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Starting the Handrail and staircase design.

A look at some of the design aspects to be taken into account before drawing the staircase.

With these aspects decided upon by the property owner, end user or decision maker, the overall design for the staircase design can be achieved.

The design criteria is for looks only and not to be confused with the structural criteria that deals with rules and regulations for building the staircase.

The stairs can be very time consuming when getting the drawings out for production, deciding on certain aspects of the staircase design before starting to draw the stairs, can save hours in re-drawing them for a simple design change.

The staircase is best designed from the top down: As the handrail position dictates the stringer position.

I will work through the different design aspect in the order that I have found best and also the order in which the information is required for creating the drawings.

Each aspect has images attached, these are to give as broad a range of ideas as possible while being brief, many of these explanations may link to other pages with more in depth explanations of that particular subject or terminology.

n.b.

These examples are for getting the design concept, not all permutations will work together, your staircase professional will be able to guide you if there is a conflict in design criteria.


Stair design sheet.

In the trade: Printable PDF sheet to present to clients, let them fill this out and return to you, so you know their design thoughts.

Home owners: Fill out this form and send it to your Staircase professional.

Questionaire-rev-2.pdf (4 downloads)

Staircase design options.

Client preffered options.

9. Specifier Q&A’s

A section for the specifier to complete ready for the drawing stage.

These are the basic design criteria required, there are several other factors that will be taken into consideration but these are at the drawing stage and the information for that will be determined by the contractor or draughtsman.

Staircase design options, overview.

A quick look at the options.

1. Handrail flow.

Although I have written the explanations below for staircase starting at ground floor or entrance level, when the staircase continues to lower levels or there is a break in the handrail run, each run of handrail may copy the next or be designed separately.

There will normally be a separation at the entrance level when a feature step has been included in the design.

1a. Continuous flowing.

A continuous flowing handrail will start at the begininning of the staircase and travel through all flights and landings without interruption.

The transitions in pitch and direction will be carved from solid blocks of timber.

When the handrail is so designed, the transition in change of pitch will be divorced from the transition in change of direction.

geometric stairs.
Geometric stairs with tangent handrail.
Continuous flowing handrail.
Continuous flowing handrail.
Wreathing geometric handrail on turned spindles..
Wreathing geometric handrail.
Continuous handrail on metal core rail.
Continuous handrail on metal core rail.

1b. Continuous mitred.

A continuous mitred handrail will start at the begininning of the staircase and travel through all flights and landings without interruption.

The transitions in pitch and direction will be mitred, allowance must be made so that the mitres do not intersect each other.

mitred handrail corner with gooseneck.
Continuous mitred handrail corner.
Continuous mitred handrail, on core rail.
Continuous mitred, on core rail.
Mitred handrail on metal core rail and balusters.
mitred handrail core rail
A run of continuous mitred handrail.
Mitred handrail run.

1c. Continuous over newel posts.

A continuous mitred handrail will start at the begininning of the staircase and travel through all flights and landings without interruption.

Changes in pitch may be either ramped or mitred.

Transitions in height will be goosenecked or vertical lifts normally with a horizontal exit at the top and pitched exit at the bottom.

Profiled newel caps will be used when running over the newel post.

The profile for the cap will be the same as for the handrail.

Gooseneck.
Handrail with Gooseneck.
Continuous handrail over newels with caps.
Continuous handrail over a newel with profiled cap.
Opening cap two handrails.
Opening Cap double jointed.
Continuous handrail over newel posts without newel caps..
Continuous handrail over turned newels, without newel caps.

1d. Into newel post.

The handrail may run from newel post to newel post, the handrail may start with either a profiled opening cap or it will run into a newel block that would have either a profiled cap or ornamental cap.

When two handrails connect at different heights into the newel post, there may be an extended newel block or two separate blocks.

There is another option where the upper run of handrail starts with the profiled cap set over the post and the lower run of handrail connects into a newel block.

Opening caps in different positions.
Handrail Into newel block and profiled cap.
Oak stairs with newel posts.
Newel blocks with ornamental caps.
Handrail running between square newel posts, spindles are square, chamfered at picth.
Between square newels, chamfered spindles
Handrail between square newel  post.
Handrail between square newel post.

2. Handrail height over landings.

Although visually this will not make a great difference it is worth taking into consideration for a couple of reasons:

  1. Safety: If you have a large stairwell or atrium running around where there could be a long drop. People are getting taller and when the handrail is below waist height, the balustrade may feel or be unsafe in use.
  2. Historic buildings: many historic buildings have lower handrail, this may be the only time that a lower handrail would match in with existing balustrades.

There are three options here, I would recommend one of the last two, especially if you have children, are tall or have a long drop to the floor beneath.

2a. Same as flight.

The handrail on many older buildings is run at the same height across the landings as on the pitch.

In many domestic situations this will be the legal minimum height requirement.

This will have to be confirmed with local building regulations.

The handrail height kept low, mainly for historic stairs.
The handrail height kept low, mainly for historic stairs.

2b. Natural flow height ( same as pitch, plus half a rise.).

The natural height flow is the same as the height in the pitch, over the nosing, plus half a single rise between treads or the same height as the handrail in the middle of a tread.

This is also the height at which the handrail naturally comes to horizontal.

The handrail height coming to its natural postion along the landings.
The handrail height coming to its natural postion along the landings.

2c. Lifted.

Lifting the handrail on the landings may add additional safety measures to the landing area.

This will help when the landing handrail is more of an atrium around open design stairs with a long drop below.

The handrail height along the landing lifted for safety.
The handrail height along the landing lifted for safety.

To see more about the technical side of handrail heights and how they may be changed.

3. Handrail support.

3a. Timber spindles.

Timber spindles are a traditional choice for most domestic properties; their positioning at the edge of the flight will give the maximum use of stair width.

The spindles may be:

Straight in section with either square or chamfered edges,

Turned spindles with a multitude of different patterns.

The spindles can be either mounted onto the tread surface or mounted on the side of the staircase, cut through the end of the tread or return nosing.

Turned spindles mounted on the stringer through the nosing.
Turned spindles mounted on the stringer through the nosing.
Tangent handrail on spindles.
Cut string stairs with turned spindles.
Turned spindles on cut string stairs with spandrel panel.
Turned spindles on cut string stairs with spandrel panel.
Square, chamfered spindles on closed string stairs.
Square, chamfered spindles on closed string stairs.

3b. Metal balusters.

Suited to flights with some spare space, these balusters will either sit outside of the staircase and be fitted to the stringer faces or they will require fitting further into the tread area and the staircase made wider to accomodate the extra tread space needed.

Metal balusters mounted onto the stringer faces set over top of each other.
Metal balusters mounted onto the stringer faces set over top of each other.
Metal baluster, stringer mounted tangent handral.
Metal baluster, stringer mounted.
Metal balusters mounted onto the tread surface.
Metal baluster tread mounted.
Decorative metal balusters stringer mounted on a timber staircase.
Decorative metal balusters stringer mounted on a timber staircase.

3c. Paneled.

Panels may be used, the panels may be timber or metal, plain or elaborate.

The panels may sit on top of the stringers or run down past the stringer.

The panels when made of timber may have the spindle pattern reversed, so the bulk of the area is solid timber with a cutout mimicking a spindle or repeated pattern.

Concrete staircase with newls and panelled.
Concrete staircase with newels and paneled.

3d. Glass.

On straight flights, glass can sit in the same position and use the same space as per timber spindles.

On curved flights the handrail may have to be fitted outside of the tread area and be fitted back against the stringers, so space will be needed outside of the tread area.

Soft curved flights may be able to keep the handrail in the timber spindle position.

Handrail rebated and affixed to the top of the glass.
Handrail rebated and affixed to the top of the glass.
Glass mounted brackets.
The handrail supported on brackets that are fixed to the glass.

4. Cut or closed stringers.

Cut string, cut round steps.
Closed string flat with treads rebated in.
Cut string, cut round steps.
Closed string flat with treads rebated in.
Cut and closed stringer.
Cut and closed stringer.

4a. Cut string.

A cut stringer follows the shape of the step,

Cut well string, the step will sit over the cut stringer with the front of the tread carrying on round the side or end of the tread untill it just lips over the stringer.

Cut wall strings will give the impression that the treads are projecting out of the wall.

Cut string stairs with side mounted balusters.
Cut string stairs with side mounted balusters.
Gooseneck.
Cut string staircase with newels.

4b. Closed stringer.

A closed stringer will encapsulate the ends of the treads and risers and may have a molding set on top of it for the spindles to be fixed into.

A closed wall string will look as though there is a skirting board along over the treads.

Closed string spiral staircase.
Closed string spiral staircase.
Square, chamfered spindles on closed string stairs.
Square, chamfered spindles on closed string stairs.

5. Stringer, wall string flow.

5a. Stringer curved at pitch change, flowing top.

The traditional way of finishing the stringers, staircases in most properties pre 21st cuntury would have been built this way, so if you are looking for a period staircase, this is probably the most suitable design.

A gentle sweeping curve between the pitches, the stringer molding would be formed to follow this curve.

Stringer flowing, painted risers.
Stringer flowing, painted risers.

5b. Stringer mitred at pitch change, straight top.

This stringer tops are cut straight between pitches, this gives a mitred look to them.

The stringer molding will be in straight lengths mitred at the changes in pitch.

Stringer mitred at changes in pitch.
Stringer mitred at changes in pitch.

6. Wall string termination.

6a. Stringer matching into skirting.

The stringer and skirting molding can be set that one flows into the other, this will need to be designed before the staircase is made.

On timber stairs this is made as part of the staircase, on stone stairs this is often created with fibrous plaster once the stairs have been installed.

1930s stringer transition
Timber stringer flowwing into skirting.
Stringer flowing, painted risers.
Stringer flowing from staircase to landing.

6b. Stringer terminating at skirting.

The stringer will be cut over the landing, these normally have a simple molding over them, such as staff bead detail.

The stringer end and molding may be return mitred, to take the molding back to the wall and not leave any end grain visible.

The skirting will then but up against the return mitre.

Stringer-Skirting-landing
The skirting butting into the stringer.
Sirting butting into return mitred string.
Sirting butting into return mitred string.

6c. Stringer molding mitred over, skirting butting.

This style will normally have a simple molding such as staff bead detail running along the stringers.

The molding may be mitred over the end of the stringer, creating a border along the top of the string and round the end, the skirting being of a much thinner material will butt into the molding running down the end of the stringer.

stringer staff bead mitred over.
stringer with staff bead mitred over.
Mitred over staff bead.
Staff bead mitred over.

6d. Stringer terminating into Plinth block.

On many grander staircases plinth blocks are used,

The plinth blocks will be used under the door architraves and at the end of the stringers, this creates blocks that the skirting runs between, allowing for changes in molding and height.

Stringer with plinth blocks before skirting.
Stringer with plinth blocks before skirting.
Stringer-plinth blocks-skirting
Stringer-plinth blocks-skirting

For more information on stringer to skirting transitions.

7. Feature or starting steps.

7a. The style of step at ground floor or entrance level.

The start of the staircase often has a feature tread, there are a number of different styles available dependant on the look you want and the handrail termination atthe start of the flight.

To find out more about the different styles of feature step.

The feature tread with curtail ends.
The feature tread with curtail ends. .
Curtail tread with the Commode front.

8. Handrail terminations.

8a. Start of run, well string, especially over feature treads.

Newel post, Monkey’s tail or a range of different ways to start the stairs.

The stairs may start in different ways that embelish the the entrance and can make a major statement in the entrance hall or they can start in a very simple manner that just blends in with the rest of the staircase.

Monkey's  tail or wreathing volute starting the handrail run.
Monkey’s tail or wreathing volute starting the handrail run.t.
Bullnosed step set infront of newel post, handrail terminating into newel blocks.
Bullnosed step set infront of newel post, handrail terminating into newel blocks.

8b. Start and end of run, wall rail.

The wall rail can start either by returning into the wall or have a feature end such as a Ram’s horn.

Some wall rails may be fitted onto handrail brackets, these leave a gap between the handrail and the wall, others may be attached directly to the wall, some may be built as a recess into the wall, this is becoming trendy at present, with strip lihting being run inside the rebate.

Profiled drop end.
Profiled drop end
wall rail.
Dado handrail.
Dado handrail with profiled end.


9. Specifier Q&A’s

Additional questions that the specifier should where possible confirm; to give a full overview for the drawing office.

Steps.

Tread shape.

Traditional with nosing projection.

Vertical riser no nosing projection.

“Z” tread and riser.

Tread material.

Painted

Timber

Riser material.

Painted

Timber

Scotia.

Yes

No

Painted

Timber

Stringers.

Wall string material.

Painted

Timber

Well string material.

Painted

Timber

Sub structure.

Timber carraige.

Metal frame.

Concrete structure.

Additional design notes.

Any additional design notes may be added here, these could be things like:

Leather clad handrail.

Open risers.

Tread brackets for cut string stairs.


Related information.

Minimum Going.

Staircase drawing check list.

The information required along with the design intent to draw the stairs.

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