How to Stain Stair Railings and Banisters

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!!  

41 comments :

  1. Good job Mr Chic! The bannisters look great and you have inspired me to tackle this project when I get my own home back after our overseas assignment.

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  2. Looks like a huge job, but so worth it -- your banniesters are gorgeous! Go Mr and Mrs Chic! xo

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  3. It looks beautiful! I have been complaining about my oak staircase for the past several years but no one around here has caught on yet...I must say it does look like a lot of work though! You must feel so accomplished!

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  4. What a great transformation! Your hard work was well worth the effort!

    Smiles,
    Carol

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  5. Lovely job! We're changing ours in the next couple of weeks so it's great to see someone who has done it. I'll give my hubby the instructions. Thanks so much, Sally @ Enlightenment for the Sleepy

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  6. They look awesome. Something else I can add to my "to do" list.

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  7. This is a great improvement...this is something my husband and I have on our "to do" list as well...but, we've been putting off for EXACTLY the same reasons...you "might" have just inspired me to push him a little harder :)...looks wonderful!!!

    Erin @ Chronic Christian Crafter

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  8. Thanks for this! I have a single railing going up to the bonus room that drives me nuts. I tried to darken it before, but I didn't do the sanding first...big mistake. Yours looks fantastic! What a beautiful improvement.

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  9. Way to go, Mr. Chic! You are so much more ambitious than I. 5 years after moving to the "house o' OAK"....I just painted all my railings and ballisters out. No stain, too much pain for this gal. My Mr. helped too (i.e. did most of the work). I like the result but would have loved yours more :( Ahhhh well.

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  10. This turned out awesome...what a great hubby to do that for you! I pinned your before/after pic to my Pinterest board because I would like to do the same...our stair railing is UG.LY. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  11. This looks amazing! Thank you for giving details on how you did too. When we refinish our floors, I know I am going to want to do the same to the banisters too.

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  12. That turned out awesome. Thanks for the tutorial...I still have the before version and I have been wanting to stain it darker because we too updated our floors to a dark hardwood but still have the light railings.

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  13. Looks fabulous, we have the same banisters and want to do this, thanks for the inspiration.

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  14. Turned out beautiful! We've been meaning to do this too :.)

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  15. It looks wayyyyy better , and way gorgeous! Mr. Chic did a fabulous job, now the next staining project will be easier! hehe

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  16. This turned out truly amazing. I have a very similar railing and have been dying to try this. You inspired me.

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  17. Congrats Mr. & Mrs Chic - it looks FAB! The Fritos comment made me LOL! So my question is - did you figure out how to sand and stain the bottom of the railing? This is my conundrum. And I don't have a Mr. Chic hanging around so it is all ME. Very eager to get this project started and completed and I have to echo other commenters who have said this is most definitely inspiring. Thanks and enjoy!

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  18. Yes, it is so much more handsome than before! Great job.

    Warmly, Michelle

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  19. It's beautiful. I want to do that to mine. When we built our house, the builder only gave us a couple color choices and none of them were the color we really wanted, so we just took what they gave us.

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  20. We installed walnut hardwood floors and our oak railing just like yours is an eyesore. I need to do this but hate the thought of it. This helps me to maybe get it on my list.

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  21. Great tutorial, Mr. Chic. I'm pinning this because the same job is on hubby's list! ;)

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  22. Love this! We just bought a house that I would like to do this to. So glad to see how pretty it came out.

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  23. So, did you sand the railing and posts while it was still on the stairs? I ask because I want to re-stain our railing, but do not want to remove or rip it off the wall. So how did you do the sanding?

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  24. Hi The rails you did came out beautiful!!! I have older oak rails also with oak stair treads.(all in good condition and just freshly sanded down today) I wonder with your beautiful taste what would you recommend for the treads> Should I do the same dark rich color as the rails OR keep them oak and just poly them. The floor at the foot of the stairs is red oak and was going to just refinish them in their natural color. (I have Brazilian cherry floors in the next room) Would love to know your thoughts. Thanks

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  25. You really did an absolutely fantastic job! Those stair railings are really beautiful. The transformation just brought new life to the overall interior design of your house. Thank you for sharing this. It really gives me more ideas.

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  26. Beautiful work! I am glad that I ran across your pictures. We are currently in the process of sanding our banister. I have chosen to use Minimax Polyshades in Expresso Gloss finish. I am wondering if it is too dark. Hard to decide. I am also concerned that it may be too glossy. Did you ever concider using the satin finish instead of glossy finish? I guess, we could just go over with the low-poly shine like you did. Any suggestions?

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  27. Also did you remove all the balusters on the all railings or just at the top? What did you do with the railings going up the stairs? Just work around them? Any advice before starting would be great!

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  28. This post is certainly an inspiration. This just shows that you can actually do several things with staining and bring out the best from these home features. You really did incredible with your stair rails. I love it and I am sure that several readers also do.

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  29. wow! It's amazing what a difference that darker finish makes! I love this! it really just amped up the whole look of the place! way to go!

    <3 Bethany @ The Sepia Puppy
    (http://thesepiapuppy.blogspot.com)

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  30. i have the opposite problem, want to lighten dark railings to match oak steps and floors. is that possible?

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  31. This looks SO nice! We have a half finished restained house right now. I'm feeling inspired after reading that post! Thanks!

    Becca
    homeiswheremystorybegins.com

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  33. Thanks for the post, and I remember when my parents moved into their new home for early retirement. I kid you not that the first time my mom saw the railings that were inside. She had them changed and painted the very next day.

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  34. This looks beautiful! I love the look of dark wood. My husband and I are getting spiral stairs installed soon, and we have carpet now. I can't wait, I hope they look as beautiful as this!

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  38. This is awesome! We replaced 248 spindles with rod iron. good times!! now I want to darken our stain! I think my {first} husband should do this on Sunday afternoon (go Broncos)! love the results! My {first} husband thanks you too ;0) laura

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