The difference between a balustrade and an oak banister


Often referred to synonymously, oak balustrades and banisters are actually two different installations with contrasting purposes. So what separates these stair parts, and which is the most suitable for your needs?

Keep reading to find out more about the differences between oak banisters and handrails from the team at Stair Crazy!

What’s an oak balustrade?

An oak balustrade is a vertical rail structure that’s installed alongside your staircase and made from solid oak. The structure is made up of several stair parts; newel posts, a base rail, spindles or glass panels, and a handrail.

The oak timber can be varnished or lacquered for a high-quality glossy finish, or simply left untreated for a more rustic look.

What’s an oak handrail?

An oak banister, also referred to as an oak handrail specifically refers to the horizontal rail that runs parallel along your stairs. It can be installed either as part of the balustrade or as a stand-alone component that is fixed into the wall.

Just like any other oak stair parts, it can be treated with varnish or lacquer depending on the finish you want to achieve!

What’s the difference between oak balustrades and handrails?

Aside from a balustrade being a complete structure and an oak banister being a separate component, there are other differences between the two which we explore below.

1. Function

Typically, an oak banister’s prime function is to support those moving up and down your stairs. The installation provides a secure aid for people to grab and help steady themselves, preventing falls and accidents on the staircase.

Whilst an oak balustrade also provides a structure for people to hold onto and prevents falls, one of their main purposes is to enhance the aesthetic of your home. Balustrades are decorative features found in both traditional and modern homes – from classical-look chamfered spindles to contemporary glass panels, these structures can help to transform your staircase into a stunning and eye-catching style feature.

2. Material versatility

As banisters are a separate part, they can’t be utilised to add visual impact to your home like a balustrade can.

Oak balustrades can be used to create an eye-catching contrast between materials. For example, a balustrade could feature dramatic black metal spindles paired with a solid oak banister for a bold aesthetic.

3. Price

An oak banister is much more affordable than a full balustrade installation for obvious reasons. To build a balustrade you need to invest in multiple stair parts which can become quite costly. Whereas with a handrail, you only need to pay for one element and fixings to fit it into the wall.

Of course, the costs of both vary between suppliers depending on the quality of the oak stair parts.

4. Installation

Finally, oak banisters and balustrades are installed differently. A handrail is securely fixed into the wall next to your stairs using sturdy handrail brackets.

A balustrade doesn’t run alongside a wall – instead, it’s installed between the steps and the edge of a staircase, forming a barrier to prevent people from steep falls. A baserail is fitted first as a foundation for spindles or glass panels to slot into. This is followed by the newel post to add support to the structure, and finally the spindles and handrail.

Do I need a balustrade or a handrail?

Determining whether you need an oak banister or balustrade will depend on the layout of your staircase. Consider whether your stairway is open or sitting between two walls. Open stairs will require a balustrade as they can’t support a wall-fixed handrail, and the latter can only hold a handrail.

We hope this blog has been an insightful and helpful guide in deciding whether an oak banister or balustrade is right for your space!


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