You may have learned that in Denver, Colorado, hardwood floor refinishers don’t refinish staircases! It’s true, they don’t. And most painters don’t refinish staircases (well, at least). The reason is complexity, experience, and, quite simply, there are easier things they could be doing; why get in that soup if you don’t have to?

Staircases are complex for 3 reasons: they typically have lots of components (balusters, Newell posts, hand-rails, risers, stringers, treads), which are often different species (red oak, white oak, fir) and different finishes (stain & paint).

And, they’re almost always the only way to get to the bedroom areas in a house, so they’re constant traffic areas during the day, complicating production and necessitating fairly thorough daily clean-up.

Experienced painting & finishing contractors know that there’s a large amount of work that goes into refinishing a staircase, often because they’ve underbid one or two. Also, it’s hard work –- masking a 2-story interior entry/stairwell and sanding spindles, staining and spraying clear finishes — this is top-shelf rated, from a difficulty standpoint.

All that said, the work still needs to be done; how can a home re-design be complete without tying in the staircase to the new floor finish, or the new wood doors, etc.?

Here’s the DIY guide to refinishing your staircase:

  1. Remember the first rule in prep: Clean, Dry, Dull.
  1. With that in mind, sand the existing wood thoroughly so the new stain will adhere. If your wood is going a lighter stain than current, you need to completely remove the existing finish before proceeding. Either way, clean the surfaces very well after sanding – begin with a vacuum, then a clean cloth dampened with mineral spirits or regular paint thinner, or denatured alcohol, or commercially pre-mixed surface prep compound (make sure whatever you use to clean is compatible with your stain or primer).
  1. If you’re painting your staircase, sanding is still necessary; handrail assemblies get a lot of wear, so your new finish needs to have a strong bond to the existing finish, paint or stain. If you’re painting and you plan on using primer, it too will bond better over a lightly scuffed surface than one that is merely clean.
  1. New stain/finish combination products can be found in brands like Minwax Polyshades; these are great products but like any other staining project, practice on a piece of scrap wood until you’re comfortable with the color. Remember, you may need to build up layers of color to get to the desired color, being careful not to over-build the finish.
  2. If you’re going full-boat (new handrails, baserails, Newell posts, stringers, etc.) then the first thing after sanding is to apply your new stain. Working with traditional oil-based stains is easier than water-based because they penetrate easier, and tend to be more uniform. If using water-based, you may need to “water-pop” the wood before applying stain. Check Youtube for info on this procedure.
  1. Important note on stain: let it dry for the recommended period. If you don’t, your finish coats won’t.
  1. If your new stair features iron balusters, the old wood ones will need to be removed first and the baserail will need to be refit (drilled or chiseled) to accept the baluster base. Refinishing the baserail before reinstalling the new balusters is a huge time saver!
  1. If your balusters are paint and rails are stain, then it’s almost always easier to finish the handrail and baserail first in the new stain color, then carefully mask them with Frog brand tape (made by Shurtech, available everywhere!). Once the baserail is taped you can begin to repaint the balusters.
  1. Stringers & risers: Do these last – and if you’re in a busy, high-traffic home, do the risers one half (right or left) all the way up, block traffic on that side so the kids don’t kick the soft paint as they’re trotting up, and the next day finish the other side and block it.
  1. Final steps: Unmasking, touching up after runner (if one is being installed) and other areas that look like they might need a little extra TLC.

Note: If you have basement and main stairs, begin with the basement — these stairs are often much simpler, and in less visible light, so they make great practice areas.

Refinishing your staircase is only complex because of the many components and high-usage. Aside from that it’s still just stain and paint, so don’t get psyched out! Just take your time and don’t rush application or drying.

If you’re located in Denver, CO, get your staircase refinished professionally! Contact the crew at Imhoff Fine Residential Painting today for an estimate.