Stairs 101

Basic Overview of the Open Tread Stair System

This overview covers just some of the decisions that you will need to make before you start putting together the parts you may need to create your new stair. For more information click on the links below.

Two Basic Types of Stair Systems

Post to Post

The post to post system is the most common and is the basic stair in most homes in America. In this system the handrail is mounted in between newel posts which have a decorative top (e.g. ball top, mushroom top or acorn top). Although the installation of this system is basic, don’t let that deter you, it can be a very decorative stair. This classic system can also incorporate some over the post techniques including volutes or turnouts for a more elegant appearance at the start of your stair.

Over the Post

The over the post includes the use of fittings at all newel posts to create a continuous handrail without interruption. All newel posts used in this system are pin tops. The use of fitting complicates the installation of this system with many compound miter cuts, and other technical woodworking concepts. The result of a well installed over the post system is a free flowing work of art.

Two Basic Newel and Baluster Combinations

3″ Newels with 1-1/4″ Balusters

This is the most common combination of materials used in stair building. These sizes allow for a economical stair system. Due to some of the code issues when three balusters are required on a tread the smaller size also allows a more open appearance. When mounted correctly the 3″ Newels offer plenty of structural integrity.

3-1/2″ Newels with 1-3/4″ Balusters

This combination is used in many homes and allows for a grander overall appearance. These items are usually more expensive than the thinner stock, but when installed correctly provide a more solid stair. To gain a slightly different look you can also use the a large post with the 1-1/4″ balusters or use a large starting post and smaller posts in all subsequent positions. As you can tell the options are endless!

Types of Baluster Installation

Stepping the Block

This installation is where the bottom blocks on each baluster line up on the tread (step). This is accomplished by making the turnings longer on each subsequent baluster. Visually this creates a group of balusters on each step. The balusters in this installation technique need to be cut at the top to make this system work. Not all balusters can be installed using this technique. Balusters which install using this technique can be found in the Colonial Series (5015, 5141, 5315 Styles), Hampton Series (5200, 5300, 5105 Styles), Royal Series, Sheraton Series and Traditional Series. Generally you will need 1-34″, 1-36″, 1-39″ for each tread and 36″ for the balconies.

Raking the Balusters

This installation is where all turnings and bottom blocks on the balusters follow the angle of the handrail (the rake). This is accomplished by making the blocks longer on each subsequent baluster while keeping the turning consistent. The balusters in this installation technique need to be cut at the bottom to make this system work. Not all balusters can be installed using this technique. Balusters which install using this technique can be found in the Bristol Series, Challis Series, Classic Series, Colonial Series (5015, 5315 Styles) and Hampton Series (5005 Styles). Generally you will need 2-36″ and 1-41″ or 1-34″ and 2-38″, depending on the series, for each tread and 34″ or 36″ for the balconies.

Other Considerations

Full Treads

These are wood treads that cover the entire surface of the stair tread. The most basic has a bull nose on the front edge. We also offer full treads with a mitered return on one side. The return goes against the wall past the riser to create a finished look. These can also be made to custom sizes to fit your particular stair. We can also custom make a full treads with double mitered returns. Be sure to add matching risers, fillet and cove to your tread order.

Full Tread Ends

This is an economical way to finish a open tread system. These can only be used if a carpet runner will be used down the center of the stair. These finish pieces mount on the outside edge of your stair tread to finish the outside edge and allow for the appearance of a full tread. We offer 2 different types of these treads a universal end and a handed end. The benefit of the universal is that it can be used on either side and the miter is already complete. The handed treads must have the return mitered which can be difficult with such a small piece. These items are not structural and must be mounted to a plywood structural tread. Be sure to add false risers and fillet to finish the outside edge.

Leanding Tread

This is used on all balconies and landings to finish the edge. The balusters will mount directly into this item. This should be used on all open tread systems. Be sure to add cove mould to finish off underside of the landing tread.


Take Off Guide

This guide from LJ Smith will assist you in working through all the items your new stair may require. Please realize that some item numbers on the website may not match this guide. Visit L.J. Smith Stair Systems for Ordering Guides for Over the Post, Post to Post, and Linear. Visit L.J. Smith Stair Systems for Installation Guides.