What’s The Best Wood for Stair Treads? (Breaking down which type is right for your home)

There are so many varieties of hardwood available for stair treads! It can be difficult to know what wood type to choose for your home. I’m breaking down all the details for you so you can determine which type is the best wood for stair treads in your home.

When we started looking into different options for stair treads on our entryway makeover, I found a slew of useful information! If you are in the same boat and finding it challenging to know what’s the right material to use, then this post is for you.  

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What material is best for stairs?

There are many different materials you can choose from for your stairs. Not only is there laminate, wood, or even stair runners, there are so many different wood species to choose from. Not all wood is the same, and you have to consider durability for a high-traffic area as well as the style before choosing the wood for your home. Consider these popular wood options, along with their qualities and hardness ratings to find the best one for you. 

Popular Option

Each species of wood brings different characteristics to the look of your home. Some may work better with paints vs. stains. Some may be more water-resistant and durable. When looking through popular options for stair treads, you need to understand what each offers in style and function.

This list includes the Janka Scale hardness ratings. The Janka scale is used to determine the hardness of different types of wood. A higher number on the scale indicates a higher level of hardness. This is the best way to determine which wood is most suitable for your stairs!

Good Option

Walnut

The most common walnut used in America is black walnut. Black walnut is a more expensive option that is very strong and durable, with a straight grain. The natural color of walnut ranges from chocolate brown to lighter pale brown. It is usually clear-coated or oiled to accentuate its color. 

Hardness rating: 1010

Pine

An affordable, readily available wood option, pine ages well and is resistant to shrinking and swelling. Lightweight and soft, it is prone to damage from dents and scratches that commonly occur in day-to-day home life. It’s less durable when used as stand alone hardwood treads. This is an important thing to remember before you go ripping carpet off your stairs.

There are a few different styles of pine: 

  • Knotty pine: pine panels with large amounts of knots that give it a rustic look. Hardness rating: 420
  • White pine: very light brown, pale yellow sapwood, the color darkens with age, straight grain, rot-resistant. Hardness rating: 380
  • Carpet-grade pine: most commonly used in new builds to be covered by carpeting. Not suitable for staining as it’s prone to uneven colors and blotchiness. I should know, I attempted this in our last home.

Better Option

American Cherry

This is a more expensive option with a light pink to rich reddish-brown color that may darken with age. It has a smooth grain and is very durable. 

Hardness rating: 995

Soft Maple

There are several species of soft maple wood are used in America, all generally referred to as soft maple to differentiate this group from hard maple. Without stain, it comes in shades of light to dark brown. While this does stain well, soft maple is about 25% less hard than hard maple, with a hardness rating of 700 – 950 depending on the species.

Great Choice

Oak

Oak is the most common type of hardwood in America. It is abundantly available and less expensive than many other options. Oak absorbs stains well, and due to its strong grains, it can hide scratches and dents. Red Oak and White Oak are often used for flooring in homes, and maybe a good choice for yours! However, there are some differences between the two:

  • Red Oak is lighter with a slightly smoother grain. It is also slightly softer, less expensive, and is the most widely used in hardwood for flooring. Red Oak has a hardness rating of 1290
  • White Oak is rot-resistant and is better than Red Oak when using grays and lighter stains. White Oak has a hardness rating of 1360. 

Hard Maple

Hard Maple is a creamy white hardwood that is affordable and very durable. Maple stains very well and is often stained to look like a more expensive wood such as mahogany or cherry.

Hardness rating: 1450

Brazillian Cherry

Jatoba, commonly known as Brazilian cherry, is an orangish-brown to dark reddish-brown hardwood. This wood was very popular in homes from 2000 – to 2005. The color may darken when exposed to light. 

Hardness rating: 2350

What Type of Wood Should I Use for Stair Treads?

Choosing a type and style of wood for your stair treads is a matter of personal preference. There is no “one size fits all” option when designing or updating a home, but it is important to take a few things into account when deciding!

Its important o note the hardness rating for each option as you decide. Keep in mind that a wood that rates higher on the hardness scale is naturally more durable. Stairs typically see a lot of traffic from family, friends, and pets. You want to choose a wood that will hold up well through the years.

Pairing New Stair Treads with Existing Stained Hardwood Floors

Because wood is a natural material, it will change over time. Exposure to light, general wear and tear, and simply aging will cause visible changes. Creating an exact match with older wood flooring will be difficult. 

However, if you want to replicate your old flooring exactly, the best option is to use the same species and stain color. But, as you plan, keep in mind, wood harvested from a different tree or geographical location can look different, even when it is the same species. 

Another option is not trying to find or create an exact match. Instead, you can compliment with a contrast. You want your stair treads and flooring to look like they were meant to go together, even if they aren’t the same. Choosing a complementary wood and color can help keep the cohesiveness of your home. 

Ideas for basement stairs.

Are you considering redoing your basement stairs? In that case, flooringgirl.com suggests wood or carpet as the best options for this location. You may even look at a combination! Wood stairs with a carpet runner. For us, we ended up choosing laminate covers to match our laminate flooring! Our reveal is coming soon, but it goes to show that there are many routes you can take when it comes to stair treads! 

Older Homes with Stairs

Older homes with stairs may need repairs in addition to an updated look. Your staircase’s age, style, and condition will play a significant role in your decisions. In cases where you may need to work around existing stair stringers and stair risers, you may be limited in your selection if you want to maintain a cohesive look.

Is Pine or Oak Better for Stairs?

Both pine and oak are a common choice used for stair treads and they’re are readily available and durable. The main differences are in cost and aesthetics. 

Pine

  • Pros: affordable, easily formed into different shapes, lighter in color and porous, stainable, and paintable. 
  • Cons: softer wood, not as durable unless pre-treated and maintained.

Oak

  • Pros: durable, stylish, easy to clean. 
  • Cons: higher cost, not as versatile as pine.

When deciding between pine and oak for stair treads, it ultimately comes down to personal choice and budget.

Thickness for Stair Treads

When finding the best stair treads, you also have to consider building codes. Building code standards for stair tread thickness are 1” – 1 1/2”. The design of your staircase also affects thickness standards. For example, floating stairs have stair treads with no support from risers. Floating stairs require tread with a minimum of 1 1/2” thickness. Stair treads supported by risers may have tread that is 1” thick.

Stair tread thickness is a safety issue. If the stair treads are too thick, they may cause people to trip. If they are not up to code, they may be too weak and become a safety issue due to bending or breaking over time. 

Where to Purchase Stair Treads

If you are looking for some stair treads for the least amount of work, look to your popular big box store. Home Depot and Lowes carry precut hardwood stair treads that are available in many common options such as oak, maple, pine, Brazilian cherry, and pine. Big-box stores also carry many varieties of hardwood flooring and unfinished hardwood, so that you can have custom cut to your specifications. 

Another option is to visit flooring stores or a local lumber yard in your area. You may have to find another way to cut the stair treads, but finding the wood itself is often fairly accessible. As you look for wood for your stair treads, consider talking to the store employees. They may also be able to help you pick out the best wood for your home! 

I hope this post was helpful as you tackle your stair tread project! Hardwood flooring is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s important to have all the information you can before making a decision.

Keep an eye out for my own stair tread reveal coming soon! Until then, if you are focused on floors you might enjoy my DIY Faux Brick Floor post. 

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