Tangent Handrailing

Tangent Handrail Bethesda

Tangent handrail, a type of wreathed railing, has its origins over two hundread years ago. It involves methods of geometric layout describing plan tangents to the centerline of a curved rail segment. These tangents are projected in two dimensional space to represent their sloping relationships in three dimensional space. In doing this, accurate elliptical templates can be produced to guide the shaping of cylindrical sections of the rail segment. These sections are then further shaped to create the necessary twist needed to align with the next connecting curved or straight section of handrail. Tangent handrail, especially when used on a staircase which has been integrally designed for it, is one of the most graceful and visually stunning examples of the handrailing craft. It creates this impact on both traditional and modern staircase designs.

Benefits and Cautions

Handrail systems produced with this method do not suffer the problems associated with "strip-laminated" curved rail. Tangent rail is very stable, and has no tendency to "spring", allowing for exact, predetermined baluster centerlines and heights. And unlike laminated rail, it showcases the natural grain of the wood. It has an addictive quality that is hard to ignore, and can be used to connect nearly any two pieces of rail approaching each other at nearly any angle. The pleasing effect is greatly improved by designing the staircase to properly accept it.

Caution should be used when considering the use of CNC machined handrailing, to determine the type of modeling tools used to generated the tool path. True cylindric tangent rail differs from the swept profiles commonly used in the production of CAD models and what is commonly refered to as 5-axis rail (used to describe the machine used, not the rail itself), and baluster centerlines may be unacceptably offset from the rail centerline under certain conditions. This is especially important when using a CNC produced section to replace a damaged historical piece. Something we recommend should be done using traditional methods. We are by no means condemning CNC produced railing, only advising caution to be sure you are getting what you expect.

Capping Metal Railing

Needless to say, but tangent handrailing is a very precise way of constructing the sections of rail on a curved staircase. Many times, metal railings are fabricated, and capped with wood grip rail. Communication is extremely important in situations where the metal is fabricated by a different shop than the wood segments, since mating of the two components is critical. Tangent Handrail Church Planning and layout will go a long way toward successfully combining welded metal panels and wood railings.

This is a place where 3D CAD models can really improve the success rate. A virtual model of each component will reveal every conflict and variance, allowing them to be resolved before the first cut is made. This virtually assures the proper mating of each piece, while preserving the smooth, graceful lines of the tangent handrail.

3D models are also superior representations for client approvals, adding a wow factor that gives your customers the comfort of knowing that you are up-to-date with modern technology. This can be an important factor in your client relationship.

Modern Technology

First, let me say that I am a believer in practicing old methods, since a purely cerebral understanding of something doesn't always translate into effectively producing it. There is a special loving relationship that woodworkers and tradespeople have with our hands-on skills. When the machines break, or the CNC controller malfunctions, some of us still have the knowledge and skill to get work done. Still others of us actually prefer doing it by hand, and in many cases do a better job than someone who is simply a machine operator.

That being said, computer aided design, along with CNC machinery have revolutionized the way nearly everything is made today. Tangent handrail included. The relative ease of developing the virtual model of a fitting or section of rail, compared to the manual methods, makes it impossible not to embrace these new tools. It is just economics. The main thing we must remember is that we still require craftsmen who actually understand how to keep working when technology breaks.

Blending Old and New

At Barrow Staircase Design, we still provide traditional hand made Tangent Railing, but we embrace the use of CAD to greatly improve the layout process of our templates. Can we still do the manual drafting? Yes, but it would be like saying it is better to write a book with a pencil instead of on a computer because using a pencil is respectful of the old ways. It is a waste of our client's money, and we don't do that. We also provide machine carved railing, simply because there are times that it is a far more economical way to produce the repeating pieces on a circular staircase for instance. Much of our machinery is manually operated (not CNC), and has been custom built for this purpose, allowing us to achieve precisely the same results as the old methods. Still, ninety percent of the tangent fittings we produce are completely hand made using normal woodworking tools. On projects requiring historically accurate methods of restoration, there is simply no other way to accomplish the task.

We always enjoy informing people about the wonders of tangent wreathed handrail, so don't be afraid to Contact Us.