One of the main safety features of a staircase are the handrails and railings, which help prevent falls and injuries. These staircase parts can be made of different materials, such as metal, wood or glass, to achieve different visual effects. The type of stair railing and type of handrail used will also impact the appearance of the staircase.
Handrail and railing are two staircase parts that often get confused.
A handrail, also called a banister, is the part of the staircase that people hold onto for support when going up and down the stairs. The handrail must provide stability and a continuous guide along the stair. A handrail can be made of a variety of materials. It can either be attached to a wall, extend from the side of the stair rail, or sit on top of the balusters (vertical posts) on the open side of a staircase.
A railing is the barrier which prevents people from falling off the side of the stairs. A railing must be strong enough to resist breaking if someone falls or pushes on it. Railings can also be made of a variety of materials and can be fashioned in different styles from a series of simple vertical posts which form a balustrade to modern cable railing.
The best material for stair handrails and railings depends on the environment of the staircase and the look desired. Metals, like steel, aluminum and wrought iron, are popular choices for commercial and industrial settings and contemporary environments, where wood provides a more classic appearance. Glass is often used when the view beyond the railing is important.
Steel is a popular material for both stair handrails and railings for commercial egress stairs and industrial staircases. Steel is also the best material for stair stringers. To prevent rusting, galvanized or stainless steel is often used. Galvanized steel is coated with zinc to prevent corrosive materials from damaging the steel below. Chromium, nickel, nitrogen and molybdenum are added to stainless steel to allow the metal to resist corrosion.
Steel handrails can be used in just about any environment. A powder coated or galvanized steel handrail is a popular choice for prefabricated industrial stair applications where other components of the stairs are made of steel. For homes and commercial spaces, stainless steel handrails provide a sleek, modern look. Stainless steel handrails can be used with railings made of other materials, like glass, to create a modern design.
Steel railings can also be used in a variety of settings including industrial, commercial and residential. When used in industrial environments, steel railings serve to be more functional. In homes and offices, stainless steel railings provide clean lines and a contemporary appearance. They can be used with a variety of handrail materials, such as wood, to create the desired effect.
Aluminum is a natural element that has a lower density than other metals, making it lightweight compared to steel. Aluminum looks like silver and is very reflective. Aluminum is naturally resistant to rust and corrosion without any additional treatment.
Aluminum handrails can be found in a variety of settings. They can be used both inside and outside homes, commercial buildings and industrial settings.
Aluminum stair railings are often used outside for entrance steps and decks. However, they can also be indoors in any type of building of facility.
Wrought iron is an iron alloy with a low content of carbon. The demand for this malleable material, often used to achieve a highly decorative effect, reached a high in the mid 1800’s. Today, wrought iron is no longer made on a mass scale but is still produced for restoration and replication of historic work. Most products that look like and are described as wrought iron today are actually made of a mild steel with a low carbon content.
Wrought iron handrails can be used for indoor and outdoor staircases in homes and commercial buildings. Wrought iron handrails can be used on both straight and curved stairs.
Decorative wrought iron stair railings are found in private residences and office buildings. They can be used in both interior and exterior applications. Wrought iron balusters are often used in combination with wood handrails to achieve a sophisticated and dramatic effect.
Wood is the most traditional and classic material used for handrails and railings. Popular woods include red oak, which is easy to stain, sand, and finish, as well as white oak, which is harder and more water resistant. Mahogany, ash, cypress, cherry and many other woods can be used for staircase handrails and railings.
Wooden handrails are typically found in homes and residential buildings. The use of wooden handrails can vary from decks to garage stairs to grand staircases in older homes. However, wooden handrails can also be used with more modern railing materials, such as metal or glass, to provide a unique style.
Wood railings are normally found in traditionally styled residences and buildings, often in entryways. They are commonly used indoors, but can also be out outside on decks and other exterior structures if treated properly. Like wooden handrails, wood railings can be combined with other materials to construct a more contemporary staircase.
While glass may not seem to be a very safe material to use in staircase design, it is actually much tougher than it looks. Glass comes in a number of varieties including clear, semi-transparent, tinted, frosted and etched.
Glass is not normally used for stair handrails. Usually, other materials, like wood or metal, are used for handrails with glass railings.
Glass railings can be used in both interiors or exteriors and are commonly found in modern commercial buildings and homes. The glass panels used for the stair railing can be fully or partially framed with stainless steel or aluminum, or they may be frameless.
Staircase railings can be made from a variety of materials including metal, wood and glass. However, there are several different stair railing designs that range from the classic picket railing to more modern cable railing or panels.
Picket railing consists of vertical posts that support the handrail. At the bottom, the posts are attached to the base rail or stair treads. Pickets can be made of wood or metal. They can be simple posts or ornately designed.
Picket staircase railings are the most common type of railings and are used everywhere from industrial plants to commercial buildings to residential homes. Picket railings can be used indoor or out.
Multi-line stair railings consist of horizontal rods or tubes that extend from railing post to railing post. The rods or tubes can be different styles, sizes, and materials to reflect the desired look.
Multi-line railings are commonly used in commercial and industrial buildings for egress stairways and equipment access stairs.
Cable stair railings use high tension, horizontal or vertical metal cables instead of pickets or panels to provide a barrier on the side of the stairs. Cable railing can be used with a variety of different handrail and newel post materials including steel, aluminum and wood.
Cable railing can be used on both interior and exterior staircases and is used to provide a modern appearance to homes and commercial buildings.
Wire mesh infill railings consist of panels of wire that are welded to a four-sided frame. These panel are then attached to the railing system. Wire mesh infill railings can be made from a variety of metals, including stainless steel and aluminum. This type of railing is usually custom manufactured to meet the desired mesh or opening size, wire diameter and panel size.
Wire mesh infill railings are used in industrial settings and high traffic commercial areas such as stadiums, colleges and shopping areas. Wire mesh infill can also be used for residential deck stairs.
Panel stair railing is similar to wire mesh infill railing in that sections are installed into the railing system. Panel railing is frequently made of glass, but can also be made of open metal bars.
Glass panel railing is frequently used outdoors but can be used inside as well. Metal panel railing has a wide variety of residential and commercial uses.
Handrails can be made from a wide range of materials including wood and various metals. However, there are only two different types of handrail design – integrated and wall mounted.
Guardrail-mounted handrail is a handrail that mounts to the guardrail and extends out into the path of egress to provide a support for the user to grab onto separate from the guardrail.
Guardrail-mounted handrail are used on the open side of the staircase. They can be used on one or both sides of the staircase.
Wall-mounted handrails, as the name implies, are attached to the wall and are used in place of an integrated handrail with railings. Steel wall mounted handrails are usually made with round tube or pipe. For wood handrails, pigs ear and mopstick are two common styles of wall-mounted hand rails. Pigs ear handrails are shaped like the animal’s ear when viewed from the side and are secured directly to the wall without brackets. Mopstick handrails are secured to the wall using brackets. and tend to be more decorative in nature.
Wall mounted hand rails are used on the closed or wall side of a staircase. They can be used on one or both sides of a staircase.
Integrated handrails sit on top of the stair railing and form a portion of the balustrade. Each end of the handrail is supported at each end by a newel post. Integrated handrails made from wood can be either grooved or ungrooved. With grooved handrails, the railing sits within the grove of the handrail. With ungrooved handrails, the railing is bracketed or screwed into the handrail.
Most building codes including IBC, ADA, and OSHA require a separate guardrail-mounted handrail and no longer allow an integrated handrail.
Integrated handrails are used on the open side of a stair case where there is no wall. Integrated handrails can be on one or both sides of a staircase. Integrated handrails are no longer allowed by most building codes.
Staircase railings and handrails provide security to the person using the staircase and help prevents accidents and falls. However, these stair parts also have a big impact on the appearance of the staircase.
Stair railing and handrails can be made of a variety of materials including metal, wood and glass. Different materials can be used for each component to achieve a variety of visually appealing and interesting styles.
Railing styles, which range from traditional pickets to modern cable wire, also impact the look of the staircase. Handrail styles can also affect the appearance of the staircase but mainly depend on whether the staircase is open or closed.