Tangent Method Handrailing
Tangent handrailing is a 200+ year old method of fabricating curved and twisted wood hand railings and stair railings through the organized and interconnected use of orthographic projection drawings. The purpose of the drawings is to produce face molds or patterns that are used to layout the joints and twists of individual hand rail sections on a block of wood. A face mold is a drawing of an individual section of hand rail as it exists in space over the stair. Each face mold will have a low end and a high end. Each face mold, properly completed, will have all of the information needed to complete one section of twisted hand rail, in its square or rectangular shape, prior to profiling. Each section of handrail will then properly fit and connect to the next adjoining handrail section. The face mold will also give the size and thickness of the block of wood required for that individual section of twisted hand rail. The grain of all blocks of wood should always run from joint to joint for best appearance and strength of each section.
The drawing process begins with an accurate plan view of a stair. A center line of the hand rail to be fabricated is then drawn on the stair plan. From necessity, practical experience and convenience, the joint locations are then marked along the handrail center lines as needed. Some will be far apart and some will be close together. A straight line, perpendicular to the curve at joint locations, is then drawn to show the line of the center of the handrail joints in plan view. Straight lines are then drawn square to the hand rail joints at the curve and extended out in both directions. These lines are called the tangent lines. The extended tangent lines, from adjoining hand rail sections, will intersect each other at some point further out on the drawing. This meeting point is called the tangent intersection. The tangent lines on the plan view drawing are actually "shadows" of the (theoretical) tangent lines that "exist" in space above the stair and pass through all of the joint centers and are called "horizontal projections". The tangents are the foundation upon which the entire system of interconnected drawings is constructed and that is what gives the process its name. There is much to be known and understood to properly complete the necessary drawings. Patience, good drawing skills and being a skilled craftsman are all needed to produce the final hand railing that will be beautiful and also a perfect fit.The "Tangent Method of Handrailing" is also called the "One Plane Method of Handrailing". This is because the required individual piece of twisted hand rail is obtained from a block of wood, situated on a single, tilted, plane in space above the stair. The plank need only be as thick as the diameter of a circle, that can contain a square or rectangle, that can contain the final shape of the hand rail.
The tangent method can provide custom, handmade, spectacular, ornate, custom stair railings and hand railings for spiral stairs and spiral staircases.Multiple floors of continuous curved hand rail can be drawn and fabricated before the stair itself is built from the same drawings. All joints can be made and the entire profile can be completed. Every point of handrail height above the stair can be known in advance with such accuracy that custom balusters can be turned before the stair is built.Tangent method hand railing is the ideal system for fabricating new or replacement hand rails for existing stairs.
Tangent handrailing can be used to replace missing sections of earlier tangent hand rail installations.Tangent hand rail drawings can also be used for fabricating twisted and curved stone hand rail.
James R Dean
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