Building stairs requires lots of planning and work. One part of the planning phase is choosing which wood to use. Different types of wood make good stairs, each with small advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right one for your stairs really makes a big difference in their lifespan and style.
Hardwoods like oak, maple or birch are options for stairs for several reasons. These woods are harder than pine and therefore last longer. They also hold stain and paint well. Hardwood is more expensive than particleboard and pine. These woods range in cost up to £4 a square foot as of July 2011. When installing an entire set of stairs, or wide stairs, the cost really adds up. Oak and maple are readily available at most lumber yards and, if supply is high, you may find price savings. Each needs to be stained or finished with a clear coat on stairs, which adds expense to your project. A gallon of stain costs around £16 or more.
Pine boards are versatile and fairly inexpensive, ranging in price from £1.30 to £1.90 a square foot. Pine is solid enough to be used in stairs all through the home. It will absorb moisture, but staining the wood and sealing it with a clear coat reduces moisture absorption. Pine is readily available in most lumberyards and home improvement warehouses as well. This is a mid-level choice and performs well for most stairs big and small. It is ideal if you're using carpeting on the stairs.
Since it handles moisture well, cedar is often used for stairs indoors and outdoors. Cedar also has a pleasant smell and natural colour that makes it desirable. It is expensive, however. As a hardwood, cedar costs up to £3 or more per square foot. Cedar is typically bought in planks or panels, so there are options for which type of boards you use. Planking stairs will be visually interesting with many lines in your stairs while boards of cedar provide a wide, single, solid sheet for your stairs.
Another choice when installing stairs is particleboard. This board is manufactured using ground-up wood pulp and pressed into shape with a hydraulic press. Due to its manufactured nature, it is less expensive than hardwoods. It costs about 60p to $2 a square foot. It also cuts easily but will produce lots of dust particles when it is cut. Melamine, sold at most home improvement stores is particleboard that is coated with a special laminate. Once cut, it is simply screwed into place; no painting or staining is required. Nonlaminated particleboard will absorb moisture over time, however. It is ideal if you plan to laminate the stairs or install hardwood planking on the stairs. It's also used under carpeting.