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Ever wonder what that thing on your stairs is called?

Parts of stairs

Well, it’s called a riser, and this post is going to part of a new feature on this blog: ever been in Home Depot or Lowe’s, and had difficulty describing what you need to the rep? Or, how about when you’re trying to simply Google a project tutorial, but your links are not quite what you’re looking for?

Having the correct terminology to describe what you need, want, or simply to brag about to your friends (“I used drywall tape yesterday!”) can be a useful tool in your DIY home improvement process. And that’s just what I intend to help with:  when I learn new terms, I will be sharing them with all of you. Not in a glossary form (Bob Vila has already done that here, and it’s for the best that I don’t attempt to one-up a pro), but with descriptions, pictures, arrows, videos (for more complex stuff), and I’ll be throwing in some photos of my own DIY progress in the mix as well.

Now, let’s begin with Stairs 101!

Stairs are pretty simple when looking at them, but they are surprisingly complex when it comes to terminology. Most of the time, though, you will need to know these three basic parts:

A stair tread is the flat part of the stairs that you actually step on. When needing to replace them, like I had to, you will find treads in the lumber section of your home improvement store. They will sell them in 18-foot lengths, but they also (at my store, it was on a different aisle) sell them in 4-foot lengths which make it easier when you only need to replace one or two.


A riser is the vertical part of the stairs that separate (and help support) each tread.


The stringer is the structural supporting piece that runs along each side. The risers are screwed or nailed into the stringer, and then the tread is attached to the riser. Many times, such as in my house, the stringer is notched, much like the way you create stairs on an Etch-a-Sketch, which makes a place for both the tread and the riser to be attached.


In addition to these three basic terms, you may run into occasions where the following terms are useful:

Nosing is the piece of the stair tread that hangs over the riser, which in my opinion should also be referred to as the “lip” of the stair, because it makes me think my stairs are pouting at me.


A bullnose or stair nose are often the terms used when you are laying down new hardwood or laminate flooring on your stairs, but the edge requires a special piece to cover it.

nosing close up

The landing is the term used to describe the transitional piece which allows the stairs to change directions, such as between floors in a building’s stairwell. Many homes also have landings, and this term can sometimes also refer to the space at the top of the stairs when the upstairs hallway begins. I grew up calling the top area of our stairs the landing, and I still use it in my house to describe our upstairs hallway, since the term hallway doesn’t quite seem to fit.


Winders are steps that are narrower on one side than the other. They are used to change the direction of the stairs without landings.

Image:  T&N Joinery

So, there you have it! How did you like your first Lingo Lesson? In no time at all, you’ll be confidently strolling through the aisles of your nearest hardware store, running terminology circles around the salespeople. “Thank you for your help, sir, but I know what I’m looking for.”

(Need more DIY help? See my Lessons Learned page for more tutorials!)

And also, a big THANK YOU goes out to the folks at Tip Junkie! As of today, I’ve now been featured on another blog!

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  1. Great post and a great idea for a series! I had no idea what any part of the stair was called before now. Thanks!


  2. What about the sides? The decorative part that finishes them off. What is that called? Kinda a baseboard for stairs?