A Ladder is an important tool to have around as it comes handy to reach high places while cleaning, storing, painting or any maintenance. Do you know there are several types of ladders that serve different purposes? In this guide, we will take a closer look at Ladders in general, materials used in making ladders, different types of ladders and also few usage and safety tips.
Ladders are simple yet functional tools. A ladder consists of repeating steps (or bars) that you can use to easily climb up (or down) to reach high places. Whether you are cleaning the gutters, painting a ceiling, doing some electrical work, bringing the storage boxes from a top shelf, you need a ladder to make the job easy.
While commercial entities such as construction companies or electrical installers have multiple sets and types of ladders, we believe that every home owner must also have ladder at their disposal, provided they have the space to store it.
There are different types of ladders based on shape, size, build material and also functionality. Each ladder has its specific purpose and having a knowledge about some popular types of ladders along with their functionalities will be helpful, if you are planning to buy one.
Different Types of Ladders
Here is a list of some popular ladder types. There are several other types of ladders but these are more common for residential, commercial as well as industrial usage.
- Straight Ladder
- Step Ladder
- Basic Extension Ladder
- Platform Ladder
- Trestle Ladder
- Multipurpose Ladder
- Telescoping Ladder
- Flexible Ladder
- Articulated/Folding Ladder
- Attic Ladder
- Podium Ladder
- Net/Rope Ladder
- Pool Ladder
- Five-step Portable Ladder
- Portable Warehouse Ladder
- A-Frame Ladder
- A-Frame Ladder with Paint Can Shelf
- Step Stool
Let us now see briefly about all these ladders.
This is the original ladder back from the days of bamboo ladders (as a matter of fact, we still make bamboo ladder to this day). It is one of the simplest ladders which consists of two long parallel beams/rails with multiple steps between them.
You need to support this ladder against a surface (wall or pole) as it doesn’t have a second side (which most of the modern ladders have). These ladders are very simple to manufacture and come with a fixed length.
There are modern variants of straight ladders that have wheels at the bottom to easily move it (you will find similar ones in libraries) and you have to get down before you can reposition it.
Apart from the requirement of a sturdy surface, straight ladders are very good for construction jobs, gutter cleaning and other maintenance works.
If you are a home owner looking for a new ladder, then look no further than a Step Ladder. It has two sides and hence acts a self-supporting ladder. As a result, Step Ladders have a universal popularity among residential as well as commercial users.
Depending on the construction of the two sides, we can further divide the step ladders into two types: Front Step Ladders and Twi Step Ladders. As the name suggests, we have to use only the front side steps/rungs to climb while the second side just acts as a support.
In the twin step ladder, both sides have steps/rungs so that you can use both sides to climb. This is particularly useful if you need two people to climb at the same time.
Most step ladders have a flat top to place your tools or tool box. As they have fixed height, you have to choose the right size step ladder to reach top shelf or replace a light bulb.
Basic Extension Ladder
The previous two ladders we mentioned (and most of the upcoming ladders as well) come with a fixed length i.e., they have a predefined number of steps/rungs. But a Basic Extension Ladder has extendable length to double (or triple) the number of steps/rungs.
It uses guided tracks to adjust the length and teeth to lock the height into position. An important point about most extension ladders is that they are straight ladders without any built-in support system.
A Platform Ladder is basically a step ladder but with slightly different step structure. In a regular step ladder, the steps/rungs can be quite slim, making it difficult to stand or hold your position.
In a platform ladder, the steps are very wide, like stairs. This makes it very easy for you to stand on the ladder even for a long duration. Additionally, the top step acts a wide platform for you to stand or place any objects.
Some platform ladders have very sturdy guard rails on either sides that extend over the platform (up to 2 or 3 feet) for you to grab and adjust your position or easily ascend and descend.
We mentioned twin step ladders previously. A Trestle Ladder is similar to that as it supports two people at the same time. Like step ladders, they are also self-supporting.
Even though you can use a Trestle Ladder for a single person, you have to be careful if you use this ladder for two persons. We suggest you to climb up and down at the same time to maintain the balance.
Appliance or art installations, painting, or home décor jobs benefit from trestle ladders as two people can work I the close vicinity.
A Multipurpose or Multi-way Ladder, as the name suggests, can serve more than one purpose. Some ladders can have up to 24 different functionalities such as a basic step ladder, an extension ladder, a trestle ladder etc.
Depending on how you use it, a multipurpose ladder can be self-supporting or you need a sturdy supporting surface. This type of ladder is more suitable for construction jobs, contractors or if you are a professional handyman.
A Telescopic Ladder is a type of extension ladder than can easily collapse or elongate to a specific length. You can easily store the telescopic ladder as it becomes very compact when you collapse all the telescopic beams.
Most telescopic ladders are straight ladders but there are some ladders than can shape into twin step ladders for self-supporting.
While all the ladders we saw till now are sturdy with solid frames, a flexible ladder is quite different. It is made up of rope (natural fiber, metal strings or similar materials) that can be easily rolled up.
You might have seen in movies/TV Shows where a helicopter throws a ladder down to rescue people from emergencies. Other than such emergency escapes and some recreational activities, we rarely use a flexible rope for other jobs.
An Articulated Ladder is a type of portable ladder in the sense that you can easily fold it into a more compact shape that other ladders. Speaking of folding, the articulated ladder has a periodically placed hinges that we can lock (to expand the ladder) or release (to fold the ladder).
Depending on the position and state of the hinge, you can make an articulated into a variety of shapes also make it either a straight ladder or a self-supporting one.
If you have an attic in your home, then chances are you have an Attic Ladder. They can be simple extension ladders that rely on guided frames to expand or contract. Or they can be articulated ladders than has hinges to fold or unfold parts of the ladder.
We usually fix attic ladders to the door of the attic so that they serve only one purpose: provide easy access to tiny attic opening.
A Podium Ladder is very similar to a platform ladder except that the area where you stand is wider than normal. This ladder is very useful for painters, electricians and construction workers as they have to stand on the ladder for a long time to finish the job.
The Net Ladder is similar to a foldable ladder except the material is a net or rope. These ladders are not meant for significant workloads but we can use for kids to play in the backyard or climb to a treehouse.
This a specialty ladder that, as the name suggests, can help you easily get in or out from a pool or hot tub. As they have to be in contact with water all the time, pool ladders are often made from stainless steel to prevent rust or corrosion.
A Portable Ladder is a large step ladder that has wheel at the bottom (usually on the supporting side but some ladders have wheels on the step side as well). The structure is quite different from regular step ladders as it looks more like staircase on wheels rather than a ladder.
The back (supporting part) of the ladder is straight and the steps have grab rails for additional safety. You can easily move and position this ladder using its wheels.
Portable Warehouse Ladder
A big brother to the regular portable ladder, the portable warehouse ladder very large as it is often meant for use in large factories and warehouses. The basic structure of this ladder is similar to that of the smaller portable ladder.
This is not a type of ladder but rather a shape of the ladder. In fact, the ladders we discussed previously i.e., step ladder, platform ladder, trestle ladder and many more are A-Frame Ladders.
They have two frames/sides that form the letter ‘A’ with steps on one side or both the sides. Due to their structure, all A-Frame are self-supporting and also foldable at the center.
A-Frame Ladder with Paint Can Shelf
This is a slightly modified form of a regular A-Frame Ladder. It has an extended platform on the top to carry paint cans or other tools and devices. So, if you are a professional painter or if you planning a lot of painting jobs, then you can definitely invest in this ladder.
These are tiny ladders that we can use in kitchens or garages to have access to not so high places. Step Stools are usually self-supporting with front step.
Also, the step size of these ladders is often wider to easily climb (with any kind of footwear or even barefoot). Step Stools are easily foldable so that you can easily store them in tight spaces.
What are Some Common Ladder Materials?
We have seen some of the popular types of ladders that are available in the market. But you might be wondering: what is the material used in making these ladders? Here is a list of some common ladder material types.
One of the most common and widely used ladder materials is wood. Whether it is regular tree wood or bamboos, wood ladders are affordable and still popular I most parts of the World.
Wooden ladders are heavier than other types and you can easily damage the ladder without proper care. The main advantage of wood ladders (apart from being affordable) is that, they are non-conductive. You can easily use them for electrical related works without worrying about grounding yourself.
Perhaps the most popular ladder material is Aluminum. It is light weight and at the same time it is also sturdy and strong. Even though it is slightly expensive than wood ladders, aluminum ladders are relatively cheaper considering its long life-time with very less (or no) maintenance.
Since it is a metal, it is conductive in nature and hence you have to be very careful if you are using one while working with electricity. Perhaps, you are better off with some other type of ladder (wood or plastic).
There are a few ladders out there that are made using plastic with fiberglass reinforcements. They are very cheap and are not meant for heavy workloads.
Warehouses, industries and factories typically use steel ladders as they are durable with significantly heavy workloads. Regular steel (iron) ladders are very heavy and hance often come with portable options (with wheels at the bottom). But rust is an issue that we have to be aware of.
Stainless Steel ladders are rust proof but we generally use them only in specialty applications.
They are made from fiber reinforced plastic using glass fiber. Due to their non-conductive nature, they are very safe for electrical works. But fiberglass ladders are quite expensive when we compare them to other ladder types.
Ladder Buying Guide
Before buying a ladder (or any tool/product for that matter), you have to figure out some basic requirements and considerations such as: How do you intend to use the product? What about its size and weight? How do you plan its storage?
So, in this basic buying guide, let us try to understand these basic requirements before making a purchase.
- Using the Ladder: Determine the main use case of the ladder. If you work with electrical jobs all the time, the it is better to go for a non-conductive ladder. But if you need a ladder to do regular household works (cleaning gutters, fixing a light bulb etc.), then a simple aluminum step ladder will do the job.
- Size and Weight: If you want to easily carry the ladder, then a small and light weight ladder must be your main choice. Steel ladders are a bit heavy and are often available as large ware house ladders. Foldable aluminum ladders are light in weight and you can easily carry them.
- Length and Adjustability: This is a very important factor to consider before buying a ladder. The purpose of the ladder is to reach higher places with ease that we normally cannot. So, if you planning to buy a step ladder, make sure that it has enough step for you to reach the ceiling or the roof of your home. You can also go for an adjustable length ladder, but most of them are straight ladders without any self-support.
- Storage: A ladder is something that we do not use often but is very useful when required. That being said, as ladders stay in storage most of the time, it is essential that you have enough room/space for properly storing the ladder, where it won’t get damaged. Almost all step ladders are foldable. You can go one step further and purchase an articulated ladder if storage space is really a constrain.
- Cost: Finally, the important aspect that decides any purchase: the cost of the product. If a 5-step foldable step ladder suits all your needs, then don’t spend extra on an expensive articulate ladder. Aluminum ladders are quite affordable now-a-days but depending on your job/requirement, you have to go for slightly expensive fiberglass ladders.
- Care and Maintenance: With proper care, handling and maintenance, a ladder will last for decades. If you are a home owner, then chances are you are looking to buy an aluminum-based step ladder. While these types of ladders require very little maintenance, you need to handle them care. Some tips for good care are: make sure that the surface is even, always get down before repositioning, do not put/pour any abrasive materials and also get up or down with extreme caution on your surroundings.
A Ladder is a simple yet important tool. It basically allows you to reach higher places such as top book shelves, attics, roof etc. to clean, paint or do any maintenance jobs. We saw some common types of ladders in this guide. We also looked at the material used in making ladders and simple things to consider before buying a ladder.