What’s The Best Wood Species to Use for Stair Treads

June 22, 2023

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Fearless DIY. Sharing building project tutorials and interior design tips. Let’s build something beautiful together. For more projects, design tips and behind the scenes, follow me @designtobuild.nicole

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Best Wood For Stair Treads

My very first home renovation DIY project was ripping all of the carpet off of my stairs and transforming them into a beautiful wooden staircase. I know, most people start with maybe building a birdhouse. But in Nicole-fashion, I jumped in with both feet and have been re-creating living spaces in our home ever since. I’ll have to admit it was a little scary tearing back that carpet, but when I saw that we had good quality wood underneath, I knew I had to expose it. And so I did.


Source: Solitude Homes

But here we are several years later and I’m ready to give my stairway another facelift. Back when I took this plunge, I was into everything farmhouse. Since then, my style has changed. If you’ve followed my blog very long, you know I now lean more towards an Organic Modern design. So, while the rest of my house has made this transformation, my stairs have been stuck in that trend.

I’ve learned A LOT since that first DIY project. One of those lessons being, research before going all in. So, that’s what I’ve done and that’s what I’m bringing to you today.

(You can read all about how I got into woodworking in this post)

best wood for stair treads: a curved staircase. Painted white with natural wood treads

Source: J Steven Kemp Architect

Choosing the Best Wood for Stair Treads

Let’s start with the basics. What exactly are we talking about when we say “stair treads”?

Stair treads are the horizontal steps that make up a staircase. While they may seem like a small component of a home or building’s interior, they play a crucial role in both aesthetics and safety. Choosing the right type of wood for your stair treads is important not only for their appearance but also for their durability and slip resistance. The right wood can complement your interior design while providing a sturdy and safe surface for foot traffic.

“The warmth and natural beauty of wood make it an ideal material for stair treads, adding character and style to any home.” – Nate Berkus, interior designer and television personality

What are my wood options?

When it comes to choosing the right type of stair tread, you have several different wood options to consider. The most common types of wood used for stair treads include hardwoods, softwoods, exotic woods, and engineered wood.


Hardwoods are the cream of the crop. Known for their durability and timeless appearance, these stair treads will never go out of style. Of course these qualities are also the reason behind their one negative feature: they are costly. But if you want quality wood that will stand the test of time, hardwoods are a good choice.

A few of the most popular woods are:

  • oak
  • maple
  • walnut

A circular staircase made of wood

Source: J Steven Kemp Architect


While softer wood may be less durable compared to hardwoods, they are much less expensive and easier to work with. A couple choices to consider are:

  • ​pine
  • fir

Exotic woods

Their name says it all. If you’re going for a very unique look, exotic woods is where it’s at. With their defined color and grain patterns, you most likely will pay a higher price for exotic woods. Known for their durability and strength, a couple great options include:

  • teak
  • mahogany

Engineered wood

Engineered wood is made of layers of wood veneer and plywood. It provides a more affordable and stable alternative to solid wood.

Understanding the differences between these types of wood can help you make an informed decision for your specific needs and budget.

An open staircase with white risers and wood treads. Farmhouse in style. Perfect for best wood for stair treads

Source: Lindye Galloway

“Choosing the right wood for your stair treads is key to creating a cohesive and polished interior design.” – Emily Henderson, interior designer and stylist

Characteristics of wood for stair treads

The characteristics of wood for stair treads can vary greatly depending on the type of wood you choose. One of the most important characteristics is the grain pattern, which can affect the appearance and slip resistance of the stair treads.

Some wood species, such as oak and ash, have a prominent and uniform grain pattern. While others, such as hickory and maple, have a more subtle and varied pattern.

Color of the wood

The color of the wood can also vary from light to dark shades, and can be influenced by the wood species and any stain or finish applied. Different wood species have varying natural colors, ranging from light to dark shades. For example, maple tends to be a light, creamy color, while walnut has a rich, dark brown tone.

“The texture and color of the wood can greatly impact the overall aesthetic and safety of stair treads, making it important to choose the best wood species for your specific needs.” – Candice Olson, interior designer and television personality

However, the color of the wood can also be influenced by any stain or finish you may apply. Stains can be used to darken the wood and enhance its natural grain pattern. At the same time, finishes such as varnish or polyurethane can add a protective layer and give the wood a glossy or matte appearance.

A very simple stairway. With white risers and wood treads

Source: Coats Homes

It’s important to keep in mind that, staining and finishing the wood can affect its durability and slip resistance. For this reason, be sure to choose a stain and finish that are appropriate for your specific needs. By considering the natural color of the wood and any potential stains or finishes, you can choose a wood that will complement your interior design.

Hardness and durability

Hardness and durability are crucial factors to consider when choosing the best wood for your stair treads. Stair treads are subjected to heavy foot traffic on a regular basis, and must be able to withstand this wear and tear over time.

Hardwoods are typically more durable than softwoods, due to their denser cell structure and higher resistance to dents and scratches. However, certain hardwoods can be more susceptible to splitting and cracking under extreme pressure or impact. Therefore, it’s important to choose a wood species with the appropriate hardness for your specific needs.

For example, oak is a popular choice for its strength and durability. However, cherry is known for its beautiful grain patterns but may be more susceptible to dents and scratches.

To further enhance the durability of the wood, it’s recommended to use a finish or sealant that can protect against moisture and scratches. By choosing a wood species with the appropriate hardness and durability and taking proper maintenance measures, you can ensure that your stair treads will last for many years to come.

Open staircase with a black metal railing. Natural wood treads and no risers

Source: Dichotomy Interiors

Texture of the wood

The best wood for stair treads in terms of texture is really based on personal preference. However, there are some safety concerns to keep in mind.

Generally, hardwoods tend to have a more natural and rougher texture than softwoods, which can provide better traction and slip resistance.

On the same terms, oak and hickory are popular choices for their natural texture, which can provide a good grip for any high-traffic area.

However, other hardwoods such as maple and ash have a smoother texture, which can be appropriate for areas with lower foot traffic.

While the natural texture of the wood is something to consider, the type of finish applied is important too. A matte or textured finish can enhance the natural texture of the wood, providing better traction and slip resistance.

Here’s my favorite stain finish concoction.

Best wood for stair treads: White risers; wood treads; white shiplap wall

Source: Markalunas Architecture Group

Ultimately, the best wood for stair treads in terms of texture will depend on personal preference, the specific needs of the space, and the level of slip resistance required.

“The durability and maintenance requirements of the wood species must also be taken into consideration when choosing the best wood for stair treads.” – Joanna Gaines, interior designer and television personality

Comparing different wood species

Choosing the best wood species for your stair treads can be overwhelming, as there are many different options available. To help make your decision easier, I’ve outlined some of the most popular wood species for stair treads below.


Oak is a popular choice for its durability and timeless appearance. It has a prominent grain pattern and ranges in color from light to medium brown. Red oak has a slightly reddish tint, while white oak is a more neutral color. Oak is a hardwood that is resistant to dents and scratches, making it a good choice for high traffic areas.


Maple is another frequent choice for stair treads in areas that receive high foot traffic. This wood type is exceedingly durable, ensuring that your stairs will maintain their beauty and integrity for many years to come. Hard maple is often chosen for its light color, which can brighten up dark spaces and make them feel more open. Soft maple, on the other hand, tends to be darker and includes more red, brown and gray tones. This wood variety is also an excellent selection for those looking to complement existing hardwood flooring, as it can be easily stained to match.

A curved staircase with tile risers and wood treads

Source: Lucy and Company


Another durable and resistant to scratches choice is Walnut. It’s rich, dark brown color and unique grain patterns, make it a popular choice. Perfect for modern and contemporary designs, as well as traditional styles.

Brazillian Cherry: Rich color and high resistance

Brazilian cherry is a great option for those seeking a rich color and high resistance to wear and tear. This wood type is well-known for its stunning reddish-brown appearance, which adds warmth and elegance to any space. Brazilian cherry is also incredibly hard, making it a great choice for high-traffic areas. However, this wood species may necessitate regular oiling to maintain its natural beauty and prevent damage from moisture.

American Cherry: A more affordable and softer option

American cherry is a softer alternative to Brazilian cherry, offering a more affordable option for homeowners seeking the rich color and natural beauty of cherry wood. Although it may not have the same high resistance as Brazilian cherry, American cherry is still a good choice for wood treads in areas with moderate foot traffic. This wood type can be easily stained and finished with a coat of poly to enhance its durability.


Known for its unique grain patterns and high durability, Hickory is a hardwood. It ranges in color from light to medium brown. Cohesive to rustic or natural designs.

An open staircase with wood treads and no risers. Great for best wood for stair treads

Source: Giulietti Schouten Weber Architects


Ash is a hardwood that is similar in appearance to oak, with a prominent and uniform grain pattern. Similar also to hickory, it ranges in color from light to medium brown. And is a durable choice for high-traffic areas.


Teak is an exotic wood species that is often used in high-end designs for its unique appearance and high performance. It has a warm, golden-brown color that can darken over time with exposure to sunlight. Its grain pattern is unique and can vary from straight to wavy, with a uniform texture. Teak is also a very dense wood, which makes it highly durable and resistant to wear and tear.


Last, but not least, we come to pine. I often say, you either love Pine or you hate it. I personally, love it! Some people are appalled that I build all of my furniture using pine. But here’s why…

Pine is:

  • very affordable
  • easy to work with
  • easy to stain or paint

I love the straight grain pattern that pine has, giving it a more uniform appearance than some hardwoods. Because of its affordability and how easy it is to install, pine is a popular softwood stair tread choice.

A stairway with white risers and wood treads. Slatted railing along the outside


Grades of wood for stair treads

The grade of wood you choose for your stair treads can affect the appearance and durability of the finished product.

Different grades of wood are based on:

  • the number and size of knots
  • the consistency of the grain pattern
  • the overall quality of the wood.

Understanding the different grades of wood can help you choose the best wood for your specific needs and preferences.

“The natural grain patterns and unique characteristics of different wood species can add depth and interest to stair treads, elevating the design of any space.” – Bobby Berk, interior designer and television personality

Clear grade wood

Clear grade wood is the highest quality and has no knots or defects on its surface. This grade of wood is usually more expensive, but provides a clean and consistent appearance that is a perfect fit for more formal or modern designs.

Select grade wood

Select grade wood is the second highest quality and has few knots and defects. This grade of wood is less expensive than clear grade wood, but still provides a consistent appearance that is appropriate for most designs.

A long hallway with an open staircase. Very modern with a glass railing

#1 Common grade wood

#1 Common grade wood has more knots and defects than clear and select grades, but can still provide a unique and rustic appearance that is perfect for more natural or rustic designs.

#2 Common grade wood

#2 Common grade wood has even more knots and defects than #1 Common grade wood. It is often used for more utilitarian purposes where appearance is less of a concern.

Understanding the grades of wood can help you choose a wood species and grade that provides the desired appearance and durability for your specific needs. By considering the grade of wood, along with other factors such as the wood species and texture, you can choose the best wood for your stair treads that meets your specific needs and preferences.

Tying up the loose ends

Carpet runners: The best of both worlds

Do you want the natural beauty of stair treads, but don’t want to give up the comfort of carpet? A carpet runner is the perfect solution. Many homeowners choose to install wood stairs with carpet runners, providing a comfortable and non-slip surface in high-traffic areas. This option allows you to showcase the natural grain of your chosen wood species while still enjoying the benefits of carpet.

Best wood for stair treads: Natural wood treads; white risers and a dark gray runner going up the stairs

Source: Bria Hammel Interiors

Recap of what to consider when choosing wood for stair treads

  • Determine the type of stairs and the level of foot traffic they will receive.
  • Consider the aesthetics and design style of your home.
  • Determine your budget for the project.

By taking these considerations into account, you can select the optimal wood for your stair treads that will meet your specific needs.

The importance of stair risers

In addition to selecting the best wood for your stair treads, it is also essential to consider the use of stair risers. Stair risers are the vertical boards that connect the stair treads and provide additional support for the stairs.

Stair risers can be made from the same wood species as the treads or a contrasting material to enhance the visual appeal of your staircase. The use of stair risers can also help to prevent accidents by providing additional support for the treads.

An open stairway with a landing in the middle; white risers; natural wood treads; metal balusters with a wood railing

Source: Leighanne LaMarre Interiors

Finish coat for your wood stairs

Another crucial factor to consider when selecting the optimal wood for stair treads is the finish coat. A high-quality finish coat will not only protect the wood but also highlight its natural beauty and grain patterns.

There are many different finish coat options available, including oil-based, water-based, and varnish. It is essential to choose a finish coat that is appropriate for your chosen wood species and will provide the level of durability and protection you require.

Whether you prefer the popular choice of red oak, the durability of hard maple, or the rich color of Brazilian cherry, there is a best option out there for your staircase. Embrace the natural materials and create a stunning focal point in your home with the right wood for your stair treads.

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Let’s go beyond the design to build something beautiful together!

Until the next one,


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