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A full guide to wooden handrails for stairs: types, designs and how to treat them

Wooden handrails have a classic look, which means they never go out of fashion. They have several benefits, making them a popular choice with homeowners looking to update their stairway. For example, wooden handrails are available in a range of prices, meaning everyone can find an option to suit their budget. They also make extremely durable options and you are able to choose the ideal shade of wood and style for your staircase. Additionally, you can combine wood easily with other materials, such as metal and glass.

Before buying a wooden handrail, however, it is vital to understand the benefits of the different types of woods and designs. Here, we provide a complete guide to the different woods and designs available, with advice on treating and cleaning wooden handrails.

Click on one of the links below to jump to that section:

Read more about the different materials of wooden handrails and what handrails can be used with glass.

Find out more about the different designs of wooden handrails, and how to choose the ideal design for you.

Find out what other factors you need to consider before choosing a wooden handrail.

Read the different finishing options for wooden handrails, and their benefits.

Find out how to clean wooden handrails, and recommended products to use.

We answer your common queries on wooden handrails.

Types of wooden handrails

Oak and pine are two of the most popular types of wooden handrails and are at different ends of the scale when it comes to price and durability.

  • Oak is highly durable hardwood and can therefore be more expensive.

  • Pine is a softwood which is less durable but far more affordable.

You can find out more about the difference between hardwood and softwood and the benefits of both by reading our guide Hardwood vs softwood: which is best for your wooden stair parts?

Are you choosing between oak and pine handrails? Read our guide to oak vs pine handrails here.

Read on to find out more about the different types of woods:

Oak handrails

Oak can make a staircase look beautiful, but a solid oak balustrade can be expensive. You can save money without compromising on style by combining an oak handrail with a white primed newel post and spindles to give the illusion of a solid oak balustrade. White primed stair parts are made from either birch or poplar so are more affordable than oak. You can add a wall-mounted oak handrail, such as mopstick handrail, to your staircase to complete the look.

You can shop our complete range of oak handrails and oak stair parts here.

Hemlock handrails

Hemlock handrails are similar to pine but this softwood is more durable and has a uniform, knot-free grain.

Handrails such as this hemlock HR handrail 41mm groove can be finished by varnishing, waxing or painting, and come with a groove to allow a spindle to be fitted.

Walnut handrails

Walnut handrails are very dark and the rich colour of this hardwood makes a luxurious and striking addition to any hallway. Again, if you’re looking for a way to make a balustrade look more opulent, you could combine a walnut handrail with white primed spindles to give it a high-end finish at a much lower cost. The striking contrast between the dark walnut wood and white spindles is particularly eye-catching.

View our complete range of grooved and ungrooved walnut handrails here.

Ash handrails

Ash is another option for a hardwood handrail—the wood’s close grain makes it ideal for creating sturdy balustrades. Ash is a very light wood in colour so it can help brighten up dark hallways and works wonderfully with glass panels.

This ash HR handrail has a 41mm groove, which will allow a 41mm spindle to be fitted into the groove. Designed in a simple, elegant style, this handrail will suit most staircase styles.

You can shop our complete range of ash grooved handrails and ash ungrooved handrails.

Wooden handrails to go with glass

These handrails tend to be more angular and feature a groove that the glass panels are fitted into, or are ungrooved and designed to have brackets fitted onto them, such as the Elements With Glass range.

If you prefer a more rounded wooden handrail then the Fusion range from Richard Burbidge combines the warmth of an oak, dark hardwood or walnut mopstick handrail with contemporary glass.

Comparing different types of woods for handrails

Oak is the strongest and most durable type of wood for a handrail, however it is often the most expensive choice. However, if you’re looking for a long-term investment and like the look and style of wood with warm undertones – we recommend choosing oak.

An oak handrail

Hemlock, though not quite as durable as oak, is one of the strongest woods to choose from in terms of durability. Although a softwood, hemlock is very dense, which means that it is a very strong wood, ideally suited to use in handrails.

Ash, on the other hand, is another very strong option - however it is less water-resistant than oak. Pine is also a fairly durable option, however can show scratches and dents. Pine has a close grain that makes it a considerably strong option.

Walnut is a premium hardwood and is an extremely strong option for handrails; however, it is not ideal if you have a small budget.

Shop our complete range of wooden handrails.

Wooden handrail designs

Wall-mounted wooden handrails

Wooden pigs ear handrails

If you’re looking for a handrail that fits flush to the wall then consider fitting a pigs ear handrail. These wooden handrails don’t require brackets and are instead fitted directly to the wall and secured in place with screws. You can then fill the screw holes with tapered cross grain pellets (small pellets of wood designed to fill drill holes in wood) and sand the end of the pellet down once in place for a smooth finish.

Pigs ear handrails are a good choice if you have a narrow stairway as they fit close to the wall.

Shop our complete range of pigs ear handrails here.

Wooden mopstick handrails

Mopstick handrails are named because of their resemblance to long, round wooden mop handles. However, the name is slightly misleading as these handrails aren’t fully circular and instead have a flat bottom to attach brackets to. Mopstick handrails are available in several different types of wood and allow for a more decorative finish as you can add fittings such as end caps and brackets to personalise the handrail.

You can view a range of decorative endcaps for handrails here.

Find out how to fit a mopstick handrail here.

Are you looking for your ideal mopstick handrail? View our mopstick handrails here.

Wooden handrails for balustrades: popular styles

Modern handrail designs include mopstick handrails, glass grooved handrails to be used with glass, metal wall-mounted handrails and HR handrails.

Another great way to style a modern staircase is to combine wood with glass or metal. Find out more about this here.

If you want a more traditional handrail style, the cottage loaf handrail is a popular traditional handrail. Woods you can use to create a more traditional feel include dark hardwood and walnut.

Are you shopping for wooden stair parts for your staircase? View our complete wooden stair part range.

What other factors should you consider when choosing a handrail?

As well as strength, durability, appearance and cost, there are some other essential factors to consider when choosing a handrail, such as the size of the handrail and the overall aesthetic you are going for.

You also need to make a choice between grooved handrails and ungrooved handrails. Grooved handrails are a perfect choice if you are wanting wooden or metal spindles, and they allow spindles to sit within the groove of the handrail. However, if you’d prefer to use glass panels, ungrooved handrails or glass grooved handrails would be a better choice. You can view our full range of handrails here.

Choosing finishings for wooden handrails

Hard wax oil

At Jackson’s we recommend applying Treatex Hardwax Oil to wooden handrails which is quick-drying and hardwearing. Hard wax oils contain a blend of oils and waxes designed to protect wood including linseed oil, sunflower oil and beeswax. Applying hard wax oil makes wooden handrails stain-resistant and gives a lovely smooth finish to the surface.


If you prefer a more traditional approach to treating wood, you could apply two or three coats of linseed or teak oil and then apply a layer of wax. Danish oil is a mixture of oil and varnish so is more hardwearing than regular oil but not as hardwearing as hard wax oil.


Finishing waxes give wooden handrails an ultra-smooth surface and add an extra layer of protection to the wood. Wax can be easily reapplied as and when needed, without having to strip the handrail. You may want to apply a coat of wax to your handrail after oiling it to give it a shine.


Varnish contains resin, drying oil and a thinner to create a clear finish on wood. You can apply it after oiling the handrail and once it’s dried, varnish will protect against spills. The downside of varnish is that it can dull overtime and it can be tricky to apply, with air bubbles being a common issue.


If you want to match the look of your wooden handrail to your existing spindles, newel post and stair treads and risers then you’ll need to apply a stain before treating the wood. You’ll need to apply a coat of sanding sealer to softwood handrails, such as pine, before applying a stain as softwood doesn’t stain very evenly.

It can be tricky to colour­-match wood so use a tester pot to apply a small amount to the underside of the handrail and allow it to dry so you can get an accurate impression of the colour.

Once you’re happy with the colour, you can apply the stain to the rest of the handrail and allow it to dry before sealing the wood with varnish. Staining wood simply changes the colour of the wood and doesn’t provide any protection, so you’ll need to finish the wood with wax or varnish.

How to clean wooden handrails

You can easily remove oil and dirt from a wooden handrail by cleaning the surface with a baby wipe. If a baby wipe doesn’t remove all of the dirt, dip a cloth in equal parts water and vinegar to remove any stubborn dirt then remove any residue with a clean, damp cloth.

Alternatively, use a cloth dipped in a solution of washing-up liquid and warm water to clean the handrail.

If your handrail has a wax finish, then you could apply another coat of wax after cleaning it to give it a lovely shine.

To find out more about cleaning wooden handrails, visit our full guide here.

If you want to install a handrail and are unsure about what height it should be, read our guide to handrail height building regulations here.

Frequently asked questions

How do you paint an oak handrail white?

It is possible to paint an oak handrail white, but sanding and preparing the wood is an essential part of this process. You will need to take extra care to make sure this is done to a high standard, to ensure that no colour comes through in the finished result.

How do you refinish an oak handrail?

To refinish an oak handrail, you will need to strip the wood before preparing and priming it. Then you can stain and finish the wood to your own aesthetic tastes.

Should you paint or stain your handrail?

Paint is a great way to freshen a handrail or balustrade, but staining tends to last for longer and be more resilient over time.

What is the best paint for wooden stairs?

When it comes to wooden stairs, it is important to use a primer which you can then paint over with semi-gloss paint. This tends to be harder wearing than other paints.

What colour should your handrail be?

Your handrail should fit in with the overall aesthetic of your home. It is generally a good idea to go with a neutral colour such as white or appreciate wood’s natural appearance, but you can also add a pop of vibrancy to make your handrail a feature.

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