View Full Version : Reasurrance for the safety police, metalworking content

07-19-2007, 12:16 PM
I finished and installed the railing on the spiral staircase. It is the 2"x 1/4" piece I bent the "hard way" and has a 3/4" x 1/8" piece added to increase the apparent depth, only on the visible side. It's a type of skeleton railing and is extremely strong. This was one of the more difficult pieces I have made in a long time as nothing is straight, square or level.

The bends on the rail coincide with the edges of the steps and can be clearly felt by hand alerting the user. I shall be installing some more pickets later but needed to get this in place for the impending visit of my son and his family.

Ready for paint:



07-19-2007, 12:30 PM
Impressive. Nobody is gonna believe that you made it

07-19-2007, 12:55 PM
Nice Job Evan!!

Your Old Dog
07-19-2007, 12:57 PM
This was one of the more difficult pieces I have made in a long time as nothing is straight, square or level.

Well maybe I'm doing better than I give myself credit for. Almost none of my projects are Straight, square or level !!

What does the code call for on distance between pickets?

07-19-2007, 01:05 PM
I couldn't find any code reference here for stair rail pickets. They are treated differently than deck rails including height and guard rail requirements. I will be adding some more but I know they aren't subject to the 4" maximum spacing as stair rails are sold with greater spacings. Since steps needn't be enclosed at the back and it isn't possible to close the side with a guard rail at the bottom sufficient to prevent a child fitting through what is the point of mandating closely spaced pickets? Plus, they can always fall down the steps.

07-19-2007, 02:04 PM
Very nice work Evan, as usual. Please keep contributing and ignore the few juvinile arseholes that are here.

07-19-2007, 02:08 PM
Good job Evan, I was worried about you or your wife taking a tumble down them stairs. The handrail could save you folks alot of pain.

07-19-2007, 03:02 PM
I'm planning on installing a LED rope light under the handrail for added safety plus it will look cool. :) Note that I have a very handy outlet.

07-19-2007, 03:14 PM
Evan, picket distances should be more than 10" or less than 4". This info comes from my wife who did playground and railings inspections as part of her previous employment with the City of Vancouver health inspection department. This is part of the national building code. She said it had mainly to do with playgrounds and day care centers so children could not get their heads through pickets.

07-19-2007, 03:19 PM
Then I'm good to go. The pairs are slightly under 4" and the space between pairs is more than ten inches. No place for a head to become stuck.

Thanks for the info. The only way to get a full copy of the BC building code is to pay about $600 for a CD.

Lynn Standish
07-19-2007, 03:28 PM
I don't know what code you are under, but am posting the following from the 2006 International Residential Code just for info:

R311.5.8.1 Spiral stairways. Spiral stairways are permitted,
provided the minimum width shall be 26 inches
(660 mm) with each tread having a 71/2-inches (190 mm)
minimum tread depth at 12 inches from the narrower
edge. All treads shall be identical, and the rise shall be no
more than 91/2 inches (241 mm). A minimum headroom
of 6 feet 6 inches (1982 mm) shall be provided.

R312.1 Guards. Porches, balconies, ramps or raised floor surfaces
located more than 30 inches (762 mm) above the floor or
grade belowshall have guards not less than 36 inches (914 mm)
in height. Open sides of stairs with a total rise of more than 30
inches (762 mm) above the floor or grade below shall have
guards not less than 34 inches (864 mm) in height measured
vertically from the nosing of the treads.
Porches and decks which are enclosed with insect screening
shall be equipped with guards where the walking surface is
located more than 30 inches (762 mm) above the floor or grade
R312.2 Guard opening limitations. Required guards on open
sides of stairways, raised floor areas, balconies and porches
shall have intermediate rails or ornamental closures which do
not allow passage of a sphere 4 inches (102mm) or more in
1. The triangular openings formed by the riser, tread and
bottom rail of a guard at the open side of a stairway are
permitted to be of such a size that a sphere 6 inches
(152 mm) cannot pass through.
2. Openings for required guards on the sides of stair
treads shall not allow a sphere 4 3/8 inches (107 mm) to
pass through.

R311.5.6.3 Handrail grip size. All required handrails
shall be of one of the following types or provide equivalent
1. Type I. Handrails with a circular cross section
shall have an outside diameter of at least 11/4 inches
(32 mm) and not greater than 2 inches (51 mm). If
the handrail is not circular it shall have a perimeter
dimension of at least 4 inches (102 mm) and not
greater than 61/4 inches (160 mm) with a maximum
cross section of dimension of 21/4 inches(57 mm).
2. Type II. Handrails with a perimeter greater than 61/4
inches (160 mm) shall provide a graspable finger recess area on both sides of the profile. The finger
recess shall begin within a distance of 3/4 inch (19
mm) measured vertically from the tallest portion of
the profile and achieve a depth of at least 5/16 inch (8
mm) within 7/8 inch (22 mm) below the widest portion
of the profile. This required depth shall continue
for at least 3/8 inch (10mm)to a level that is not
less than 13/4 inches (45 mm) below the tallest portion
of the profile. The minimumwidth of the handrail
above the recess shall be 11/4 inches (32 mm) to
a maximum of 23/4 inches (70 mm). Edges shall
have a minimum radius of 0.01 inch (0.25 mm).

There is more about illumination, where the rail has to start and terminate, etc., but that's the gist of it. I doubt you'll have any inspectors checking your work anyway.

07-19-2007, 03:47 PM
There are some differences between that code and the British Columbia code but one part caught my attention.

1. The triangular openings formed by the riser, tread and
bottom rail of a guard at the open side of a stairway are
permitted to be of such a size that a sphere 6 inches
(152 mm) cannot pass through.
2. Openings for required guards on the sides of stair
treads shall not allow a sphere 4 3/8 inches (107 mm) to
pass through.
That's impossible to adhere to for many styles of stairs. With a permitted rise of 9 1/2 inches it isn't possible for the guard to close the triangle small enough. These are commercial steps sold here with a 7 1/2" rise and they probably don't meet that standard. Note also that the stringer and the rail are not aligned so the possible opening is larger than I show.


Lynn Standish
07-19-2007, 04:11 PM
Evan, I'm not trying to start an arguement, but I've been doing this for 30 years. I don't agree with everything I see in the codes either, but there are ways to comply. For example, who says the treads or risers have to extend outboard of the railing? Perhaps the bottom of the railing is at the outside edge of the tread and located somewhere back of the tread nose in order to make the triangle smaller? Also, the rail doesn't have to be constructed like the one in your photo, i.e. the balusters might be attached directly to the tread, or you might substitute a series of bars that parallel the angle of the handrail, spaced at intervals of 4", or some other scheme.

I know there are a lot of stairs and railings out there that don't meet the current codes. In 1979, the requirement was that a 10" sphere couldn't pass through, and the size has been reduced in subsequent editions of the code (along with the addition of other restrictions). Also, the restrictions only apply to required hand and guard rails. If the railing is not required (less than 30" between surface and grade or floor below), then you can space it any way you want, or even delete the balusters and just have the handrail.

Some of the beautiful stairways created by Alvar Alto could not have happened if he had worked under the current codes.

There are exceptions too for things like monumental stairs (to a capitol building or similar).

I really don't care one way or the other. I just posted the text of the IRC in case anyone was interested.

07-19-2007, 05:40 PM
I wonder if a railing is required if the steps have no edge? For instance, a deck surrounded on all sides by the steps.

07-19-2007, 06:52 PM
I forgot about these steps. We have friends who are mobility impaired and can't make the 9" step up to the ground level deck. I made these "helper" steps from the left over pieces of the spiral staircase treads. It can be picked up and placed wherever needed around the deck.


07-19-2007, 07:06 PM
You canadians are lucky- here in the USA, the vast majority of codes specify the 4" sphere rule- that means NO OPENINGS that a 4" sphere can be passed thru. This applies to any railing the bottom of which is 30" or more above the ground.

I generally build to 3 3/4", as some inspectors are pickier than others on this.

This is only for projects that will be inspected by a building inspector, although most times a home is sold, the buyer will hire a private inspector to check out the home before purchase, and if this private inspector finds openings in railings larger than 4", he will tell the buyer, and the buyer will usually use this as leverage to demand a reduction in the total home price to pay for repairing or replacing the railing.

Of course, it does depend on the real estate market, and that varies considerably from place to place.
And the code does vary a bit, but the ICC is being adopted by most all cities slowly but surely, so the 4" sphere rule is becoming more and more ubiquitous.

On commercial projects in particular, there is no way you could get away with the "more than 10" rule " down here.

For your own house, of course, you can do whatever you want, as long as you arent having the work inspected.

Interestingly enough, the imposition of this 4" sphere rule, which, to my way of thinking really does very little for safety, and makes a lot of beautiful ironwork illegal, is the work of one man- Elliott O. Stephenson, an engineer in Phoenix Arizona, who has made it his mission in life to save us all from ourselves by getting ever more restrictive rules adopted into building codes.
His latest project is the banning of ALL horizontal bars in railings, to make them harder for kids to climb. This would make for a very bleak looking world, in my opinion. Luckily, the Nomma (National Ornamental Metals trade group) has hired a lobbyiest, and so far, anyway, has been successful in fighting this one off.


07-19-2007, 08:02 PM
We already have the "no climbable features" rule here for deck railings. There can't be anything, horizontal or otherwise, that offers a foothold between 5 1/2" and 36" on the deck railing. Phooey. I put in a feature anyway. I still need to install the stained glass center.


jim davies
07-19-2007, 09:13 PM
Evan, I too have been looking for access to the BC building code and, after looking at:


I cannot see why a FOIPOP application for disclosure would not be successful. Surely one can argue that the very limited public access or high price for purchase of this vital public document amounts to defacto non-disclosure.

Doc Nickel
07-19-2007, 09:44 PM



07-19-2007, 10:11 PM
Evan nice bit of metal manipulation... you've done there.

Doc that's to funny... well worth a quarter...:D

Bill in Ky
07-19-2007, 10:22 PM
Nice job there !!

07-20-2007, 12:49 AM
Evan, if you're looking for marker/safety lights, try EL wire.
I've used the 5mm wire on stairwells, paths, even on boats.
(usual disclaimer)

07-20-2007, 03:05 AM
Evan, if you're looking for marker/safety lights, try EL wire.

Very cool stuff. I have had many years experience with EL lamps in photocopiers. These were very thin and flexible strip lamps that could be twisted, bent and rolled up with quite a tight radius. They can be amazingly bright and I did a lot of experiments with them. The one major failing of EL lighting has always been poor lifetime. They start to dim the moment they are turned on. It's possible that they may have improved this aspect. I couldn't find any specifications on that site dealing with lifetime of the products. The only thing I could find is that they are guaranteed to work when you receive them and no more.

I much prefer LED lighting as the lifetime is excellent and power consumption very low.