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On paper, a combination ladder and a multi-purpose ladder seem to be saying the same thing – that you can use these ladders in multiple positions. On the face of it, that is the case and in fact both types of ladder can be used as a stepladder (including on the stairs) or as a straight extension ladder. It is when we look at the other uses of each type of ladder, and what they are most suited to that it becomes a little more nuanced.
A multi-purpose ladder typically has three hinges along the length of the ladder. These hinges allow the ladder to be folded at the central hinge to make it into a step ladder, folded at both outer hinges to make a platform base, or not hinged at all to function as a straight ladder. To make a multi-purpose ladder into a stair ladder, the central hinge needs to be deployed as well as one end hinge in the opposite direction, creating an inverted V shape with a horizontal flick. The horizontal section rests on one tread, while the base rests on a lower tread. This set up doesn't work on all types of stairs, however, as ones with shallow treads may not have the depth to safely accommodate the horizontal part.
A combination ladder typically has one hinge in the middle, with an extra sliding section on one side which allows you to set it in the stepladder position and then extend one side to sit on a lower stair. The extra section allows you to gain more height from the stepladder position as you can extend the rungs above the level of the hinge. This feature makes combination ladders ideal for maintenance jobs where ceilings or fittings are higher than normal.
Both types of ladder adapt well to many situations that the professional or DIY enthusiast will face, so making a decision on which type to buy comes down to the finer detail. The advantage of a multi-purpose ladder is that it can be used as the base for a work platform, but some combination ladders can be separated and used as the base for a separate work platform. These models tend to be more expensive as they have more functionality, so if price is an issue you may find that a multi-purpose ladder more suitable.
If you regularly need the ladder for work on the stairs, or in other situations where different ground heights pose a problem, then a combination ladder will be more useful for you. A hop-up or painters trestle can provide these extra functions in a separate piece of equipment, which might suit your needs better (if, for example, you don't need to transport these separate items around). If transporting the ladders is a regular occurrence then the small stowed size of a multi-purpose ladder is a bonus – the four sections fold on their hinges and take up far less lateral space than a combination ladder of the same length.
Both multi-purpose and combination ladders are a great investment for the professional or domestic user, so it can be hard to know which type to go for. As we have seen the combination ladder is ideally suited to the challenge of changes in ground height (such as on the stairs or in gardens where patios and planters may pose an obstacle) while the multi-purpose ladder wins in terms of a small storage size. We're sure that whichever type of ladder you choose you'll be delighted to receive it quickly, and you’ll pay a very good price when you buy from Midland Ladders.