Ensuring you take your next step safely

Wood step ladders (What to look for!)

  • By: Gareth
  • Time to read: 8 min.

Step ladders made from wood can be a great convenience in many homes. They are easy to use, and they take up very little storage space.

For this reason, wood step ladders tend to be a favourite among some homeowners. They can sometimes not be the obvious choice initially for someone looking for a step ladder solution.

They do have some good points and some bad points which we’ll discuss further. Some people even source older type wooden step ladders not to use them for climbing, but for making cool retro shelving for books or ornaments.

Wood step ladders are available in a wide variety of designs and sizes. Older type timber step ladders will be folding and have a rope attachment on each part.

This will be to act as a stop to prevent the legs from spreading and collapsing.

Newer ladders will have fixed, hinged stays which are more robust and reliable. Wooden step ladders tend also to be naturally heavier than its lightweight aluminium contenders.

You can read further about the latest Ladder Classifications in our article here.

Older type wooden ladders can feel a bit wobbly and at one time were really the only step ladders you would find. Things moved on in favour of lightweight aluminium as a main material.

They provided more rigidity and lasted longer. This doesn’t mean that wooden steps are inherently unsafe.

A well maintained set of timber steps can be more than adequate for a task. The only thing is to remember that they are different, and because of this may act and feel different from metal steps.

They may creak, they may move or flex a bit more and they may wobble.

As good practice, it is always recommended that any steps or ladders have a quick visual check to see if there are any defects before use.

For any number of reasons, steps or ladders can get damaged without you knowing. An example of this would be if a set of steps or ladders are stored in a garage that a car is also stored in.

Ladders can get damaged from a car driving into a garage. Climbing an unchecked step ladder with a damaged tread could cause a very nasty accident. It’s always best to be safe.

Another thing to remember is that by the nature of timber and the fact that it is a natural product, it can be affected by external and internal conditions.

Externally, if timber steps or ladders are kept outside open to the elements, their timber can rot and weaken the original strength.

During dry periods or having them exposed to the sun, they can split causing this rotting to be accelerated. In situations like this, the splits are more likely to be located where the timber components are jointed.

Any exposed metal components could be susceptible to rust and also be detrimental to the strength.

Internally, if timber steps are kept inside, they be susceptible to drying out. This can be caused from the constant heat from central heating systems and cause the timber to split.

This again can really weaken the strength of wooden ladders. This can be limited by the step ladders benefitting from a coat or two of clear wood varnish.

This can reduce the effect of moisture effecting the timber. Another really big thing to remember about timber ladders is not to paint them. This is not to say that you can’t paint them!…..it’s just good practice not to.

This is because if a set of ladders have succumbed to splitting, the paint can cover any defects which is obviously not a great idea.

By leaving them with their original finish, any defects can be picked up during a check before its use.

Vintage wood step ladder

Wood step ladders | Vintage wood step ladder | Are wooden step ladders safe

Vintage step ladders are sought after for many reasons. Genuine old steps are appealing due to the way they look and are often used by interior designers as shelving.

They wouldn’t necessarily be used for climbing or accessing.

Vintage wood step ladders are usually made from unfinished pine wood (often used in the past due to availability), but could be other types of wood too, like oak or cedar.

In older times, there seemed to be more emphasis of building things from better timber. These ladders from oak or cedar are quite well desired by interior designers because of this.

Because the wood is not treated with chemicals against rot, after many years the wood will start to deteriorate and get chipped or broken off.

Because wood is biodegradable, it will rot away over time. While this might not be appealing to some people, it can make for a beautiful antique.

Because of the quirky antique finish, when vintage wood step ladders are used today, they are usually for interior design or decoration purposes.

These wood steps are mentioned in décor books as pieces of art that can act as shelving at home or work spaces.

These wood step ladders could also be painted to fit with the décor of any room inside someone’s home. If genuine vintage ladders can’t be found, reproduction vintage wood step ladders can be found.

They wouldn’t have that genuine aged look however so many people distress them to make them look older.

Are wooden step ladders safe?

Wood step ladders | Vintage wood step ladder | Are wooden step ladders safe

Wooden step ladders can be safe if used correctly, treated with respect and remembered that they are different and will act different.

When treated with respect and care, wood step ladders can be safe.

Firstly, wood is a natural material, it will move and change depending on the weather so this needs to be remembered when using wooden step ladders.

Wood is more prone to wear and tear than metal, think about how many steps there are on a wood step ladder compared to metal, another thing that needs to be considered but not just thought of as a drawback of wood.

With wood, you get the benefit of the natural oils in wood that prevents rot and decay from occurring, meaning wood items last longer if looked after correctly which isn’t too hard.

All a wood step ladder needs is a coat or two of varnish every year or so, even if only going out in light rain conditions, wood will still need protecting.

Regarding wood step ladders being different, wood is a natural material so it will differ slightly in size and weight.

If you are thinking of putting wood step ladders together yourself, remember wood expands and contracts with the weather so make sure everything fits correctly before constructing fully and is glued.

Wood ladders come in different weights too depending on their size and type of timber. Testing your wood step ladder can be done by applying some gentle weight to the wood.

If there is a suspicion of it snapping then this should not be used. There will be obvious signs but trust your gut instinct.

Older wood step ladders can still have their original “stays” which would be rope and knotted through the timber. This will be to prevent the legs from spreading under load.

This is quite old fashioned and although it looks nice, rigid stays are a safer bet.

How long do wood ladders last?

Wooden step ladders can last a very long time if they are maintained properly. It is recommended to keep wood surfaces treated and use a wood conditioner or varnish periodically to maintain the wood’s health.

Wooden steps ladders usually have a shelf at the top for extra storage. If this shelf is filled with too many heavy items, it could damage the wood surface over time.

If you notice any cracks in wood surfaces or loose nails on your wooden ladder, it is best to replace it immediately. Replacing wood ladders is easy because you can find them in different styles and sizes.

Replacing some simpler components can be done if you have the time or the inclination. Any more severe damage to larger components may make them unsafe to use and too difficult to fix.

In these cases, they could be used for decorative purposes.

As a rule, if ladders are typically dry stored in an outside garage or out house, these conditions will be the most favourable to ensure timber ladders last as long as possible, years even!

Wooden ladder suggestions

If you are interested in some wooden ladders from a nostalgic viewpoint or from a decorative viewpoint, we have some ideas for you here.

Some modern wooden step ladders are fine for everyday home use and also a viable alternative to metal varieties. They also look great too!

Wooden Multi-Purpose Portable Stepladder

What we like:

Weight is only 6 Kg

Folding rigid stays

Solid pine wood

What could be better:

Not much to go wrong here!

Our first offering is this simple set of solid timber steps. These are made from solid pine and benefit from folding rigid metal stays.

As we discussed earlier, older timber steps can be seen with rope stays but all modern versions will have a rigid type like this one.

The also fold up nicely so they be stored in a cupboard if needed.

Lightweight 2 step foldable wooden step ladder Stool

What we like:

Doubles as a stool and a small step ladder

Foldable design

Rigid metal stays

What could be better:

Simplicity itself

Our second offering is the really handy 2 step folding wood step ladder. The great thing about this is that it’s handy enough to give you that extra boost in height when you need it but also doubles up as a stool.

A tough design and solid timber makes this really reassuring. The rigid metal stays also add to the safety. It folds easily for neat storage. A welcome addition to every home.

Arredamenti Italia 3 step wooden ladder

What we like:

Comes in 2, 3 and 4 steps versions

Weighs 7 Kg

Slip resistant rubber feet pads

What could be better:

A 5 or 6 tread version would of been great!

Our final offering is this beautiful genuine Italian made ladder. For a timber ladder, it feels very sturdy and the hand rail is a great feature to steady yourself against.

The timber has a polished feel but your hand doesn’t feel like it would slip. It feels very sturdy, even when stood on the top tread.

It folds very flat so it stores really easily. The main reason for buying a set of sturdy wooden steps like this is because they look great and are functional. They would not look out of place anywhere.

Final thoughts

Wooden step ladders can be a viable alternative to a metal version. Older more vintage types may need a thorough check before using as if not cared for properly, they can deteriorate until they become unusable and unsafe.

New versions of wooden steps are much safer and can last for years if looked after. One of the main reasons for getting wooden ladders is that they look great!