Most homes are designed so that when you open the front door, you are staring at the staircase, and for good reason, there are a number of colors and textures involved within the staircase itself; wood, carpet, stain, enamel, and lacquers. Staircase refinishing is one project that many “DO It Yourselfers” don’t even want to approach because of the steps involved, and the product compatibility it requires to make it all come together. This is the toughest area to work on in your homes’ interior because of the knee work and tedious masking involved for long periods of time. But, if done right, the results are well worth the time and money spent!
Currently, thanks to HGTV, Pinterest, and Instagram, the trend for stain color is black with a hint of dark brown mixed in. That being said, most of the medium to light brown stains have a mark on their heads and homeowners are looking to rid them of their interior color scheme. Painting contractors are faced with learning how to meet the customers needs in this area, or just not providing this service at all. As I said in the beginning of this post, this is a tricky project, and if you aren’t skilled in handling certain products, you will have a mess on your hands, and the look that you thought you were paying for will not be staring back at you.
Here are the steps involved for refinishing your staircase:
Step 1: Mask the Entire Area
Make sure that the entire area is masked tight from floor to ceiling, dust will be everywhere. This process will take a number of days so unless you have another access to your upstairs, make arrangements for getting everything you would need during the project. Unless you are going to paint the walls, you will want to include them in the masking process also. 3M Original Blue Tape sticks well to most surfaces and has less tendency to harm the substrate that it is applied to. A roll of 12 foot plastic works good in most situations, there is a 20 foot roll if needed. This is where you would remove spindles. It sounds like a major pain, and it is, but it is impossible to make the stair treads look good if the spindles are attached to them.
Step 2: Stair Treads, Handrail, and Bannister
There are a quite a few ways to do this step depending on the look that a customer is wanting. I will say that in some cases, the wood does not have to be sanded completely or stripped, but rather toned or shaded. These are processes where stain is added to a vehicle (clear coat of some sort) and applied to the surface in order to darken the color, and at the same time, still be able to see the wood grain and figure.
There are also times when the entire surface needs to be sanded bare or even stripped, this will bring the wood back to its natural color and allow you to choose any color combination that you like. I use a 6 inch sander, and start with 40 grit sandpaper; this gets through the existing finish and down to the wood very quickly so you have to move the sander fast. Once I’m all finished with 40 grit, I’ll move to 80 grit and then 120. Your sander won’t pick up the corners on the treads so you’ll need to use a paint scraper and scrape cautiously, then hand sand using the same grits as the orbital sander. Do this step to the treads only, I don’t advise this for the handrail or banister. If going to bare wood on these areas, I use strippers. There are “eco-friendly” strippers and there are the kind that will burn a hole in the ground to China, take your pick. Whichever stripper you choose, follow the application and safety instructions on the label and always neutralize the surface when complete.
Once you’re down to bare wood, you are ready to apply your stain. Always do a sample on scrap pieces of the same kind of wood to get your desired color. Once you’ve found it, apply it to the stairs and handrail. Don’t worry about a perfect cut in against the risers, those will paint. Once the stain has dried, start your finish. Urethane is my preference, both waterborn and alkyd, they provide more durability than shellac or varnishes, but always do samples to see what the end result will be before you apply to the surface. I apply 3 coats, so there is a lot of dry time involved here.
Step 3: Enamel
Now that the wood is stained and finished, it’s time to compliment it with the enamel. You now have to mask every bit of the wood, because enamel looks best when sprayed, and trust me, you don’t want to be on your knees for this long in a stairway and not have the absolute best looking finish possible! 3M Original blue tape works best; it sticks good, but won’t pull up the urethane when it’s removed. Once the entire area is masked, caulk, fill, sand, and putty any areas that need it. Use a powerful light to check for dings and scratches, the enamel will make any blemish stand right in your face if not addressed.
Once everything is sprayed, let it dry and pull all of your masking tape and paper, install your spindles if they were removed, clean up, and enjoy! A small staircase can take a minimum of 5 days to complete because of both drying times and labor involved. Over the past year I am averaging about one staircase per month, and the difference it makes to the look of the interior is huge.