Ladders review 2005

Are they all equal?
 
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  • Updated:8 Jan 2005
 

01 .Introduction

Step-ladder-iStock

Test results for 7 ladders from $95 to $299

We tested seven multipurpose ladders for:

  • Structural strength
  • Ease of use

We also tested five stepladders to see if they'd pass a "walking" test.

Findings

  • Only one multipurpose ladder passed all our tests.
  • Most of the multipurpose ladders aren't very easy to use.
  • One stepladder failed the "walking" test.

CHOICE tests are different. We buy the products we test — no freebies from manufacturers. Companies can't buy ads on our site and our work is funded by people like you.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2005 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


Brands tested

Multipurpose ladders:

  • BRONSON
  • BUNNINGS
  • GEELONG
  • LOFTY
  • PERFORMER (KMART)

Stepladders:

  • BAILEY
  • DAYTON
  • GEELONG
  • ULLRICH
 
 

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What to buy

  • BUNNINGS Heavy Duty Multipurpose Ladder - $169
  • BRONSON 12 Step Multifold Ladder C3700 - $159
  • GEELONG Aluminium Multifold Ladder MFL 2.6 - $95
  • LOFTY Multi 6DL - $193

These ladders are all worth considering, though none of them were problem-free.

  • The BUNNINGS marginally failed the tread to stile shear test. (See How we tested.) Also, while it passed the single joint lock test, it was severely deformed in the process and was rendered unusable. However, this is a very severe test, so we think the ladder's still worth considering.
  • The BRONSON and GEELONG ladders failed the unlocked joint test, but these ladders are also worth considering provided you always make doubly sure you lock all the joints before use (which you should do anyway, with any multipurpose ladder). The BRONSON is being phased out, but may still be available.
  • The LOFTY passed all tests, but scored poorly for ease of use. You may need to order this ladder through your hardware store.

See profiles and the table below for more details.

What about the rest?

The BRONSON Industrial 12 Step Multifold Ladder C365IND was discontinued in June 2005. It failed the unlocked joint test, but is still worth considering if you can find it.

The LOFTY Multi 6IL failed the stile deflection test, and the PERFORMER KMCFD-6110 failed the stile bending test.

Results tables

Components of ease of use score
Brand / model (in rank order) Passed standard tests* Overall ease of use score1 (%) Setting-up score (%) Score as straight ladder (%) Score as stepladder (%) Score as work platform (%) Price ($)†
Worth considering
BUNNINGS Heavy Duty Multipurpose Ladder (C) 64 55 80 70 75 169
BRONSON 12 Step Multifold Ladder C3700 (A) (D) 48 35 60 50 80 159 (K)
GEELONG Aluminium Multifold Ladder MFL 2.6 (D) 47 30 70 60 75 95
BRONSON Industrial 12 Step Multifold Ladder C365IND (B) (D) 46 35 65 45 65 299 (K)
LOFTY Multi 6DL 30 10 45 75 45 193
Not recommended
PERFORMER KMCFD-6110 (E) 38 30 10 60 75 115
LOFTY Multi 6IL (F) 30 10 40 75 45 204

Table notes

* See How we tested for details of each test.
† Price paid in March 2005 unless noted otherwise.
(A) Scaffold model. Being phased out, but may still be found in stores.
(B) Model discontinued as of June 2005.
(C) Marginally failed tread to stile shear test.
(D) Failed unlocked joint test.
(E) Failed stile bending test.
(F) Failed stile deflection test.
(K) Average retail price advised by manufacturer.

1 Overall ease of use score

  • Setting-up score: 55%
  • Score as straight ladder: 15%
  • Score as stepladdder: 15%
  • Score as work platform: 15%




    Specifications
    Brand / model (in rank order) Length as straight ladder (cm) Length as stepladder (cm) Height as work platform (cm) Length as work platform (cm) Available configurations2 Storage dimensions (H x W x D, cm)
    Worth considering
    BUNNINGS Heavy Duty Multipurpose Ladder 369 189 99 146 S, SL, WP, SWP, SOL 103 x 58 x 28
    BRONSON 12 Step Multifold Ladder C3700 (A) 365 187 96 148 S, SL, WP, SWP, SOL 99 x 48 x 29
    GEELONG Aluminium Multifold Ladder MFL 2.6 263 137 75 91 S, SL, WP, SWP, SOL 78 x 49 x 25
    BRONSON Industrial 12 Step Multifold Ladder C365IND (B) 365 187 96 148 S, SL, WP, SWP, SOL 99 x 49 x 29
    LOFTY Multi 6DL 350 178 83 182 (G) S, SL, WP, SOL 91 x 58 x 30
    Not recommended
    PERFORMER KMCFD-6110 311 160 105 91 S, SL, WP, SWP, SOL 101 x 58 x 28
    LOFTY Multi 6IL 354 178 83 182 (G) S, SL, WP, SOL 91 x 58 x 30

    Specifications continued
    Brand / model (in rank order) Weight (kg) Stated duty rating3 Warranty (years) Origin Manufacturer / distributor
    Worth considering
    BUNNINGS Heavy Duty Multipurpose Ladder 12 Industrial 1 Taiwan Bunnings
    BRONSON 12 Step Multifold Ladder C3700 (A) 11.8 (H) Domestic 3 Taiwan Bronson
    GEELONG Aluminium Multifold Ladder MFL 2.6 11.4 Domestic 5 China Geelong Sales Company
    BRONSON Industrial 12 Step Multifold Ladder C365IND (B) 13.3 Industrial 1 Taiwan Bronson
    LOFTY Multi 6DL 10.4 Domestic 1 Australia Geelong Sales Company
    Not recommended
    PERFORMER KMCFD-6110 10.2 (H) Domestic (J) China Kmart
    LOFTY Multi 6IL 10 Industrial 1 Australia Geelong Sales Company

    Table notes

    (A) Scaffold model. Being phased out, but may still be found in stores.
    (B) Model discontinued as of June 2005.
    (G) Needs a special plank because the end rungs are approximately 20 mm below the others. This is neither supplied with the ladder nor available as an extra, so you'd have to make your own.
    (H) Plus approximately 2 kg for planks.
    (J) "You must be completely satisfied with this product's performance, or your money back."

    2 Available configurations
    The ladder can be configured as a straight ladder (S), stepladder (SL), work platform (WP), small work platform (SWP) and/or standoff ladder (SOL).

    3 Stated duty rating

  • Domestic = 100 kg
  • Industrial = 120 kg or more
  • Profiles for the four multifold ladders worth considering. The multifold ladders not recommended, and the stepladders, are not profiled.

    Ladders are listed in rank order of overall ease of use. Prices are what we paid in March 2005 unless otherwise indicated.

    BUNNINGS Heavy Duty Multipurpose Ladder

    Price: $169

    Good points

    • Best ease of use overall.
    • Very good straight ladder.
    • Good stepladder.
    • Good work platform.

    Bad points

    • Marginally failed tread to stile shear test.

    BRONSON 12 Step Multifold Ladder (Scaffold model) C3700

    Price: $159

    Good points

    • Very good work platform — comes with removable planks for this purpose.

    Bad points

    • Difficult to set up.
    • Failed the unlocked joint test.
    • A little unstable on even surfaces when used as a stepladder.

    GEELONG Aluminium Multifold Ladder MFL 2.6

    Price: $95

    Good points

    • Good straight ladder and work platform.
    • 5 year warranty.

    Bad points

    • Failed the unlocked joint test.
    • Difficult to set up.
    • Heavy for its size (it's smaller than the other models).
    • Potential finger trap in the joints.

    LOFTY Multi 6DL

    Price: $193

    Good points

    • Passed all tests.
    • Good stepladder.
    • Has one adjustable-length leg, making the ladder more stable on uneven ground.
    • Joint locks are designed to ensure that both joints (of a pair) lock simultaneously, so that you can’t accidentally lock only one.
    • Lightweight (compared to other multipurpose ladders).

    Bad points

    • Very difficult to set up — the joint locks can be hard to operate. You need to carefully ensure the locks have fully engaged or disengaged before use.
    • Poor extension ladder — it flexes significantly when climbed on, which you might find this disconcerting.
    • Poor work platform, and it needs a special plank in this configuration, which you need to make yourself.

    While there are some weaknesses of ladders that only laboratory testing will reveal, there are things you can check for yourself when shopping for a ladder.

    With all ladders

    • Unpack and inspect the ladder in the shop before you buy. It should:
      • be the right height for your needs
      • be a manageable weight
      • be rigid and secure when set up
      • have feet with a sure grip
      • be labelled with clear safety instructions.
      • Adjustable length legs can be very useful for working on uneven ground.
      • Check the ladder’s duty rating — domestic (for loads up to 100kg) or industrial (up to 120kg, or 150kg) — so that you get one suitable for your purpose.

      With multipurpose ladders

      • Catches should lock securely, be smooth to operate and show clearly whether they’re locked or unlocked.
      • Look for ladders with a similar stile depth to those on a regular stepladder (around 8 cm).
      • If you plan to use it as a work platform, look for a ladder that comes with a fitted plank.

      With stepladders

      • Look for diagonal spreaders situated at about the midway point of the ladder.
      • Safety handles can be useful, especially if you aren’t comfortable using ladders.
      • Holders or platforms for tools and paint tins can be handy.

      Other ladder types

      A guide to other types of ladders and how to spot a safe model.

      Step-extension ladders

      These give you two ladders in one. You can use them as a normal stepladder, or swing the back legs up and lock them in place to form a longer straight ladder. We didn’t test these this time, but in our last test we found that most met the standard with flying colours. Only one ladder couldn’t be recommended due to poor catch design.

      Look for a ladder with catches that lock solidly into place. Diagonal spreaders are also good when using it as a stepladder, but aren’t vital on this type of ladder since the extra treads along the back legs increase the ladder’s rigidity.

      Platform stepladders

      This type of ladder features an extra-wide step at the top that allows you to stand fairly comfortably, or rest work tools or a can of paint. They often have a rail above the top step that you can brace your legs against. 

      Look for a strongly built model with cross bracing and a broad, secure platform with a non-slip surface. Ideally the platform should lock in place. Small two or three step platform stepladders can be especially useful for indoor tasks, as they can be easier to stand on than an ordinary stepladder.

      05.Multipurpose ladders

       

      These ladders have three sets of hinges along their length, enabling them to be configured in different ways. They can be set up as stepladders, straight ladders, stairwell scaffolds or working platforms, or stand-off ladders (where the top section is used to stand the ladder at a distance from the wall — it’s useful for cleaning gutters, for example). They fold into relatively compact shapes, so can be easier to transport and store than more conventional ladders.

      Unfortunately, while they can be set up in many configurations, they aren’t easy to use. None of the ladders we tested scored more than 50% for ease of use, and three were judged to be ‘poor’. The joint locks can be hard to operate. The ladders are heavy and bulky and can require a fair amount of physical strength to manipulate them into shape.

      A ladder that’s designed for one particular type of task, like a stepladder, will usually be lighter and easier to use for that task than a multipurpose ladder.

      Multipurpose ladders aren't only versatile, they also fold up into a relatively compact shape, making them easier to transport and store than a conventional ladder. The downside is all the locking and unlocking of joints required - our testers didn't find any of the ladders tested easy to set up.

      The verdict

      Only one model, the LOFTY Multi 6DL, passed all our tests this time around. Its unique dual-locking joint system is a good concept, designed to stop you accidentally locking only one joint of a pair. But it’s not as easy to operate as it could be, because the locking dowels can be difficult to align. While this ladder technically passed the unlocked joint test (see How we tested), the natural position of the locks when opened leaves the dowels partially engaged. In this position, a user might think the joints are locked when in fact they're not, and they could partly climb the LOFTY before it collapsed under them. When unlocking the joints you need to move the locking lever firmly all the way to be sure the dowels have fully disengaged.

      The others all failed various clauses of the Australian standard, despite claiming to comply with it. Some of these ladders are structurally sound enough to be still worth considering, but others failed structural tests and aren’t recommended. See What to buy and the table for more details.

      Multipurpose ladders clearly have a tough time with these tests, and the ladder joints are often the reason why. The joints are typically very stiff, which can help them pass some tests (such as the single joint lock test) but fail others (such as the unlocked joint test). Ideally, the joints need to be:

      • easy to lock and unlock
      • secure when locked
      • easy to check if they’re locked or not
      • easy to move when unlocked.

      None of the ladders tested fully exhibit all these qualities.

      These are the common ‘A-frame’ ladders, and are the most popular type for home use. For typical household tasks like indoor painting or changing light bulbs, a 1.8 m domestic stepladder is all that most people ever need.

      Walking the walk

      If a stepladder isn’t rigid enough, it can ‘walk’ when you shift your weight side to side — the ladder twists and moves unexpectedly. This can be very dangerous and cause you to fall. Stepladders that have spreaders (cross bracing) tend to be much more rigid and are less likely to walk. In our previous testing, diagonal spreaders generally gave better support than parallel spreaders.

      The diagonal spreaders on the Dayton stepladder (left) are too high to add enough rigidity — spreaders need to be at about middle height, as on the ladder on the right.

      The verdict

      When we looked around in Sydney at 1.8 m stepladders sold in major hardware and retail outlets, many of the available models appeared to be the same ones that passed our testing previously. So we picked just three models to put through the walking test. Two of the three stepladders — the GEELONG Single Sided Stepladder and the ULLRICH Light Duty Stepladder — passed the walking test, though only just. The third, the DAYTON 6 Foot Stepladder, failed, in our opinion because the spreaders are postioned too high to sufficiently strengthen the ladder (see the photo above).

      We also tested two platform stepladders, the BAILEY Professional 4 Step and Satellite 6. Both passed the walking test.

      Because we only tested the step ladders and platform step ladders for the walking test, we haven’t included them in the table or What to buy list.

      We tested the ladders according to key clauses of the current Australian standard. Based on our tests in 1997, these are the clauses most likely to show up a ladder’s weak points. The multipurpose ladders were tested for all these; the stepladders and platform stepladders were only tested for walking.

      • Stile bending and deflection — checks that the stiles (the sides of the ladder that support the treads) aren’t too flimsy and will survive heavy loading.
      • Permanent set — checks if the ladder will permanently warp under load.
      • Tread to stile shearing — checks the treads (rungs) will survive heavy loading.
      • Walking — tests the ladder’s rigidity. See Walking the walk.
      • Work platform — the ladder is configured as a work platform (like a scaffold) and subjected to a heavy load.
      • Unlocked joint test — the ladder is set up as a straight ladder against a wall, with both central hinges unlocked. The ladder must fold under its own weight or a minimal load, to ensure it collapses before you climb onto it rather than afterwards.
      • Single joint lock test — the ladder is set up as a straight ladder with one of the central joints left unlocked. It's leaned against a wall at 75 degrees and then subjected to a heavy load. The idea is to see if the ladder can still support a person’s weight even when set up incorrectly or when one of the central joint locks fails. The ladder is allowed to suffer damage during the test but mustn’t collapse. It’s a severe test, and most ladders struggle with it. In our 1997 test, all four multipurpose ladders failed this test. This time, they all passed.

      Ladder safety

      A 2001 study in Melbourne showed that ladder instability, where the ladder slips or tilts out of position, is a significant cause of ladder accidents. Some accidents may have been caused by faulty ladders, but most resulted from unsafe usage, such as bad ladder placement or dangerous conduct when on the ladder. The study noted that most ladder accidents happened to older men doing home maintenance or gardening. Over 40% of ladder accidents resulted in hospitalisation. Even the best ladder can’t save you if you misuse it.

      Do

      • Read and follow the safety instructions on the ladder.
      • Check it’s undamaged, clean and dry before you use it.
      • Place it on a firm, dry and level surface that’s not slippery.
      • Make sure all joints and spreaders are locked firmly in place.
      • When using a straight or extension ladder, follow the ‘one to four’ rule: four measures up the wall should be matched by one measure away from the wall.
      • Always lean straight or extension ladders against a strong, solid surface.
      • Extension ladders should be secured (for example, tied off with rope) if you’re going to be working at a height for a long time.
      • Climb up and down facing the ladder.
      • Always keep at least one hand (and preferably both) on the ladder when ascending or descending.
      • Wear shoes with a good grip on the sole, to avoid slipping.
      • Store ladders in a dry, ventilated place, to prevent rust and rot. Hang them horizontally if possible, and protect wooden ladders with clear varnish or linseed oil.

      Don’t

      • Don’t use a folded stepladder leaning against the wall: its feet may not be safely grounded.
      • Don’t try to extend a ladder by balancing it on boxes, bricks or other unstable bases.
      • If you need to balance the ladder feet on uneven ground, don’t rest the high leg on a brick; instead, dig a hole for the lower leg.
      • Don’t load the ladder beyond its rating.
      • Don’t carry a load up or down a ladder that needs both your hands, or is heavy enough to unbalance you.
      • Don’t put the ladder in front of a door that may open onto it.
      • Don’t reach or lean out too far in any direction from the ladder.
      • Don’t use a metal ladder for electrical work or near power lines (use a fibreglass or wooden ladder instead).
      • Don’t stand higher up on a ladder than is recommended on its label.
      • Don’t paint your ladder as this may conceal cracks.
      • Don’t use ladders in strong wind.
      • Don’t use step or step-extension ladders as scaffold supports.
      • Don’t use a ladder if another, safer way can be found to do the job (for example, using an extension handle on a paint roller).