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What are the parts of a stair? A New Zealand glossary.

19 June 2020

You’re pretty sure that the stair designer sitting across the table from you is speaking English, but you were discussing stairs and she’s talking about…stringers?

Puzzled? We don’t blame you. Read on for a glossary of the terms you’ll need to know if you’re planning a new stair in NZ.

The basic parts of a stairway


Self-explanatory. You walk, or tread on them.
It’s the flat, horizontal surface which meets with the vertical riser, and forms a step.
The width of the tread is measured from one side to the other.
Tread depth refers to the outer edge of the tread to the vertical riser.


The vertical part between two treads is called a riser. Simple enough, but some stairs are built without them, and then it’s called an ‘open riser’.
You’ll meet the term ‘open riser’ if you’re planning a floating stair.


A stringer is a structural member that supports the treads and risers of a staircase. Traditionally stairs were built with a stringer on either side, but a contemporary floating stair is often built with one supporting stringer underneath.

For a traditional staircase there are two types of stringers:

Housed Stringer

The stringer is a rectangular shape which the treads and risers are ‘housed’ into.

Cut (Undercut or Undermounted) Stringer

The stringer is a zig zag shape and sits underneath the treads and risers.


A level floor or platform on a stairway is called a landing. It’s often used to make a turn, but can also be used on a straight flight of stairs.
It can also refer to the level place at the top of the stair.


When a turn needs to be made in a stair without using a landing, winders are used.  This allows you to fit a staircase into a smaller space.
These steps are wider on one side than the other. You can use as few as three to make a small curve, or a series of them to create a circular or spiral stairway.

Bullnose tread

The bottom step of a staircase which curves around sideways beyond the side of the staircase.  This is an optional extra and frequently used for extra effect with traditional style staircases.


This refers to the measurement from the top of a tread to the ceiling above it. Click here to download our "How to check headroom" guide.


A balustrade is the name for the system designed to protect people from falling off a stairway. It consists of a handrail, (at the top) balusters which are the uprights, and the bottom rail (if there is one).

Handrail or Top rail

As you might expect, the handrail is for holding onto. It might be attached to balusters (see below) or attached to a wall.
Usually wood or steel construction.

Handrail brackets

These are the fittings you use to attach the handrail if you are attaching it to the wall.


These are the uprights or vertical pieces of the balustrade, between the railing and the tread. They come in metal or timber and can be chosen to fit in with the current style of your home or to make an architectural statement of their own.

Rather than balusters you might have balustrade panels – for example if you are purchasing a glass balustrade.

Bottom rail

This supports the balusters (depending on the design of your balustrade).

Newel post

The vertical post at the end or turn of a balustrade.

Designing stairs in New Zealand is not always straight forward.  There are a number of rules and regulations to be aware of surrounding the terms above.

If you have a technical query our team is always ready to help, or we can point you to the relevant section of the building code. Like to know more?

Tel: 0800 896 500

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