in their belief that this either helped to sell their home faster or that they were able to ask for more than they would have otherwise. Basically, the stair treads more than paid for themselves. This same sentiment is true on most of the home flipping shows on television. Old and outdated stairs are always addressed through some renovation and stair treads is one of the best and easiest.
This is because the stair treads offer a large area to upgrade and that the difference is dramatic. Even the most luxurious carpet is no match to the beautiful natural texture and patterns of the wood grain in solid oak stair treads. Also, while installing stair treads does require the balustrade to be removed and reinstalled, the components are reused. So, you don’t have to spend the additional money on handrails, newel posts, balusters, etc. The installation is also far easier than it was to begin with because everything is already cut to length, the layouts have been done and you only have to remove those balustrades on the stairs themselves, not the overlooking balconies. You might want to consider just adding a bullnose stair tread also called a starting step to the bottom step.
A newel posts is the largest single component of a staircase. Because of the size and complexity of newel posts they are also often one of the most expensive stair parts in the balustrade. It is for this reason that the newel post doesn’t always match the scope and style of the railing system. Simply put, while you do need a post, you don’t necessarily have to have a large, luxurious one. Also, because your railing system is near the end of the project if it wasn’t considered early on, you may have gone over budget on the other items and no longer had the money to spend on the balustrade.
Often builders, original owners or even we ourselves may have decided to save a little money by downgrading the newel post. Usually we tend to financially progress, so while the home we bought at the time may have been all that our budget would allow, we are hopefully in a different, better position a few years later. This means that we might be considering a little upgrading and that earlier downgraded newel post may provide a good place to start.
If your balustrade is safe and secure and was a good design to begin with then you might want to upgrade the posts now. Changing newel posts is an easy and inexpensive method of upgrading the look of your banister. The starting posts of the stair are the easiest and require very little skill to do. The existing posts are removed, the new posts are cut to length, then they are installed. They can be prefinished or finished after installation.
Replacing wood balusters with wrought iron balusters is one of the most common methods of upgrading an outdated balustrade. This is not to say that wrought iron is superior to wood in general but sometimes wood balusters may have been damaged, broken, or they are simply outdated. You may be able to remedy this look by refinishing which I discussed in my previous post, or you can swap out your wood balusters with wrought iron as I will described today.
There are three basic methods to replacing wood balusters with wrought iron balusters, I’ve named these the Up-and-Down Method, the Secure Method and IronPro. There is a fourth option in which you can replace the entire balustrade with the balusters this still involves one of the three methods listed above. In fact these three methods are the same when installing a new balustrade from scratch. Today, I don’t intend to go through the specifics of each method but rather to consider the reasons for and the possible results you can achieve by upgrading shabby wood balusters with wrought iron.
If you are interested in this option and would like more information on the details I’ve written a series of articles here that explain the processes and the pros and cons of each.
Although refinishing your existing stair is not in our best interest it very well may be in yours. I mean that recommending this option may prevent you from buying any of our stair parts. However, in all honesty this is often the best solution to dramatically improve your balustrade with the least expense possible and the results can be very dramatic.
So, if you are happy with the style and design of your balustrade and it is structurally sound then this is your first and best option. There is really no need to replace anything more than is necessary, either structurally or aesthetically, than you need to. Not only with this option save you money but it will save time and you can most certainly do the job yourself.
Basically you will need to evaluate the system as a whole then look at the stair parts individually. I’m going to throw in a few links here to some of the most common items that may need to be replaced, but remember if they are in good shape and you like them then keep them. If you are lucky you may only have to sand down your existing banister parts and re finish, or perhaps you will just have to re secure some of them, the last possibility is that you will have to replace some or all of the components. In this case, you may simply have a couple components that you need to match and replace, for example you may have a couple of balusters that are too badly damaged but the rest are still in good condition. WoodStairs.com offers custom turnings and profiles in all available hardwoods and stair parts to match what you already have. So we can make one or two balusters, a newel post or section of handrail to match your existing stair parts.
You’re not the only thing that needs a makeover! Actually, you probably don’t need one at all, but old, worn and outdated stairs can often use a little (or a lot) of freshening up. Whether you want to make your home a better place to live or if you are trying to sell it, your stair and balustrades provide a great opportunity. Over the next few days I plan to write a series of articles on one of the most commonly asked questions we address. What are the best, easiest and most cost efficient methods of stair makeover? Of course this question depends on what your existing balustrade consists of, what it looks like, what damages, if any, it has and how strong and secure it is. While this question may be asked because a system is unsafe or insecure, it is usually one of aesthetics. For some reason the existing stair is just plain ugly, doesn’t match new renovations or maybe it’s fine but not the work of art you know it could be. Whatever your reasons, in order for me to help you decide what course of action you should take I have to address the different types of balustrades upon which you will be improving. So, let me begin with a list of possible balustrade types and then today I will summarize the different techniques you can use to revitalize each arrangement. In subsequent articles I will address each solution in detail.
All Wood balustrade
All Iron Railing System
Wood and Wrought Iron balustrade
There are several reasons that people choose to upgrade their current system by combining wood and wrought iron railings. If your existing balustrade is all metal, the simple addition of wood handrails can dramatically improve on the existing design with little cost and simple installation. Wood handrails are larger, warmer to the touch, often more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing and finally, they may better compliment other colors and textures in the home. Taking these advantages one at a time, I’ll start with size. Wrought iron handrails are typically substantially smaller and lack the available detail that is available in the wood alternatives. Wood is warmer to the touch than the significantly colder iron, and coupled with its larger size and comfortable shape it is an overall more sensually inviting option over iron. Personal preferences will determine whether or not you prefer the look of wood over iron, however its use often helps to better compliment the other aspects of the space such as wood floors, doors, finish carpentry, furniture, etc. I want to be clear that there is nothing wrong with full iron balustrades. This is primarily a matter of preference. Look at the above pictures, you may prefer the full iron version. There is nothing wrong with this design. In fact, the wood addition is in this case more of a trim piece though, many prefer it for the above mentioned reasons.
Whatever your reason for wanting a wood handrail with your existing wrought iron balustrade, the process is relatively simple and inexpensive. Often, there is no need to remove or replace any of the existing balustrade components but instead you can simply add the wood handrail over the old iron one. Many iron handrails are square or rectangular and the wood handrail can be added on top or plowed so that the iron handrail is recessed into the bottom of it. Even the most decorative iron handrails are typically not very large or ornate and can be concealed in a new decorative wood handrail.
Stairs and balustrades are one of the key architectural features of any multilevel structure. As such they have experienced a long historical evolution from basic function to the artistic diversity we know today. Their styles and designs are as wide ranging as the spaces which contain them; from the historical authentic, neotraditionalism with its borrowed themes, modern minimalism and the indefinite shades of grey in between. This is especially true in residential applications where the stair and railing system often stand proudly in the forefront of the small handful of permanent architectural features.
Prominence, geometry, pattern, texture and aesthetic flexibility, establish a perfect foundation upon which creative expressions can come alive. From a purely design vantage, the possibilities are unlimited. Unfortunately for most of us there are budgetary concerns that deflate that lofty ideal. However, within any budgetary constraint there is still always the opportunity for creativity and expression. The trap to avoid is that of the commonplace.
Stairs and balustrades are relatively simple, coming down to a series of steps and guardrails. Much like a blank canvass however, the opportunity comes from your unique approach to the creation of your own masterpiece. While the stylistic tone of the space may dictate a general direction, the specific composition of colors, textures, and patterns within this style are once again constrained only by your imagination.