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Category Archives: Things you should know – General Info

Ordering Your New Stairs

home1_stair_900c

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.

Planning Your Remodel

Plan ahead for a successful project!

Remodeling, updating, and re-finishing your home can be great ways to increase its value and livability. Whether you have just purchased your home or have been in it for a while, making custom updates can be a great way to personalize your home and make it work for you. By focusing on the highly visible areas of your home, you can maximize your return on your investment.

Once you’ve decided to undertake a home improvement project, take time to do a little research. Look for images of homes you like. Take note of the styles, trends, and finishes you would like to incorporate in your own project. At this point, you may want to start discussions with a licensed contractor or someone who has recently completed a project that is similar to yours–they may have money-saving tips and ideas to help you plan your project.

Consider the way you intend to use the space during and after the remodel: you can replace a mantle in a matter of hours, but if you’re gutting your kitchen, you may not see a home-cooked meal for several months. It’s a good idea to discuss your upcoming project with other members of the household, so everyone knows what to expect.

In addition to planning the function and design, have a clear idea of your budget and schedule.

Sometimes it helps to think about your project in phases. By beginning with the end in mind, you can ensure that the finishes you select at the beginning of your project match the finishes that you will be selecting as you complete it.

Stair Parts Glossary of Terms

ANATOMY OF A STAIR

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.

Inspirational Stair Design

amazing-unusual-curved-stairs

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.

Old Stair Parts

Baluster Book Shelves

If you have recently, or are soon going to, remodel your stairway or railing system you may want to consider what to do with the components you are replacing.  I hope you will decide to keep your old stair parts, which can serve a wide variety of good uses once you’ve decided to upgrade them during your renovation.  Sadly, more often than not, the old components are just thrown away to add another layer to the landfill.  However, while they may have made a poor, outdated or unsecure balustrade, there are many uses for these components and throwing them out is an unnecessary waste.

Once you’ve decided that you will do something with your old stair parts, even if you are not sure what, the first step is to remove them with a little more care than if they are going to end up in the land fill.  I think that this is one of the biggest reasons that they are so often discarded.  It is much easier, and honestly more fun, to just lay into the old system with a sledge hammer, destroying it completely before hauling off the rubble.  If you plan to reuse them in some fashion, you will have to take a little more time and care to remove the wood or wrought iron balusters, newel posts and handrails more or less intact.  Here’s where the possible uses come into consideration.

Balustrade Design

Wood and Wrought Iron Balustrade

Balustrade design involves several steps that are narrowed down from concept to individual  components.  You may have an existing stair design from your house plans or that you intend to remodel.  From this basic shape the first consideration is they style of the space.  Balustrades are a very prominent feature in most architectural interior design.  Together with the stairs themselves they are in essence a large and a very visual piece of furniture.  Even more than paint, cabinets, accessories and furniture, because they are generally considered a permanent feature of your home, special consideration is warranted regarding your banisters.  Of course stairs and balustrades can be renovated, or even repainted, but with a well-designed system this future need can virtually be eliminated.  There are countless stairs and balustrades that are decades, even centuries old, and they remain as relevant to the home as the day they were installed.  On the other hand, there are probably many more that never worked to begin with.  So, what is the difference?

The complexity of this question makes it a difficult one to answer.  Stairs and railings are typically designed with one of three purposes in mind; they can be a focal point, a subtile compliment to the space, or virtually invisible.  Each purpose answers the question in a different way.  If the stair is to be a focal point then the answer is often more visually apparent.  The balustrade itself may be the driving force behind the tone and style of the space rather than vice versa.  In such cases a more creative and unique design may be warranted to reveal the stair as the work of art it is intended to be.  If your stair and balustrade is intended to compliment the space, which is the overwhelming majority of cases, the design selections are typically more interwoven with other features.  Rather than stand on their own the purpose of these stairs is to contribute to the overall symmetry of the space, its accessories and embellishments.  Finally, the invisible stair.  In this case, the stairs and railings are intended to be a virtually nonexistent architectural feature.  This may be in the case of minimalistic designs, or where another feature is the intended focal point.

Wood, Stone and Wrought Iron Balustrades Throughout History

Paint Grade Stair Skirtboards on a Kneewall

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.

Selecting the Correct Newel Post Types for your Balustrade

Standard Block (Bottom) and Medium Block (Landing) Newel Posts

Wood Newel Posts are available in two main categories, each with virtually unlimited designs.  These categories are Turned Newel Posts and Box Newel Posts.  While there are countless designs there are also a couple of variations for each style, specific to their intended use.  These variations are most important with Turned Newel Posts and it is my intention today to help you understand the reason for the variation in newel post types and how each is used in a balustrade.

Box Post at Intermediate Landing

Box Post at Intermediate Landing

There are two types of railing systems, continuous and post to post.  Continuous railing systems are those in which the handrail is continuous over the top of each post in the system, achieved with specific types of posts and handrail fittings.  The second type of balustrade system, post-to-post, is one in which the handrail terminates into the top block of each post.  Systems using Box Newel Posts are always post-to-post while you have the option of either railing system when using turned newel posts; you simply need the right turned newel post for the job.

Continuous systems are fairly simple, they use dowel top posts which require a tandem style fitting that allows the rail to “balloon” over the top of the post uninterrupted.  While these are available in different lengths for different applications the style remains consistent.  The complexity in a continuous system is in the handrail fittings.  Fittings such as goosenecks, easings and tandem or capped fittings are used to transition between different handrail heights over the top of the post.  However, for a particular style of posts, the dowel top version simply does not have a top block, otherwise they are the same.

Softwood versus Hardwood Stair Parts

Hardwood_Versus_Softwood

The terms Hardwood and Softwood are inherently confusing because they do not define a precise line between “hard” and “soft” wood types.  While hardwoods are generally harder than softwoods, this is not always the case.  The distinction between the two types is actual a function of reproduction.  All trees producing seeds, but the type of seed varies.

Hardwood

Hardwood

  Trees that produce trees with some type of covering, such fruit or a hard shell like an acorn angiosperms also called Hardwoods.  On the other hand, trees whose seeds fall to the ground freely are gymnosperms and called Softwoods.  An example of a gymnosperm is a Pine Tree which grows its seeds in a cone before they fall to the ground to be dispersed.

Trees are also described as deciduous (Hardwood) and evergreen (Softwood).    Deciduous trees lose their leaves in the fall and evergreens keep their leaves year round.  While it is true that most Softwoods are softer than most Hardwoods this is not universal.  For example, balsa wood, which is one of the softest and lightest woods, is a deciduous angiosperm or a Hardwood.  So comparatively, as a generalization, you can be fairly safe assuming that as a category Hardwoods are denser than Softwoods but with individual wood species this is often not the case.

Softwood

Stair parts are available in both Hardwood and Softwood.  Solid Treads are typically manufactured from those wood species with higher Janka scores such as Red Oak Stair Treads.   Other components such as handrails, newel posts and balusters are available in both Hardwood and Softwood variations because they are not walking surfaces.  When considering the wood species for your stair or balustrade, while hardness is definitely a factory, most stair parts are manufactured from wood types that are suitable for their function.  Greater considerations may be more aesthetic or price driven, this is especially true because Janka hardness is based on raw wood and finishes can also increase the hardness of the finished product.

Top 10 Reasons to Remodel Your Stairs and Balustrade

Ugly Stairs

10.  Potential homebuyers may be discouraged from buying your home because of outdated stairs.  Unfortunately for many home sellers they do not realize the importance of the staircase or balustrade in making that first impression of their homes interior.  In fact they may never realize what they lost in time and money because they didn’t consider remodeling this feature before selling.  The value of a well-designed, aesthetically pleasing staircase to help sell the home is evident by the fact that if a home for sale has one, it features prominent in all of their advertising and marketing.  Just as true as an ugly banister can discourage a potential buyer, a beautiful design can inspire them.

9. Your stairs creak or rattle when you walk up and down them.  You don’t need me to tell you what your noisy stairs are squeaking about every day:  Fix me! Fix me!  This is often a very easy fix and doesn’t require much remodeling at all.  You simple have to find the source of the problem then learn how to eradicate it.  You can find out how to repair squeaking treads or rattling balusters in some of our previous posts.  Just do a search on this page for your particular problem; chances are we’ve helped other customers in the past.