What is the best wood to use for stairs?
A new wooden staircase can transform your hallway and give your entire property a boost. Even the simple act of replacing the railing will make a huge difference in the appearance of your home, and of course, it is much faster and cheaper than installing a complete set of stairs.
However, choosing which materials to use is not always straightforward. We take a look at some of the different types of wood available for stair construction.
Also known as European redwood, this pale yellow softwood is grown on renewable plantations, making it a good environmental choice. Attractive and affordable, with a knobby appearance that adds character, pine is ideal for anyone on a budget. And of course, if you intend to carpet or paint the staircase, you may feel like there is little point in splashing on expensive materials that will only be covered.
Southern yellow pine
This is the largest, hardest, and strongest type of pine; in fact, tougher than many hardwoods. Southern Yellow Pine is a durable, sustainable and profitable wood with an attractive gold color and a distinctive large grain pattern. Grown abundantly in the southern US, it’s great for stairs, floors, and furniture.
An attractive and versatile softwood with a soft sheen, hemlock has a light colored straight grain that can be varnished to a rich golden color. Plus, it’s virtually knot-free and easy to work with. This makes it a great substitute for more expensive woods like oak or ash, so it’s worth considering if your budget is limited. Hemlock can also be stained, varnished, or painted.
There are several types of oak, white oak being considered the best option for stairs. Valued for its strength and durability, it has a beautiful knotless grain that never seems to go out of style. In fact, white oak is so dense that it is almost waterproof, which is why it is used to make, among other things, boats, wine barrels and outdoor furniture.
Another advantage of white oak is that the grain is very stable, with little variation in pattern and tone. This makes it easier to match new stairs with existing oak fixtures such as baseboards, floors, and doors. It also accepts wood treatments very easily.
There are two main sources of white oak: the United States and Europe. American white oak is more available and therefore less expensive, with a straight grain and a pale bisque color. European oak is a slightly darker golden honey shade with a distinctive wavy grain pattern.
This premium wood is even stronger than oak, with a largely straight grain and attractive colors ranging from cream to pale brown. The most abundant type is the American white ash. Heavy, hard and highly resistant to impacts, it is an excellent step for stairs. Because it has an open grain, ash is very flexible, so it can be molded to produce a variety of curved stair parts.
This reddish-brown hardwood looks like mahogany and is in fact in the same family. With a distinctive tight, interlocking grain, it provides a strong and cost-effective alternative for use on furniture, floors and cabinets, as well as stairs. Sapele is harder and more stable than mahogany, with a dense structure that is highly resistant to rot and almost completely waterproof. This makes it ideal for both indoor and outdoor use.
Native to West Africa, idigbo is a pale yellowish-brown hardwood with a variable grain that can be straight, slightly irregular, or interlocking. It is often chosen as an inexpensive alternative to oak and can be stained, varnished, or painted. Although idigbo is not as durable as oak, it offers a good level of strength with little shrinkage and can be molded to produce attractive curved stair pieces.
There are several types of walnut, but the one most commonly used in stair construction is American black walnut. Strong and stable, this premium wood has a mostly straight grain and its color ranges from dark chocolate to pale brown. The black walnut is expensive but versatile and extremely resistant. It can be carved into elaborate shapes, making it ideal for intricate stair components such as balusters, scrolls, and newel caps.