A lot of the stairs you see in publications are composed of stock parts. Many companies offer handrails, balusters, newels, etc. in a variety of sizes, materials and configurations that can be combined to create a beautiful staircase. These stock parts are generally designed with Building Codes in mind, because most staircases have regulations requiring strict adherence, and fit together with a little bit of math and an experienced Contractor/Architect team.
Sometimes space limitations, design goals, existing conditions or other factors make using stock parts unfeasible. In that case, a custom stair is the solution. There are contractors who specialize in building custom stairs due to the complexity of the three dimensional forms and building code regulations. One such contractor is Colonial Woodworking in Bradford, NH. They are building a custom circular stair for our project in Concord, MA. The new stair is in an existing octagonal turret with a tight radius. Because we are replacing the existing spiral stair the contractor was able to use the existing stringer as the form for the hand-carved handrail, thus avoiding having to calculate & template the spiral form from scratch.
The material for this staircase is mahogany. Single-ply layers of solid mahogany approximately 1/8" thick are laminated together with generous amounts of resin. The layers are bent to the form as they are applied, then clamped in place and left to dry for a few days.
Once the resin has adequately cured, the craftsman sands away the rough edges and excess resin. Because this is a spiral stair with no intermediate landings, the handrail is one continuous length of wood. The entire run of rail is carefully removed and sent back to the workshop to be carved.
Stay tuned for the next segment ....