Stairways- baluster arrangement- Part 3

This is my third installment on stairs and stair design. In this article, I'd like to discuss baluster arrangement. There are several ways balusters can be arranged on a stairway.

But first let me define a term. Rake or rake angle is the angle of the handrail above the horizontal plane. This angle is easily established by knowing the rise and run of your stairs. If, for example, your rise is 71/2 inches, and your run ( tread depth) is 10 inches, then your rake angle is 7 1/2 over 10.

I should also insert at this point that balusters can be installed two per tread or three per tread. The number of balusters per tread is not only a matter of preference but in many communities a matter of meeting the code. In most communities the building code requires that a 4 inch sphere cannot be inserted between two balusters. And so, in some circumstances you might be able to get by with two balusters per tread. But probably, more often than not, with a small baluster and a deeper tread you will need three balusters per tread.

The image on the right illustrates the 4" test with two balusters per tread. The reasoning behind the 4 inch code is that a four iinch sphere is smaller than a childs head and so the constraint is a safety code to prevent a child from getting his or her head from getting lodged between two stair balusters.

Baluster arrangements:

Angled top horizontal bottom: In this baluster arrangement the bottom of the balusters are horizontal or parallel with the treads. The top of the balusters follow the rake angle or the angle of the handrail.

The difference in the length of the balusters should be one third of the riser height for three balustes per tread and one half of the riser height for two balusters per tread. For a 7 1/2" rise and three balusters per tread the difference in the length of the baluster would be 2 1/2" (7 1/2" / 3 = 2 1/2"). So the second baluster would be 2 1/2" higher than the first and the third baluster would be 2 1/2" higher than the second.

Angled top angle bottom: This particular arrangement has the tops and the bottoms of the balusters following the rake angle. Notice that although the overall length of these balusters varies, the "turning length" of the balusters is the same.

Horizontal top horizontal bottom: The tops and the bottoms of the balusters in this arrangement are horizontal or parallel with the treads. This is my least favorite of the arrangements but some of my customers like this particular pattern. The image on the right is such an arrangement with two balusters per tread.

Knee wall: This is similar to the second arrangement with the exception that the balusters do not attach to the treads. Instead there is a small wall that rises above the treads and so the bottom of the balusters are cut at an angle and the tops and bottoms of the balusters follow the rake angle of the handrail.

The length of these balusters are all the same.

In this section I thought I would talk about alternating balusters which is a little different from the above discourse. An alternating baluster arrangement is one in which the balusters alternate between spiral and plain. The image to the right is an example of alternating balusters. This particular job was for a customer in Washinton State based on a historc home - the Silas Dean Home. The baluster arrangement is is angled top and angled bottom.

It should be noted that if you are going to use this design technique, the profiles of the balusters should be identical. (Note the top and the bottom of the balusters). The only difference between one and the other is the spiral (or lack thereof) of the baluster. See the image on the right.

Comments 11 comments

chantelg4 profile image

chantelg4 8 years ago from Northern Ontario

Very informative article!

Darlene Norris profile image

Darlene Norris 8 years ago from MI

I'm not a carpenter, but I found this absolutely fascinating. I didn't know there was so much involved in building a stairway. And you explained it so it was clear to a person who knows nothing about it. Good job.

archturn profile image

archturn 8 years ago Author

Thank you both

Brennan Kingsland 8 years ago

Thank you so much for this info, and especially the fabulous accompanying pictures. We are restoring an antique house and this is perfect for us.

Again, thanks,


archturn profile image

archturn 8 years ago Author

Glad you like it.

Router Maniac profile image

Router Maniac 8 years ago

great illustrations, I never knew about rake angle

Leener49 8 years ago

Thank goodness I found your article! We re looking at antique salvage balusters to use in a restoration of our 1907 house. Now I can go back and know what to buy.

michelle.dragon99 profile image

michelle.dragon99 7 years ago

great job....i like your hub:)

dabeaner profile image

dabeaner 6 years ago from Nibiru

Great to see someone doing real work. I hope you are doing well with it.

paulW 6 years ago

Excellent discussion-very informative

Johnny Hogan 6 years ago

Dear Sir/Madam

My name is Johnny Hogan and i will like you to help me with an order of (Wooden /Metal Balusters) Size 1 5/8 x 1 5/8 x 36\" long,The style:top and bottom square,center round and i will like you to email me back a quote of the size i gave, if you don't have this do email me back with the types you do have and their price ranges so that i will show you the quantity need.Hope to hear from you .

Thank You.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    More by this Author

    • Polyurethane Molding Review

      16" wide polyurethane crown molding Wood moldings have been available for centuries and millions of homes have been adorned by them. Wood, as a medium for moldings, has stood the test of time both in durability...

    • Fireplace Mantel Surround Designs

      Note: This is the first of a two part series.  The second piece is here:Fireplace Mantel Surrounds  pt 2 As you can tell from my other Hubs, I am really into product and design ideas to enhance the beauty of...

    Click to Rate This Article