Category Archives: Product Information
At WoodStairs.com, we understand that you have options when it comes to your new stair project. We appreciate your business. We are proud of our product, and we will do everything we can to make sure that you love your new stairs.
The vocabulary in the stair industry may sound unfamiliar or confusing. There are so many different styles, types, sizes, and species to chose from that the decision can seem a bit daunting, so let’s discuss some of the terminology and theory of stair design.
Think about scale. A stairway provides utility within a specific dimension but should also contribute to the spaces it joins. The actual dimension of the material in your stairway has an affect on the way the space is perceived. While thin cast iron balusters allow almost complete transparency into the stair space, thick, blocky balusters create a partition and obscure visibility.
Think about Balance. Bold colors and rich wood may seem out of place around more muted tones. Also, remember that large handrails and large balustrades require Newel Posts that are strong enough to support them.
What is your preferred style? To see several different style options, check out our selection of Box Newels and Turned Newel Posts. Think about the other elements in your home. If you have Shaker cabinet door fronts, you might be looking for a simple Box Newel Design. We can also match your elaborate turned corner posts. The kitchen is a great place to start if you are looking for inspiration. Please contact us for questions about profiles or custom matching what is already in your home. We can match any design in one of our 20 species of wood.
Starting steps protrude into a room at the base of a staircase and may be visible from several sides. This added surface area can showcase materials and finishes of the risers and treads. It can also be used for base newel posts or elaborate volutes. Substantial starting steps can also give scale and balance to a staircase by providing a proportionate base for wider newel posts and handrails.
Starting steps have made a resurgence in contemporary stair design. These exaggerated first stair treads are a great way to establish a tone for your stairs and to draw the eye up the newel post and across the entire balustrade. Starting steps also provide utility and functionality when stairs meet a landing by allowing multi-directional access to your stairs.
Starting steps are typically described as “single bullnose” or “double bullnose.” This refers to the overall shape, specifically whether the step has room for a radius cap or volute base on one (single) side or both (double) sides. The deciding factor is usually a wall on one side of the step. Also, notice that there are specific starting steps designed for use with box newels.
When ordering a new starter step, measure across the existing stairway. This will ensure the correct fit. If you have questions, please contact us. Our toll free number is 888-390-7245.
One question that many of our remodeling customers ask is whether or not they can reuse any of their existing components. In addressing this question, there are several things to consider: First, what condition are the existing components in? Second, what is the purpose of the renovation? Structural, aesthetic, or both? Third, will these components work with new codes and new products? Finally, what is the cost difference between preparing existing components for reuse and the replacement cost of new components?
While often safety and structural stability of a stair and railing system are considered second to aesthetics, they are the most important aspect of the system. The security of a balustrade is directly related to the integrity of the individual components. Old balusters may look good, but they may have degraded through use, damage, and even disassembly. In addition, antiquated building codes may have allowed greater baluster spacing than is currently considered safe. If the structural components such as balusters, handrails, and newel posts are not sound, they should not be reused. If your baluster spacing currently allows for a sphere greater than 4 inches to pass through at any point, a renovation will be required to reduce spacing. In most cases, this will require additional balusters to decrease the opening. You can replace all of the balusters (plus any additional balusters needed to bring the balustrade up to code), or you can order custom-made balusters to match the existing profile. The question of whether existing components will work with the new components often depends on whether the existing wood balusters will be replaced with a more current style. To determine whether the handrail, tread caps, and newel posts can be retained, there are two factors to consider: spacing and finishes.
There are several different types of stairs that are used in architectural design. These vary for a variety of reasons, two of the most important being their visual appeal and consideration of space. Stairways can occupy a rather large footprint in a home but through some creative design this footprint can be substantially reduced when necessary when space is at a premium. Here are the six basic stair shapes and their uses in a home.
Straight Stairs are the most common type primarily because they are very practical while being the most simple and inexpensive type of stairway. A straight stair is basically one that travels from one floor to the next without changing direction or curving.
L Shaped Stairs are basically two stairs that connect at a landing or by winder treads at a 90° turn. These are most often used when space is more limited and a full straight flight cannot fit. The intermediate landing or winder tread area of the stair may be centered between the two straight flights or nearer the top of the bottom. Winder treads are pie shaped treads that increase the number of treads in the “landing area” when space is even more limited.
U or Switchback Stairs are two flights (often of differing length) that run parallel and joined at the top of the lower flight and the bottom of the upper flight by an intermediate landing. The landing itself may also be partitioned into two square landings or several pie shaped winder treads to reduce the length of the straight flights and thereby reduce the overall footprint of the U shaped stair. Ideally, there is a space between the two parallel flights to allow room for skirt boards, stair tread overhangs and clearance between bypassing handrails. This distance may be as little as 6” to upwards of 12”.
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.
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.
Log railings are available in a wide variety of sizes and textures and they are a virtually essential component of many rustic homes or cabins. They are typically available in two wood species, pine and cedar. Cedar is an excellent choice for exterior applications because of its natural rot-resistant properties. However, cedar log railings are quite a bit more expensive than the pine alternative. Pine log rails are inexpensive, issue free for interior use and with proper care can last indefinitely in exterior applications as well. So, if you have the budget you may prefer cedar as a hassle free alternative, but since most log railings are regularly stained and sealed to keep them looking new anyway, pine works just as well. To put it another way, both cedar and pine will discolor and fade with exposure to the weather, sun and time. Staining and sealing them not only helps to maintain that “new look” but also acts to protect and preserve the wood from the elements thereby basically eliminating the necessity of the natural rot-resistance inherent in cedar. I should mention that both cedar and pine readily accept stain for a beautiful finish in a virtually endless variety of colors. So if you are on a budget you might want to consider saving your money for the inevitable refinishing that any wood product will require a few years down the road. If, however, you don’t mind the weathered look and don’t want the maintenance then cedar is your obvious choice, though it will cost you more up front.
If you are looking for a way to add a little character to your floor level balustrade here is an idea that gives a new purpose to a standard stair part. Designing a distinct and memorable balustrade from the myriad components available definitely involves some creative thought. There is more to it than picking the right profile; you must also consider their quality and how well they will harmonize in the complete architectural design. I’ve spent a lot of time recently trying to point our customers in the right direction, to get them asking the right questions about the big picture, and so forth. Today, I’d like to make a very simple and specific suggestion. In addition to the standard components that make up interior stair railing design such as Newel Posts, Wood or Wrought Iron Balusters, Stair Treads and all of the accompanying accessories and moldings, here is a suggestion you might find interesting for your floor level balustrade.
Handrail fittings are typically used in two scenarios, as a decorative termination to a handrail and to make a transition between two handrails that intersect at different angles. For example, the most common termination fittings are Volutes and Turnouts while Quarter Turns, Easings, and Goosenecks are standard transition fittings. So now for the big idea Instead of using transition fittings as they are intended, you might consider using them to add a three-dimensional detail to your floor level balustrade. If you are planning a post-to-post system (if you are unclear what this is read more here), then instead of having the handrail terminate straight into the post, use fittings to give it a little flair just before the attachment. Because this is such rare practice, which is good and bad, I don’t have many pictures. Here is a before and after of one of WoodStairs.com’s customers remodel projects. While this balustrade is in a small space, the change and the goose neck fittings make a huge visual impact.
Houzz.com hosts the largest collection of decorating and interior design ideas on the internet, including staircases and balustrades, kitchens, bathrooms and more. WoodStairs.com is a proud contributor to this great resource of architecture, interior design and decorating, landscape design and home improvement. There is an article today on Houzz.com entitled “Lean on Me: Balustrades and Rails Through the Ages to Today”, by Gabrielle Di Stefano. Of course this article is especially interesting and relevant to those of us in the stair parts industry and as our customers we hope that you enjoy it as well. We appreciate the rich history of balustrades and their components, such as wrought iron balusters and wood box newel posts, and we are passionate in our efforts to further advance this legacy today. You can ready the Houzz.com article below. As always we are always here to help with any stair or balustrade related questions from design through completion at 888-390-7245.
If you want to know how to install iron balusters, there is now a third option and one we highly recommend for many of our customers. IronPro is a patented system that was developed by one of our suppliers, LJ Smith. It is an innovative and patented iron baluster shoe system that can be used in virtually any iron baluster installation situation. In new installations it can reduce installation times to 1/3 of normal and even better, in renovations, it allows you to replace wood balusters with wrought iron balusters without removing the post or handrails. So, if you have a damaged, outdated or plain ugly balustrade but don’t want to spend your hard earned money to replace the entire system, IronPro allows you to keep everything but the balusters themselves. All of your other stair parts remain intact. You can repaint or stain them if you would like, to freshen them up, but you do not have to replace them. Not only that but you don’t even have to remove and reinstall your newel posts, handrails, stair treads, etc. to install the balusters. So whether you are doing it yourself or hiring out the installation you will save money on labor as well.
Iron balusters installation using LJ Smith’s IronPro system is simple virtually anyone can do it. With everything in place (even stained or painted) except the iron balusters you simply add the IronPro shoes to the handrail and Stair Tread or Landing Tread, cut the balusters to length, insert them into the shoes and fasten them with the included set screws. Here is a youtube video that shows the process far better than I can describe it here. The tools required are minimal and we have no reservations recommending this system to even those with virtually no woodworking experience.