Spiral stairs, sometimes referred to in architectural descriptions as vice, wind around a newel (also the central pole). They typically have a handrail on the outer side only, and on the inner side just the central pole. A squared spiral stair assumes a square stairwell and expands the steps and railing to a square, resulting in unequal steps (larger where they extend into a corner of the square). A pure spiral assumes a circular stairwell and the steps and handrail are equal and positioned screw-symmetrically. A tight spiral stair with a central pole is very space efficient in the use of floor area.
The wider the spiral, the more steps can be accommodated per spiral. Therefore, if the spiral is large in diameter, via having a central support column that is strong (invariably large in diameter) and a special handrail that helps distributes the load, each step may be longer and therefore the rise between each step may be smaller (equal to that of regular steps). Otherwise, the circumference of the circle at the walk line will be so small that it will be impossible to maintain a normal tread depth and a normal rise height without compromising headroom before reaching the upper floor.
To maintain headroom some spiral stairs have very high rises to support a very short diameter. These are typically cases where the stairwell must be a small diameter by design or must not have any center support by design or may not have any perimeter support.
An example of perimeter support is the Vatican stairwell shown in the next section or the gothic stairwell shown to the left. That stairwell is only tight because of its design in which the diameter must be small. Many spirals, however, have sufficient width for normal size treads (8 inches) by being supported by any combination of a center pole, perimeter supports attaching to or beneath the treads, and a helical handrail. In this manner, the treads may be wide enough to accommodate low rises. The photo on the right are self-supporting stairs. This means the spiral needs to be necessarily steep to allow the weight to distribute safely down the spiral in the most vertical manner possible. Spiral steps with center columns or perimeter support do not have this limitation. Building codes may limit the use of spiral stairs to small areas or secondary usage if their treads are not sufficiently wide or have risers above 9 and a half inches.