What distinguishes the best quality work?
Handrailings, and balustrades have no lumpy curves. Transitions and joints in the rail are carefully laid out and faired so that the hand and eye travel smoothly over the length of the rail. The rail is accomplished with the minimum number of joints. For example, short combinations of an easement and level turn are not pieced to avoid difficult machine set-ups or handwork. Even where a railing is supported on a metal channel the wood joints are fastened with dowels or plates and a mechanical connector such as a rail bolt, screw, etc.
Different woods offer varying challenges in maintaining consistent grain match. However, serious effort is made to come up with the most pleasing appearance. Given the necessity to laminate for thickness, such laminations should not be apparent on the upper surfaces of the rail.
The rail profile should be crisply executed and not dubbed over. Volutes (scrolled endings of balustrades), and other decorative or tightly configured portions of the rail require hand carving: ----there are some things a power tool just can't do. If the profile of a rail appears ill defined or fudged over, it is likely that its design was determined by the limits of the equipment used in its manufacture.
The best quality stairwork is solid, and well detailed. The stair should feel and sound solid and secure. Of course, there should be no squeaking treads. Newel posts must be solidly anchored to the stair carcass and there should be no hint that they could ever loosen. Moldings should be crisply detailed and well fit, and elements such as risers, cappings, and curbs should be scribe fit to their abutting surfaces. Joints in cappings, landing nosings, and treads to their end nosings should be fastened with biscuits or dowels, and occasionally with bolted connectors.