10 Most Frequently Asked Questions about our Stone Staircases

At The Stonemasonry Company Limited our expert team answer a number of enquiries on a daily basis, advising on potential projects and giving key members of project teams, including Interior Designers, Architects and Engineers, guidance on what is possible with stone. After 10 years of operation, and with countless years of combined experience, our team have put together a list of questions that we are commonly asked, and provided the answers which we hope our clients will find useful. 

1) Are your staircases solid stone?

Yes, all of the projects that you’ll find in our portfolio are made of solid stone, cut from quarried blocks of stone into individual solid pieces with each step being shaped by hand. The stone is not only the finish of the product but the structure itself as well, there is no hidden steelwork, beams or reinforced concrete below the finished stone. On very rare occasions there is a need for us to clad steel structures in order to achieve the best aesthetic for our clients, such as on the landing of our Pembridge project (More information can be found here - https://www.thestonemasonrycompany.co.uk/news/2018/8/10/creating-pembridge-villas), however we try to avoid this solution wherever possible. Although we are not experts in stone cladding we are always willing to discuss clad staircase projects and see if a solid stone alternative would be suitable. We discussed this in more detail in last weeks blog-https://www.thestonemasonrycompany.co.uk/news/2019/5/3/4-benefits-of-using-solid-stone-instead-of-concrete-1

2) Are your staircases made by robots?

The simple answer is no, we have always manufactured our stonework by hand. Our team of traditionally trained stonemasons keep their craft alive on every project we do whether using their skills to produce a classic cantilever staircase, or using these time-honoured methods to bring our most innovative contemporary designs to life. In our commitment to the craft we try to regularly invest in our industry by taking on new apprentices to ensure this knowledge is passed on. Whilst we are committed to the traditions of masonry we are not against modern CNC manufacturing and, although we will always maintain the trade in our workshop, we do believe that traditional and modern methods can co-exist. 

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 3) Is stone strong enough?

Stone as a building material has stood the test of time, however our quarries carry out testing of their materials as part of their commitment to quality. In addition, for our more complex projects, we undertaking our own in house proof of concept tests and use a trusted third party to carry out material tests, depending on our engineers recommendations and requirements. 

4) How much would a stone staircase cost?

This is one of the most common questions that we get asked and one of the hardest to answer. The price of a stone staircase depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the design, the engineering requirements, the type of stone selected, as well as whether protection is required, the size of steps themselves and, on occasion, the geographical location can factor into our estimate. The best way to get an accurate quotation for your project is to provide us with your drawings, our team can then make recommendations on design and after an initial quotation we can work with your project team to find a balance between the project requirements and any budgetary considerations. 

5) How long does it take to make a staircase by hand?

This is another difficult question to answer, again this is dictated by the complexity and size of each step, as well as the material being used (as some stones are softer and therefore easier to shape than others) in addition there can be drilling of steps required for cables or reinforcement. Therefore each of our projects is carefully planned and scheduled by our project team. 

6) How do you create such complex shapes by hand? Surely you need very small tolerances for such highly engineered structures?

Millimetre accuracy is expected from all our stonemasons every day to ensure our stone staircases fit together properly on site, on one of our stone staircases, for example, every step has to fit against another with a 3mm joint, and so this attention to detail is essential. This accuracy is also achieved through the close working relationship between both our project design team and our workshop team. Our detailed designs and templates are the basis upon which our masons craft each step; through this teamwork we continue to maintain these high standards, even after producing over 2500 steps in our 10 year history.

7) Some of your projects don’t seem to have handrails, is that safe?

On rare occasions the pictures of projects we feature in our portfolio are taken before the installation of the balustrade, but all of our staircases are ultimately fitted with a balustrade, whether it be by our trusted third party suppliers, or our clients own preferred supplier. With our Formby Project (https://www.thestonemasonrycompany.co.uk/formby1), for example, photographing the project without a balustrade was a conscious decision; we wanted to take the opportunity to showcase the honest beauty and slenderness of this feature post tensioned stone staircase, something that may have be obscured when the balustrade was in place. Other times we are just too excited about our projects and so we take the in-progress pictures (as you’ll see on our Instagram -  https://www.instagram.com/stonemasonry_comp_stonestair/) which are yet to have the balustrade installed, we like to think that these in progress shots give our clients a great overview of our unique process. 

8) How does a cantilever stone staircase stay up?

The basis of a cantilever staircase is that each step rests on the back of the step below, this lower step doesn’t tip backwards because it’s built into a supporting wall at one end. Each step works this way, transferring the weight down the staircase, through to step one and into the floor. Whilst these are the basic principles of a cantilever stone staircase every one of our projects is different and requires that our design team and trusted engineers work closely together to inform the design and to help the projects site engineers to specify their primary structure. As part of this design and specification process every staircase comes with a report justifying how and why it works within the relevant regulations.

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9) How does a post-tensioned staircase stay up?

Our innovative post tensioned stone staircases combine the strong compressive properties of stone with the tensile strength of steel cable. A cable is threaded through each solid stone step and stretched with hydraulic jacks, creating a solid but elegantly simple structure. Post tensioned stone is a very niche field, without the historic precedent of usual stone structures, therefore, we conduct thorough testing and research with our long-time engineering partners to ensure everything is fully understood and justified.

10) Do your post tensioned and reinforced staircases bounce?

Although they may look flexible, our flying staircases are load tested to the necessary standards after they’ve been built and they are engineered to ensure that they have no more movement than an equivalent concrete or steel structure. After all of this rigorous testing you will not be able to feel any movement walking on one of our floating staircases.

In addition there are some other common enquiries we receive regarding potential projects-

I have a project and I really want a feature staircase, why should I consider solid stone over wood or a cladded design?

Whilst there are great benefits to using wood and concrete, the versatility of stone should not be underestimated, when you couple the structural capabilities of stone with its honest, natural, appearance you will soon realise the beauty of what can be offered only by a solid stone staircase. Sometimes when people think of stone staircases they imagine them in opera houses or stately homes, and perhaps can’t imagine how a stone staircase could fit into their space, however a design can be as simple as Ovington Square (https://www.thestonemasonrycompany.co.uk/ovington-square) or as luxurious as Upper Brook Street (https://www.thestonemasonrycompany.co.uk/upper-brook-street-one), and anything in between. Whether you are looking for a classic stone staircase or something more modern our expert team can make your ideas a reality. 

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I’ve got a project I’d love to do one day but I don’t know where to start, do I need an architect before I approach The Stonemasonry Company Limited? And when is the best time to get you involved?

At The Stonemasonry Company Limited we have our own dedicated design team who can manage your staircase from design to installation and we can even include the handrail as part of our service, so you can come to us directly. If you are a direct client or you are part of a project team considering a stone staircase, get in touch with our office and we’d be happy to discuss what we can offer.

We hope that this blog might have helped answer some questions you may have about the production of our stone staircases, but if you have any further questions or if you would like any more information about our work please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team. 

Emma Garner