Design options for stairs & railings

Log and timber frame homes are naturally beautiful and, when done right, can be  considered a work of art.

Most log home owners want to weave as much natural beauty throughout the home as they can. This makes covered porches, fireplaces, stone counters, and log furniture popular elements, but stairs and railings provide one of the best options for big visual impact.

When planning stairs and railings for your log home (or log home concepts), consider the following design features:


Closed stringer, open riser

Log stairs with closed stringersProbably the most popular option, where either round log or square timber treads (steps) are placed within solid half log or timber stringers which are the structural supports for the staircase.

Spaces between treads are kept open so that all stair components are visible and allow you to ‘see through’ the staircase. Simple and beautiful.

Open stringer, open riser

A variation of the above staircase where stringers are cut or positioned under the treads so that the treads are full width of the stair opening.

Closed/open stringer, closed riser

A  more conventional staircase for when an open riser-style staircase isn’t the best option, usually when there is a storage area or pantry located under the staircase, requiring everything to be ‘closed off’.


Due to building code regulations, there are not as many options to be creative with railing style. Because of this, baluster options and styling are where most choices exist. Balusters are often made of one of the following: wrought iron, square or rounded wood with either a peeled finish or the bark left on for a more rustic effect.

Read on for railing options and tips on selecting woods and how to care for your stairs and railings.

Building code requires post spacing to be seven feet or less, with vertical balusters having a space of 4 inches or less between them.

Often you will see horizontal cable railings, but code says balusters must be vertical because it cannot be possible for the railing to be climbed.

Top and bottom rail

Horizontal rails are placed at top and bottom with balusters in between.

Top rail only

A continuous horizontal top rail with balusters fastened directly to the floor or treads.

The style chosen by homeowners is very much down to personal preference, but we find that square timber stairs and railings are typically selected for timber frame homes, whereas round log stairs and railings tend to be paired with round log homes and cabins. It makes sense that a common wood aesthetic is preferred throughout the home.

View our gallery of stair and railing styles from the many homes that we’ve built. It’s a great way to get inspiration!

Wood selection for stairs

In general, any species can be selected for stairs and railings, but white pine and white spruce provide the larger logs required and softwoods are lighter. We tend to avoid hardwood as it’s not readily available in the format required for stair construction and it would add a lot of unnecessary weight, resulting in a more expensive installation.

We recommend that logs to be used for stairs should have less than 20% moisture content, thus reducing the chance of warping or twisting.

Care of log stairs and railings differs from the care required for log walls. While log walls require only stain to make them easy to clean, stairs and railings need additional protection because of heavy foot and hand traffic. We recommend varnish or polyurethane, with two to three coats being applied every ten years.

Author: Kealey Tackaberry Log Homes

Kealey & Tackaberry Log Homes is a family operated business situated just west of Ottawa. We supply and build complete handcrafted and milled log homes. With the use of natural, non-manufactured materials, the homes we build are virtually free of toxins normally associated with new construction and thus provide excellent indoor air quality. We believe in old fashion business ethic. It is important to us that our finished product meets all your expectations. We thrive on establishing a personal relationship with our customers before we build your home.

6 thoughts

  1. Love your detail and look forward to having my new home. Still working on property at the lake will contact you after we finalize it. David A Smith Facebook (Green Lake).

  2. Wow! I find it awesome that you listed three different kinds of stair designs in your article. Among them, I am most interested in getting one whose stringers are positioned under treads to create a width that is similar to its stair opening. If my house was run-down and featured this kind of staircase, I thought about asking a professional to help read its blueprint to know how to restore it in the future.

Leave a Reply