Hello, friends!!  We finally stained our stair rails and banisters!!  

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy
Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy

how to stain stair railings

I am SO excited to finally have this project finished! After 2 and a half years of looking at it's ugly-ness everyday I am so pleased with how it turned out. 

We started with a very dirty looking oak railing and banisters.  When we moved in 2 and a half years ago we put in dark bamboo floors which made the dirty oak look even dirtier. 

After the floors were installed we did a lot of research on staining railings and everything we read said it would take several coats of stain with lots of drying time in between.  With 2 small children and unavoidable stair use every day no time was ever a good time to start this project, how were we going to keep their hands off of it after always telling them "hold the railing so you don't fall" ten times a day.

Two and a half years passed in a flash and Mr. Chic finally had enough of it.  He found a way to stain it in only 2 coats!  And let me tell you, it looks a million times better.  Seriously, a million!

The best part was that my awesome hubs, Mr. Chic, did the whole thing!  Since he's the expert (and the real writer in the family) I'll let him tell you all about it, take it away Mr. Chic!

A few weeks ago, Mrs. Chic wrote about how many projects are on her “to do” list. She just casually mentioned that a lot of those projects were on LAST year’s “to do” list.

I’ll translate: “I’ve been asking Mr. Chic to get this stuff done for two years and I’m now going to embarrass him in front of all my friends so he can feel guilty be inspired and motivated to get something done.”

I guess to be fair, she did mention my 4-month sabbatical from doing much of anything other than munching on Fritos and riding a scooter at work.  Yeah. I went to work and endless meetings on this thing:

Kneeling scooter for people wearing walking boot casts.

Plus, I’m a yard guy. When my foot’s not broken, I’d much rather be making perfect criss-cross marks in my lawn (I mow about every other day), shopping the local garden store, or planting new hydrangeas than doing anything inside.

Anyway. Mrs. Chic asked me to write this post about refinishing our stair railings.

I put off the work because I couldn’t figure out how to paint or stain the underside of the railings without taking off all the balusters (aka. spindles). But we had to get it done – the stairs and railings are one of the first things you see when you walk in our front door, and….they were gross.

how to stain stair railings
The dirty oak banisters and railings looked terrible with our new dark floors (and pretty much everything else).
Ugly railing trying to be prettied-up for Christmas.  I ended up taking off the too small bows.

I’ve never really stained anything before – so I learned a few things along the way.

1)      Sand. I used medium grit sanding sponges, then a light sanding with some fine grit. Some DIYers have done this project without sanding, but our railings were so filthy (from the previous owners) and the finish had worn off in several places, so I really had to just sand it all down and start clean.

After sanding... see all the fine dust on the floor near the top of the photo, huge mess!

2)      Wipe. Sanding made a terrible mess, and it’s important to get all the sawdust off the railings before doing any of the finishing. I used tack cloths and a dry, clean 3” paint brush to dust out the hard-to reach spots. I missed a couple spots though, and I can feel the dust under the poly.

3)      Tape. I used blue painter’s tape to tape off the areas where the posts met the carpeted stairs.

how to stain stair railings
Note the painters tape at the bottom of the stained banister.  And, what a difference in those railings!

4)      Test. We used Minwax Polyshades in Bombay Mahogany Gloss.  It’s a stain and poly mix, which means it colors and protects at the same time. We weren’t sure how it would look until I tested a small corner upstairs where nobody could see. Glad I did…we figured out we’d need 2 coats of stain to get the color we wanted.

5)      Go. I decided to take off one of the railings after all. It was a pain…but this railing leads directly into our kids’ bedrooms, so I had to get the railing stained quickly and back on while the kids were in bed and before they tried to bungee jump from the top of the stairs the next morning.

That worked well, until we tried to get 28 balusters back into the holes in the floor and the railing – at midnight while our curious 6 year old slept 5 feet away. Not so chic, but it worked, and it was worth taking it off. The other railings were not coming off though.

how to stain oak stair railings

Before you start staining Mrs. Chic wants me to tell you to open the windows, she couldn't believe how much this stuff stinks so make sure the area is well ventilated.  I stained the tops and sides of the railings first, using a 2” paint brush, being careful not to leave brush strokes. I also had to watch for drips which were easy to fix if I caught them in time.

The bottoms of the railings were a pain. I bought a really big plastic drop cloth…for about a buck…and intertwined it with the balusters to keep stain from dripping on the floor.

To stain the bottom of the railings, I used an old rag. The pros would probably say I should have used a rag for the whole job, but it didn’t let me put the stain on as thick as I needed it for the color we wanted. I found I could control the stain better on the bottoms of the railings with a T-shirt than a brush.

Instead of brushing on the stain like I did with the tops and sides, I put a little on the rag and “dabbed” it on – avoiding the balusters as best I could. It was frustrating work, and I only put one coat on the bottoms, but you can’t really tell.

Finally, once I had 2 coats on all the railings, we felt like the finish was just a little too shiny, so we went over the tops and sides with a low-shine poly. That seemed to dull the finish just enough.

Overall, the work took me about 6-7 hours total over two weekends, and I think it turned out nice.

Now…if you’ll excuse me…I have more projects to get done before Mrs. Chic calls me out again.

Didn't Mr. Chic do a fabulous job?!  What a difference!!  


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