What are the Different Types of Ladders?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

Most people will encounter a situation in which their reach must exceed their grasp. The solution to this problem is often found in the form of ladders. Some may only elevate the user a few feet from the ground, while others provide access to a third story roof. Then there are the modern adjustable ladders, which can provide everything from scaffolding to painting support. It's all a question of need, storage and portability.

Aluminum ladders are a popular choice for its durability and portability.
Aluminum ladders are a popular choice for its durability and portability.

Some of the simplest types are called step or A-frame ladders. A small step ladder may be used indoors to reach upper storage spaces or to hang artwork on the walls. A-frame ladders are often used to elevate the user perhaps four feet or so from the ground. Step and A-frame types use fairly wide treads (steps) for stability and usually fold together for easy storage. They are generally not expensive and should provide enough elevation for routine tasks around the house.

Extension ladders are used to reach very high areas.
Extension ladders are used to reach very high areas.

For those who must reach the sides of their homes for painting or roofs for maintenance, extension ladders are a must. Extension ladders may fold down to the length of one segment for storage, but can be telescoped to reach many feet in the air. Unlike the self-supporting A-frame design, extension types are often propped against walls or other sturdy surfaces for support. The legs have adjustable foot pads which provide level contact with the ground. The rungs of many are round and narrow, unlike the wide and flat treads of step ladders. Wearing proper footwear is essential when working with this type, since the rungs can become oily or wet over time.

A special form of extension ladder is the roofing ladder. A regular extension model may lean against a wall or tree, so the ends may be squared off a bit. Roofing types, on the other hand, should extend a few feet past the edge of the roof. For extra security, these ladders often have hand grips or special hooks on their top ends. They can be used as regular extension ladders, but extension ladders should not be used when working on roofs. They simply lack the added security needed for safe roof work.

Just as important as the types are the materials used to make them. Originally, almost all ladders were constructed from wood, but today's consumer can select from wood, aluminum or fiberglass. Wood is still preferred by many for its durability, low cost and non-conductivity. This material can be relatively heavy, however, and prone to damage from insects and weather exposure.

Aluminum ladders are valued for their portability, strength and resistance to climate. However, any metal can become a hazard when exposed to electrical sources. Aluminum also tends to bend easily under pressure, so aluminum models can become twisted and unstable. Aluminum ladders are ideal for indoor usage and outdoor projects away from power lines and corrosive salt water.

Fiberglass ladders are non-conductive, which makes them better suited for outdoor work and roofing. This material is also resistant to insect damage and exposure to the elements. Unlike aluminum, fiberglass frames won't bend easily under normal pressure, although they may snap suddenly under stress. Fiberglass is not lightweight, however, and long-term stability data is not available yet. Aluminum and fiberglass types have become much more common than wooden models in recent years, so the choice of material often comes down to a matter of portability and longevity.

Wooden folding ladder.
Wooden folding ladder.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments


What are the ladders most used in carpentry?


@turkay1-- Hi, if you are going to buy a ladder, I would recommend a steel rolling ladder. It's hard to find both durability and lightness in ladders, but, there are some select ladder manufacturers which make multipurpose rolling ladders for indoor use. And when I say rolling ladders, they don't have to be fixated like the ones you've seen in the library! They make rolling ladders which open and close for easy storage and they have this automatic lock for the rollers so that it doesn't move while you are using it. I think this is the best option for you, you won't have to strain your back and will have a long-lasting strong ladder for everyday use.


I do a lot of interior designing work and regular maintenance at my home. I've been using wooden ladders which are not very sturdy and I can't carry them around anymore because of a back injury. I need a heavy duty ladder that is also lightweight. Which kind would be best?


One of the most important things about getting an A-frame ladder is to make sure it has good balance. Some cheaper kinds don't have great counterbalances, which makes them really dangerous to actually climb up.

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