Whether you are building a new home or just remodeling your present one, having a great looking set of stairs is very important. There are several things you need to take into consideration. How to make them work with the rest of the house style-wise? How to make them a feature of your house that creates a focal point? Lastly how to make them solid and not creak? There is nothing more annoying. Here is a great book on Basic Stairbuilding
This article is not about the last one, making them not creak. I will try to address that another time. You need to be or get a good carpenter to do the work and that way eliminate the creaks. What I want to address here is the look and that is determined primarily by the wood you use to build the stairs.
A little background information, stair treads are the boards across the top of the stair that your feet step on as you walk up or down. The vertical kick plates between stairs are known as risers, and the saw-tooth shaped pieces supporting the stairs along the sides are known as stringers. Sometimes people use different combinations when making stairs, varying from everything being a natural finish to the stringers being painted and the treads and risers being natural. Depending on the style you choose you may use more than one type of wood for different aspects of the stairs.
So let’s look at the different types of wood that can make a great set of stairs.
Economical Hardwood Stair Treads
• Poplar: Lightweight, and somewhat soft for a hardwood, poplar is fine-grained in white to yellow-brown. It paints well and is easy to cut.
• Beech: Stronger than oak or maple, beech is typically a reddish-brown wood that is fairly straight grained.
• Ash: Quite strong, ash is grayish-brown in color and grows all over USA and Canada though becoming hard to get because the trees are dying due to the Emerald Ash Bore beetle.
• White Oak: Hard, strong, white oak is open-grained, but not as pronounced as red oak. It resists shrinking and warping, has a golden color, and finishes well.
• Hickory: Very strong, hickory is known for its distinctive look and sharp contrast in light and dark color.
Mid-priced Hardwood Stair Treads
• Red oak: Hard, strong, rigid with a pronounced open grain, red oak resists warping. Its reddish color finishes well but its hardness makes it moderately hard to cut.
• Birch: Hard, strong and fine-grained, birch resists shrinking and warping. It is similar in color to maple and finishes fairly well.
• Hard Maple: Extremely hard, hard maple has the added feature you can get pieces with bird’s-eye or wavy grains that are highly prized. Its color ranges from reddish to nearly white in color, and it finishes well.
• Cherry: The beautiful markings in cherry have long fascinated woodworkers. The heartwood varies from light brown to a reddish brown and will gradually darken over time with exposure to light.
• Walnut: Hard, heavy, extra strong with a fairly pronounced, straight grain, walnut resists warping and shrinking. It is light to dark brown in color and finishes well.
Luxury Hardwood Stair Treads
• Mahogany: Durable and fine-grained, mahogany resists shrinking, warping, and swelling. It finishes well and is easy to cut.
• Teak: The yellowish brown wood has a good grain and texture. Teak, though easily cut, can dull blades quickly because of the presence of silica in the wood. Teak’s natural oils make it pest proof and durable even when not treated with oil or varnish.
Some other issues to consider in choosing the wood for your stairs:
If you want your home to have a unique flair, try hickory, cherry, walnut, or maple for your stairs. Make them be an accent to the flooring you have or are planning to use.
Some species of wood are so beautiful in their natural beauty that they do not require any added color. Compare hickory, cherry or walnut stair treads to get a sense of the possibilities. You may choose to stain any of these woods though to tone it to the color that works for you.
A solid wood set of stairs makes a wonderful addition to any home and for many it is the focal point as you enter a home. Choosing the right wood will make the difference.