s Stair Makeover Reveal (and Tutorial) - The Kim Six Fix
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Stair Makeover Reveal (and Tutorial)

In case you haven't heard, my house has a lot of oak.
So I decided that the oak bannisters, although not super dated and completely functional needed a makeover.  (For a tutorial on this project, scroll down to below the before/after photos.)

I previously painted my stairwell and changed out the light fixture and I knew it was time to update the stair rails. It took me about a week and less than $5. Here is the result:
Not bad right?  

I really like it.  It goes really well with my dining room which has dark furniture:
No only did I do the downstairs rails, I also did the oak "cap" that wraps around to the half wall upstairs: 
It feels a lot less dated, and because I stained the oak instead of painting it, the grain still shows though. It really is quite pretty.

So how did I do it?  Here is a step by step tutorial in case you want to try it too:
Step 1: Remove the Rails
Remove the rails that are attached to the wall. There are little clips that screw into the underside of the stair rail that are held by two screws.  Unscrew those and lift off the rail.  In my case the hardware was all brass (of course) so I had to deal with that right away.  

Step 2: Update the Hardware
Rough up the hardware with some 180 grit sandpaper and spray it whatever color you want.  I chose brushed nickel to match my door knobs and other hardware:
Then tape off around the brackets that remain attached to the wall. Don't remove them since they should be screwed into a stud and you don't want to risk loosening them up when you take them down and put them back up.

You can use painter's tape up around the bracket and then tape up paper, sheet plastic or a drop cloth a few feet around each bracket to prevent spraypaint from getting on anywhere else.  Also be sure to put a drop cloth on the floor below the area you are spraying to catch any falling paint spray.
Depending on the color of the hardware and the color of the spray paint you may need a couple coats
Repeat on all the brackets.  Don't remove the paper or tape until the paint is completely dry, in order to avoid scratching the fresh paint.

Step 3: Sand the Rails
It is a good idea to do as much of your sanding outside if it is possible.  I was able to remove two rails from my stairs completely and I took those into my driveway and went after them with both my palm sander and by hand.

Start with a lower grit sandpaper (60-80) in order to remove the finish:
The rail on the right has been sanded once with 60 grit sandpaper. You will notice that the sheen is gone and it will feel almost 'chalky' to the touch.
After the finish has been removed use an 100 grit paper to smooth the surface and follow that with a 200+ to smooth the grain before staining:
You need to repeat these steps on any rails or balusters that you can't remove from the house. For the large flat surfaces I used an electric palm sander, for the curves and the rails I had to sand it by hand.  This is by far the longest step.  If it takes forever you are doing it right.  (I spent at least 4 hours sanding the my two hand rails and the small section seen in these photos)

Another tip I have for the sanding step is to minimize dust by taping off/closing any vents anywhere need your work area.  I had an air intake right below where I was sanding.  The last thing I wanted was fine sawdust to blow all over the rest of the house so I taped a sheet of paper over it and the dust stayed contained to the immediate area:

Step 4: Stain the Rails
It is now time to choose your finished look.  I wanted a really really dark finish (like the inspiration photo) and I also wanted to mostly hide the grain.  I decided on Minwax Ebony wood finish. Remember when you are choosing your stain color to consider the type of wood you are staining.  Most home improvement stores will have actual wood samples with the different colors to show you what your stain will look like on your wood type. 
To apply the stain you can either you a cloth (which is messy unless you are wearing gloves) or my tool of choice, a foam applicator.

A nice thing about using the foam applicators is that they are inexpensive and can be thrown away after you are finished with the project.  In between coats I store them in a ziplock bag and they stay wet so you can reuse them for additional coats, but at the end of the project, instead of cleaning them up with mineral spirits (since the stain is oil based you cannot wash them in water), I throw they away.

I actually use two applicators, one to wipe on the stain pretty heavily, and one to wipe it off.  With the stain I was using, I found it worked best to apply the stain pretty heavily, wait about 10 minutes until it was a just starting to get to sticky and then use a second applicator to wipe off any areas that were drippy or too heavy.  Per the manufacturer's instructions I never allowed any excess stain to sit on the wood. Always remember to wipe with the grain of the wood and from the darkest areas towards the lightest.
First coat of stain 
After allowing the stain to dry approximately 6 hours, recoat with any additional coats until you get the color you desire:
Second coat 
If you notice that your stain is raising the grain of your wood, you also may want to sand it in between coats.  I didn't have a huge problem with the grain, so a quick once-over with the sandpaper is all that I needed.   I did however need to do three coats of stain to get the dark color I wanted.
Third coat
If you are staining wood that touches other surfaces, like the walls or the balusters, be sure to tape off the area.  The stain is really thin and chances are you will still get a few drips under the tape but keeping as much of that dark stain off the wrong surfaces means a lot less touch up:

Step 5: Seal the Rails
In order to protect the wood from the dirt and oil in everyone's hands, you want to coat the stained surface with polyurethane or some version of it.  I settled on PolyAcrylic (which shouldn't be used if you are using a Red Mahogany stain, but is fine with the rest of the colors.)  If you are using a light color you should avoid oil based top coats since they tend to yellow over time and will distort the color of your rails. You need to wait 8 hours before applying an oil based finish and 24 if you are using PolyAcrylic.  
It is Poly Time!
You should do at least two, preferably three coats of sealant for maximum protection waiting two hours between each coat.  Even after the poly is applied, you still will be able to see the grain of the wood since unlike paint which will settle into the grain and self-level, stain is actually absorbed into the wood
Can it be? Is that beautiful oak? 

Step 6: Prime the Balusters
Once your poly is dry you can remove the painters tape and prime your rails. You should tape off any areas where the wood to be painted touches another surface (such as the wall or your beautifully newly stained rail.) Normally I would say if you have a steady hand you could just freehand along the edge of the wood the but because you are going to need so many coats here, it actually will save you time to do the taping.

Painters tape along woodwork
I used oil based Kilz primer for this project, although because you have sanded down to bare wood and because the balusters aren't high traffic areas, you could use a latex primer if you choose.  I used two coats of primer and sanded (220 grit) in between each coat.   Make sure you use a good quality brush for the smoothest finish, especially on the tricky nooks and crannies of turned rails. (I used a Purdy angular trim white china bristle which is the gold standard for a good finish when using oil based paints.)
After two coats of primer: looking good!
Step 7: Paint the Balusters
It is time for paint.  You would typically match you balusters and molding with the rest of the molding on your stairs, which is exactly what I did.  I also used this chance to touch up any scuffs and marks on the rest of the stair trim.  Depending on your paint color, you will probably need two coats to get the best finish.

Step 8: Touch up
Finally! The last step.  At this point there is probably going to be a few drips, splats or smears of stain, paint or primer on some of your walls.  Make sure you touch up those spots if you want to give this project a professional finished look.  Because the stain color I chose was so dark, I actually had to touch up my mistakes with primer first and then paint over the primer with the wall color. 
And there you have it!  
For me, this project only cost me $4.79, the cost of a can of stain. The spraypaint, sandpaper, primer, paint and painting supplies I already had on hand.  
That is a great deal since I think it looks like a million bucks! 

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  1. Kim, this is beautiful. As always, I am so inspired by your use of mainly elbow grease and patience to update your house. I have been working on similar projects at home at night and on weekends!

  2. It looks great! I love the way it works with your furniture.

  3. This is awesome! Great job! Thanks for the tutorial :)

  4. Looks awesome. I would paint your yellow pole at the bottom of the stairs a white and trim it out to look custom. :) Also paint the back boards of the stairs white too.

  5. Love what you've done with the staircase-following you from TDC-stop by for a visit!

  6. Just found this via HomeTalk and I have to say, you are my hero! I have *lots* of oak too and am dying to do this very thing to my staircase. Well done!

  7. This looks excellent!! My staircase looks like the before picture. I may also try staining the tops of each stair and painting the vertical portion between stairs white!!

  8. Can you tell me what the paint brand/color is in your dining room? I've been looking for a color just like that! Thanks!


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