Let’s start with why wooden handrails are chosen by so many builders and home owners. Wooden handrails are the least expensive and easy to install. Builders and carpenters can easily build wooden handrails, and they do not need any speciality tools. They can match a variety of home styles, and there is a huge selection of components from which to choose. In general, wood is the most likely choice based on cost and availability.
Metal handrails are a much safer option, but also cost a lot more. Metal offers a unique design aspect that wood cannot offer. Many builders don’t offer metal, because it requires a speciality contractor that is knowledgable in metal working and welding. If you have the budget and access to a metal handrail builder, then they are the superior option. As with all home designs, pricing depends on the complexity of the work and the availability of metal stair builders in your area.
Metal handrails are superior in safety, because it is many times stronger than wood. To be precise, steel made to A-36 qualifications means a single square inch of that steel has a tensile strength of 36,000 pounds per square inch. That is seriously tough and can be a life saver. Imagine this: you are walking on your second floor and your dog left his bone in your path. If you don’t see it and step on it, you could lose your balance and go full-weight into your wooden handrails. Chances are those handrails and pickets are going to splinter and break, leaving you in for a 1-story fall that could cost you your life or a broken neck. Wooden handrails are only designed to be held onto, not to take a off-balanced adult weight straight-on with some momentum. Lets say the same accident happened, and you had metal handrails. Chances are you would have a few bruises from hitting them, but they would not move. This could literally save your life. This is especially true of even higher floors.
Metal is very easy to work with. Metal handrails can be bent, molded, forged, shaped, and welded. Not only are metal handrails superior in strength, but they also give more flexibility for creative design.
Most people think of metal handrails as just an industrial design element. However, with modern and contemporary handrail designs, it is very common to use handrail accents such as wood, stone, or even leather to match the finish to the style of the home.