Staircase Components: Balusters, Banisters, Spindles & More!

Ever felt a little lost when discussing the components of your staircase? Terms like “baluster”, “balustrade”, “banister”, and “spindle” get thrown around, and it’s easy to get confused. This guide is here to clear things up for London homeowners!

History of Balusters and Balustrades

The evolution of balusters and balustrades is quite fascinating! These components originated from ancient civilisations and have evolved over time. 

Ornate balustrades were once a symbol of wealth and status, and their designs reflected architectural styles of different eras. So, the next time you admire your staircase, remember the rich history embedded in its design!

Understanding the Staircase Terminology

Let’s begin by setting the record straight on some commonly misused terms:

Baluster vs. Balustrade:

  • A baluster is a single, vertical post that supports the handrail on your staircase. Imagine a miniature pillar – that’s a baluster. At KP Engineering, we call it an infill bar. 
  • A balustrade is the entire assembly you see along the side of your stairs. It consists of a series of balusters connected by a handrail, forming a safety barrier.
Baluster vs balustrade and bannister vs handrail

Fun fact: The term “baluster” originates from the city of Balustradum in ancient Persia, renowned for its intricate railings!

Banister vs. Handrail:

  • This is where things get interesting. Technically, a bannister refers to the single large post at the end of a staircase balustrade, where the handrail terminates.
  • The handrail is the horizontal bar you grip for support while navigating the stairs.

In everyday conversation, however, “banister” is often used loosely to refer to the entire handrail. While not technically accurate, most people will understand what you mean.

What are Spindles (or Infills)?

Now that we’ve sorted balusters and banisters, let’s talk spindles:

  • Spindles are simply another name for the individual vertical posts that make up the balustrade. They’re essentially interchangeable with balusters.
  • The number of spindles you need depends on your staircase’s size and local building regulations. These regulations often focus on the gap between spindles to ensure safety, especially for children. There’s also the aesthetic aspect – more spindles can create a feeling of enclosure, while fewer offer a more open look.

Tip! Here in the UK, balustrades are governed by Building Regulations Part K. See here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/protection-from-falling-collision-and-impact-approved-document-k 

Materials for Spindles

Spindles come in a variety of materials to suit your taste and décor, each with its own advantages:

  • Wood:Classic and timeless, wood offers warmth and can be stained or painted to match your décor. However, wood requires regular maintenance to prevent warping or cracking. Popular options include oak, pine, and walnut.
  • Metal Spindles: Known for its strength and durability, metal offers a modern look and is low-maintenance. Wrought iron and stainless steel are common choices.
  • Glass: Creates a light and airy feel, ideal for opening up small spaces. However, glass requires careful cleaning and may not be suitable for homes with young children.
what is a balustrade

Calculations for Spindles

While calculations for staircases themselves are best left to professionals, there is a simple formula to estimate the number of spindles you might need:

Number of spindles = Staircase length (in meters) / Desired gap between spindles (in meters) – 2 (accounting for the newels or banister posts at each end)

Remember, this is just an estimate, and building regulations will dictate the minimum number of spindles required.

Example for Staircase Terms

Think of a balcony: The metal fence around the balcony would be the balustrade. The individual vertical bars in the fence would be the balusters

If some of those bars were more ornate and decorative, they could be called spindles. The horizontal bar on top that you hold onto would be the handrail or bannister.

Staircase Design and Building in London

Building regulations in London dictate the requirements for staircase design, including balustrades. A quick search online or contacting your local council can provide specific details on these regulations, including minimum balustrade height (typically 1.1m) and maximum spindle spacing (typically 100mm). 

For acquiring balusters or spindles in London, you have options! Local hardware stores often carry a selection. If you’re looking for something specific or high-end, specialist architectural or staircase companies can provide a wider variety.

Additional Stair Parts

  • Treads: These are the flat, horizontal steps you walk on.
  • Risers: The vertical sections between treads.
  • Stringers: The angled supports on the underside of the stairs that hold the treads and risers in place.
  • Newel Post: This is the large post at the top and bottom of a staircase, or at turns in a staircase. It provides additional support and stability, and can also be decorative.

Conclusion

Now you’re equipped to confidently discuss the different parts of your staircase! Remember:

  • A baluster is a single upright post.
  • A balustrade is the whole railing system with balusters and a handrail.
  • Spindles are another term for balusters or infills. 
  • A banister technically refers to the large post at the end of the balustrade, but “handrail” is a more accurate term for everyday use.

Using the correct terminology ensures clear communication with professionals if you ever need repairs or renovations on your staircase.

FAQs for Staircase Components

  1. What is it called a Banister?

The derivation of the term “banister” stems from the word “baluster,” which is connected to the term “balustrade.” Baluster, in turn, bears a resemblance to a wild pomegranate, also known as the balaustion. Historically, the railing’s likeness was likened to the appearance of this specific flower.

  1. Is balustrade a balcony?

No, balustrade is not a balcony. A balustrade is a railing or a series of posts and rails that is placed along the edge of a balcony, terrace, or staircase. It provides support and safety, and it can also be used to create a decorative element. 

Picture of Ketan Makwana

Ketan Makwana

Ketan has 20 years of experience in the steel fabrication and metalwork industry (railing, metal gates, fencing). He has been leading the sales efforts at KP Engineering, based in Wembley, London, since 2004. Ketan brings a strategic vision to his role and enjoys sharing his industry knowledge through articles and presentations

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I was very fortunate to find and use KP Engineering to design, make and fit some balustrades and a handrail to some steps that I have which seperate the top part of my garden from the bottom. Contact was extremely easy and the whole job was managed with ease by Ketan. The measurements were exact and included the curvature of the two top balustrades. The fitting was also managed extremely efficiently and the guys who did the work were extremely polite, tidy and despite the rain completed the work quickly. I couldn't be more delighted with the end result. I wasn't aware that my garden could be improved so much with the addition of the railings. Overall, I have no hesitation in saying that this Company does what it says, on time, efficiently and with a great design team as well.

Juliet Lysons Avatar Juliet Lysons
June 3, 2024

Fantastic service and product. KP have just manufactured and installed a gate to basement level, in keeping with my existing railings. Seamless process from survey through design to installation

Janina Rutherford Avatar Janina Rutherford
May 17, 2024

Great company! Good organised and very professional. Mr Ketan’s communication and updates very professional and final product is very high quality! Highly recommend company! 5 starts ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Vlad Sorge Avatar Vlad Sorge
April 12, 2024

KP Engineering Works Ltd were a pleasure to work with from the outset through to completion. They spent good time ensuring the measurements were perfect, and kept us up to date with each element of the design, build and installation. The product looks great and it really is built to a high quality, with high quality fixings mounting to the wall. I highly recommend working with the KP Engineering team.

Christopher Rigg Avatar Christopher Rigg
March 1, 2024

Excellent service and communication from start to finish. Ketan was great to deal with, and both the surveyor and installation team were very professional. Would highly recommend.

Chris Burns Avatar Chris Burns
January 18, 2024

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