Phone: 510.602.0399

Wood Species: Traits and Characteristics

Wood Species Traits & Characteristics

Stair Parts Depot offers over 10 different species of wood: Red Oak, White Oak, Maple, European Beech, Poplar, Alder, African Mahogany, American Cherry, Brazilian Cherry, Walnut, and Hickory. When selecting the ideal species for your stairs, consider the characteristics of the wood, such as color, grain, density, and the feeling of the wood. Certain wood species such as Walnut and Brazilian Cherry have darker shades of color. Other woods are lighter in color, such as Maple and Alder.

The heartwood of the tree is the inner sections; the sapwood is the outer sections. The inner rings of a tree trunk are denser than the outer rings, which give the inner rings a darker color than the outer rings. You can see in the picture below that the inner rings of this tree truck (heartwood) are darker than the outer rings (sapwood):

wood species selection process

Not all cuts of wood are perfect. Wood used to be a living organism, and we are not all identical. Wood can contain blemishes such as knots or gum pockets. These dark spots are naturally formed from things like ingrown bark and areas where the branches grew. They can also be formed from environmental changes from when the tree was growing, which is evident in the tree’s annual growth rings. These spots can stand out in the flesh of the wood and are a natural growth mark from the tree from before it was harvested.

Each piece of wood has a mixture of colors, and no two pieces are identical. For example: Poplar, the best wood for painting, tends to have color variations of white, yellow, and green.  See picture of Poplar below:


The type of paint used for the wood is critical. Some paints are better for cold weather – others work better in hot weather. Before purchasing, please research which type of paint will work best for Poplar (paint-grade wood).

On wood and lumber pieces, color variation is inevitable. To a certain degree, all wood species have these variations of color – which can be beautiful to one person, but unappealing to another. It all depends on the individual person and what he/she prefers in terms of style, color, and grain variations for their stairs and treads.

In order to further analyze your ideal wood species, consider how much grain variation you would like to see and feel in your stairs. When painting over the wood, grain variation can make a big difference in how smooth the wood feels. The most common paint grade wood is Poplar – although, Maple, Alder, and Hickory can also be painted. Some wood species like Red Oak and White Oak, which have an open grain structure, are not meant for painting, as they will absorb all the paint like a sponge. Stair Parts Depot does not recommend painting Red or White Oak.

If you are looking for a wood species that shows little or no color/grain variations, Beech, Alder, and Maple are terrific choices. These wood species, after harvesting, show homogeneity amongst piece by piece.

In the picture below, you can see how color constant a Maple stairway is:


No two pieces of wood, even if they’re from the same tree, are identical. Because each piece of wood is completely unique, Stair Parts Depot cannot guarantee perfect stain matching. You can relate wood to fingerprints – no two humans have the same prints. Each piece of wood is different from the next.

Keep in mind that most wood products are jointed together from multiple cuts of wood. Treads, for example, are usually jointed together from slender pieces of wood so that the finished tread product does not bend or warp from the constant wear and tear of climbing up and down the staircase everyday. This, combined with unpredictable weather conditions, will wear down the wood if it is not engineered/jointed together. Wood species used in home and building construction are jointed together in order to maximize structural integrity.