Porch Railing and Stair Railing Terminology

So you’re installing or redoing your porch and porch stair railings. Your Google searching tells you that you need a certain number of balusters between each Newel Post and that you should know the measurements of your treads and risers to determine the angle of your stair and the dimensions for the stringers. Say what??

This blog is to help you with that terminology you aren’t too familiar with.


Stair Panel Diagram with terminology

Typically, you will see balusters (or pickets), which are individual, short pillars or columns that are lined up next to each other to form the railing. In the drawing above you will see this space filled with something labeled “porch panel”. This is a product that is unique to The Porch Company and available on our online store. Unlike individual balusters, they are one, long sheet made from PVC material (weather-resistant and much easier to install than screwing in each picket).

The panel or balusters are installed between a base rail and a cap rail. For stairs, codes typically state that you can have a graspable hand rail which is shaped for gripping, or you can have a traditional cap rail and a secondary rail. Check your local codes, because every jurisdiction is different. The example below on the left is of a graspable stair rail, and on the right a traditional stair rail with secondary railing:

Graspable Stair Rail by DecKoratorsSecondary Hand Rail

The newel posts are the posts at the top or bottom of a flight of stairs that supports the handrail. On top of each post is a post cap, which can vary in design as dramatically as your panels/balusters.

Now, for the stairs themselves. With wooden steps, the stringer is the structural component that supports the treads. The riser is the vertical or “front” part of the stairs, while the tread is the horizontal part that is actually stepped on. The nosing is that little piece of the tread that extends over the riser. Tread and riser measurements are important if you are adding stair railings because they can help you determine the angle of your stairs, and therefore the angle of your railings.

Most stairs are typically 30, 32, or 34 degrees. Take a look at these drawings to show which tread and riser measurements equated to which measurement. Please note: rise = riser & run = tread. Taking you back to algebra class now?

Determining the angle of your stair railings

Don’t see your tread and riser measurements? Don’t want to relive the horrors of algebra class? Use this simple angle calculator to calculate the angle of your stairs.

Hopefully now you won’t think your contractor is speaking gibberish. Maybe you even feel confident enough to do some of the work yourself! Don’t forget to check out our online porch store where you can purchase custom-made, weather-resistant porch panels as well as cap rails, base rails, graspable hand rails, post caps and associate hardware. Good luck with all of your future projects!

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