In the following instructions in the art of Stair-building, it is the intention to adhere closely to the practical phases of the subject, and to present only such matter as will directly aid the student in acquiring a practical mastery of the art.

Stair-building, though one of the most important subjects connected with the art of building, is probably ihe subject least understood by designers and by workmen generally. In but few of the plans that leave the offices of Architects, are the stairs properly laid down; and many of the books that have been sent out for the purpose of giving instruction in the art of building, have this common defect - that the body of the stairs is laid down imperfectly, and therefore presents great difficulties in the construction of the rail.

The stairs are an important feature of a building. On entering a house they are usually the first object to meet the eye and claim the attention. If one sees an ugly staircase, it will, in a measure, condemn the whole house, for the first impression produced will hardly afterwards be totally eradicated by commendable features that may be noted elsewhere in the building. It is extremely important, therefore, that both designer and workman shall see that staircases are properly laid out.

Stairways should be commodious to ascend - inviting people, as it were, to go up. When winders are used, they should extend past the spring line of the cylinder, so as to give proper width at the narrow end (see Fig. 72) and bring the rail there as nearly as possible to the same pitch or slant as the rail over the square steps. When the hall is of sufficient width, the stairway should not be less than four feet wide, so that two people can conveniently pass each other thereon. The height of riser and width of tread are governed by the staircase, which is the space allowed for the stairway; but, as a general rule, the tread should not be less than nine inches wide, and the riser should not be over eight inches high. Seven-inch riser and eleven-inch tread will make an easy stepping stairway. If you increase the width of the tread, you must reduce the height of the riser. The tread and riser together should not be over eighteen inches, and not less than seventeen inches. These dimensions, however, cannot always be adhered to, as conditions will often compel a deviation from the rule; for instance, in large buildings, such as hotels, railway depots, or other public buildings, treads are often made 18 inches wide, having risers of from 2 1/2 inches to 5 inches depth.


Before proceeding further with the subject, it is essential that the student make himself familiar with a few of the terms used in stair-building. The term rise and run is often used, and indicates certain dimensions of the stairway. Fig. 1 will illustrate exactly what is meant; the line A B shows the run, or the length over the floor the stairs will occupy. From B to C is the rise, or the total height from top of lower floor to top of upper .floor.* The line D is the pitch or line of nosings, showing the angle of inclination of the stairs. On the three lines shown - the run, the rise, and the pitch - depends the whole system of stair-building.

The body or staircase is the room or space in which the stairway is contained. This may be a space including the width and length of the stairway only, in which case it is called a close stairway, no rail or baluster being necessary. Or the stairway may be in a large apartment, such as a passage or hall, or even in a large room, openings being left in the upper floors so as to allow road room for persons on the stairway, and to furnish communication between the stairways and the different stories of the building. In such cases we have what are known as open stairways, from the fact that they are not closed on both sides, the steps showing their ends at one side, while on the other side they are generally placed against the wall.

Sometimes stairways are left open on both sides, a practice not uncommon in hotels, public halls, and steamships. When such stairs are employed, the openings in the upper floor should be well trimmed with joists or beams somewhat stronger than the ordinary joists used in the same floor, as will be explained further on.

Fig. 1. Illustrating Rise, Run, and Pitch.

Fig. 1. Illustrating Rise, Run, and Pitch.

*Note. - The measure for the rise of a stairway must always be taken from the top of one floor to the top of the next.


This is the horizontal, upper surface of the step, upon which the foot is placed. In other words, it is the piece of material that forms the step, and is generally from 1 1/4 to 3 inches thick, and made of a width and length to suit the position for which it is intended. In small houses, the treads are usually made of 7/8-inch stuff.


This is the vertical height of the step. The riser is generally made of thinner stuff than the tread, and, as a rule, is not so heavy. Its duty is to connect the treads together, and to give the stairs strength and solidity.

Rise And Run

This term, as already explained, is used to indicate the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the stairway, the rise meaning the height from the top of the lower floor to the top of the second floor; and the run meaning the horizontal distance from the face of the first riser to the face of the last or top riser, or, in other words, the distance between the face of the first riser and the point where a plumb line from the face of the top riser would strike the floor. It is, in fact, simply the distance that the treads would make if put side by side and measured together - without, of course, taking in the nosings.

Suppose there are fifteen treads, each being 11 inches wide; this would make a run of 15X 11 = 165 inches =13 feet 9 inches. Sometimes this distance is called the going of the stair; this, however, is an English term, seldom used in America, and when used, refers as frequently to the length of the single tread as it does to the run of the stairway.