Putting the "Fit" in Fittings
Does the task of putting together a stairway seem daunting to you? Does the thought of designing a staircase seem about as exciting as getting your third root canal on the same day? Whether you are a contractor, trim carpenter, or do-it-yourselfer there is lot of confusion when it comes to creating a stairway, and nowhere is there more confusion than in the area of handrail fittings. Don’t despair, after reading this article you should be able to talk intelligently about fittings even if you are not ready to jump in and tackle the job yourself.
What exactly is a handrail fitting and what does it do? A handrail fitting is a pre-bent or shaped piece of wood that connects to your handrail. Think of a fitting as a short cut to installing your handrail. Without fittings you would have to spend countless hours fabricating pieces of handrail to match even the slightest bend or curve to your handrail. Fittings save you time and money in the construction of your stairway. Handrails are offered in different profiles or shapes. These shapes are given different numbers to identify them. These numerical references are usually 4 digits in length. One example of a handrail profile is the designation 6010. When matching up handrail to the correct fitting we look at the second number of the handrail profile and match it to the second number of the fitting profile. For example, if you needed a Two Rise Left Hand Goose Neck to match up to a 6010 handrail you would choose a 7071. The second number in the handrail profile will match the second number in the fitting profile. The last 2 digits in the fitting profile (71) determine the fitting type, in this case a Two Rise Left Hand Goose Neck.
One note of caution must be mentioned here. Be sure to order your handrail and fittings together and not from different companies. The numerical designation of the handrail tells the style of the handrail but not the exact measurements. There seems to be an endless variety of 6010 handrails most of which have dimensions of 2 1/4” x 2 3/8”. Unfortunately, all these 6010 require their own particular fittings to match up satisfactorily. Since every piece of wood is unique and responds to humidity in the air to differing degrees, all fittings or handrail will require some sanding to get a good fit. If you purchase your handrail and fittings from different companies, it is very likely you will not be pleased with the match up even after a substantial amount of sanding and wood chiseling is commonly needed.
A Gooseneck is used to transition railing vertical and in many cases horizontally as well. Goosenecks are often used when changing directions at the top of a stairway. Goosenecks will be designated as either “Right hand” or Left hand”. When ordering parts for your stairway, stand at the bottom of the stairway and look up. From this position you will make your determination of right hand or left hand. If you need a transition at the top of the stairs on the left hand side that turns left at 90 degrees you need a left hand goose neck. If this gooseneck will fit on top of a pin top newel post, you need a left hand gooseneck with cap, and a right hand gooseneck for the inverse on the right hand side of the stairway.
Goosenecks are commonly designated as two rise or one rise depending on the length of the straight piece in the middle of the goose neck that gives it its “rise.” I have found that most stairways need a piece just a little bit longer than a one rise. Based on this, I recommend that you avoid a one rise gooseneck all together and opt for the two rise since it is easy to trim off any excess and for the few extra dollars it just isn’t worth the hassle to me. If you decide to opt for a one rise make sure you measurements are absolutely exact.
Level Quarter Turns
A level quarter turn is used to turn a 90 degree corner. These come with or without caps depending on whether you are doing an over the post or post to post staircase. Level quarter turns can be used on a balcony to turn a corner or to return handrail into the wall to give the railing a more finished look. For example, a railing going to a finished basement might utilize a level quarter turn as opposed to a returned end to give the railing a more elegant appearance. Safety and code issues may also be considerations. Some jurisdictions require the use of level quarter turns rather than opening caps.
A tandem cap is used when a long run of handrail is needed, but a newel post is needed underneath the cap for stability. For instance, if you have a fourteen foot balcony run, you would want to break up the run with a tandem cap in the center. This provides greater strength for your balcony railing.
Volutes, Turnouts and Start Easings
Volutes and turnouts are used at the start of an over the post balustrade staircase. Volutes (sometimes called monkey tails) give the stairway a more elegant appearance. Volutes typically have 5 balusters placed at equal distance around the tail to help support it. Turnouts have a more simplistic nature and do not need balusters beneath them for support. Start easings are more commonly used and are the most simplistic way to start a going up a stairway when utilizing an over the post balustrade.
An opening cap is used to as a way to start a handrail on a level run. It is similar to a start easing without the upeasing attached.