Looking to build a new staircase or remodel an existing one, but not sure what materials might best suit your needs? Today’s wooden staircases typically boast hardwood construction, softwood construction or a combination of the two, and while both types of wood are appropriate for most staircase applications, understanding the differences between the types may help you determine whether one might better suit your needs.
Complicating matters is the fact that the terms “hardwood” and “softwood” do not refer directly to the actual strength of the wood, but rather, the type of seed a particular tree produces. In other words, while, in many cases, hardwoods are, in fact, more durable than softwoods, this is not always a given, and in some cases, a softwood may actually offer more durability than a hardwood. So, how you can you tell whether a hardwood or softwood might be better-suited for your staircase project?
The term “hardwood” refers to lumber that comes from trees that produce seeds with some type of protective covering, such as a shell, and they are also deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in the fall and then regrow them in the spring. Wood used in construction typically has a Janka score, which is essentially a measurement of how much weight it can withstand before suffering damage, and if you are looking for a material to use for your stair’s tread, or the part of it that you actually step on, a high Janka score, which a hardwood often has, is usually desirable.
Softwoods, meanwhile, come from evergreen trees that retain their leaves or needles year-round and produce seeds without protective coverings. Generally speaking, softwoods may fare better as balusters, newel posts and handrails, as opposed to the staircase treads themselves, although some buyers and contractors choose hardwoods for these features, too.
Ultimately, while it may serve you well to choose a hardwood for the actual treads of your stairs, you can base your choice of what type of wood to use for other staircase elements on your aesthetic preferences, rather than the density of the wood, itself.